“Too much self-centered thinking is the source of suffering. A compassionate concern for others’ well-being is the source of happiness.”
-The Dalai Lama, The Book of Joy
When we focus on ourselves while suffering, when we wallow in our despair, it is easy for us to shut out other people’s experiences and other events in the world. While we need to take care of ourselves to heal from, and process, our suffering, we can become so taken with ourselves that it begins to seem like we are the only thing in life. We limit our ability to connect with others because we have eyes only for ourselves and our issues.
In the midst of this deep wallowing, we may wonder why it is we cannot find joy or happiness. When we become consumed with our suffering, we have not given joy or happiness space to grow; thus, we will be cut off from them. We will also bar meaningful experiences with others from our life, experiences that could help our healing process.
By extending compassion to others while experiencing our own suffering, we open ourselves to encounters that aid our healing. We see that there is more outside of our pain and understand that it is healthy to laugh and have new experiences. Moreover, when we extend compassion to others, through volunteering for example, we see that we are not alone in our need for love, companionship, and understanding.
Sometimes, when we feel like the world is against us, turning toward others in pain and asking what we can do to help them can ignite a fire of compassion that softens and heals us in the process.
Breanna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd. Three martyrs were born between February and May, 2020. Their deaths graphically highlighted the system of oppression and weak peace that exists in the United States of America. Their deaths have torched the veil of White American ignorance concerning inequality, police brutality, and institutionalized racism.
“Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible.”
The last thing that may come to mind when thinking of grief is the prospect of setting goals for yourself. Rather, grief seems to be a time when there are no goals to be found. Grief, in fact, is a chance to rethink what your goals have been and to develop new ones. Grief may come with shifting thoughts concerning the life you would like to lead as you may begin to ask yourself: What truly matters to me? How do I truly want to spend my time?
After I lost my mother, I started driving from home to work (Richmond, VA to Washington, DC) instead of taking the train. I found driving and listening to music very therapeutic. I would put on my Pandora radio and still as loudly and as vivaciously as I could while driving.
Social distancing slows life down for us and changes what we consider normal. We may feel lazier and more unproductive than usual when we actually aren’t. During isolation, there aren’t many chances for big or impulsive decisions, like job changes or moves. Financial matters may become more urgent, deliberate, and purposeful, especially if you’re unemployed during a pandemic. Overall, impulsivity that manifests while grieving in a normal daily context (in which we are over-scheduled and subject to information overload) may not play as great a role during pandemic grieving. Though the demands on our time may be high (if you have children, for example), our time is allocated differently during isolation.
“True self is non-self, the awareness that the self is made only of non-self elements. There’s no separation between self and other, and everything is interconnected.”
-Thich Nhat Hanh
Loss is a point where we realize that, despite our penchant for independence, we are massively interconnected. Life becomes drastically different when one person is missing from it. Grief is the ripping open of interconnectedness, and it is the gradual healing of that wound.
We live on a delicate spider web, through which we touch everyone and everything. One loss will have a effect on those immediately surrounding the torn strand. Multiple losses shred the spider web almost to tatters, making it vulnerable to the slightest breeze that threatens to blow it away.
In isolation, interconnectedness seems non-existent. We forget about our relationships, our community encounters, our normal daily exchanges with people who flutter in and out of our world. We can easily allow our individual and independent needs to take over, control our thoughts, and actions. We begin to forget our interconnection. We forget that we must cooperate to move forward. We forget the repercussions our behavior has on the world, on people we will never meet. We forget that we have a responsibility to care for and protect those with whom we share connections, whether family, service providers, or people we encounter in passing.
The pandemic losses we experience may not be felt deeply by the community…yet. In time, we will feel reverberations from where our tattered web hangs open, fragile, helpless, and vulnerable. Healing that gaping wound will take time, patience, compassion and love. We will need to be there to support people we never met and mourn those we never knew existed.
Remember our non-self, our interconnection. Everyone is us and we are everyone. Act with this interconnection firmly in mind.
In the aftermath of his professional split from Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung began an experiment of writing and reflection on his life and career. Jung wrote of visions and fantasies he had as he opened himself to a confrontation with his unconscious during his personal struggles. Later he added complementary imagery, mostly in the form of mandalas (based on the Tibetan Buddhist sand paintings). The text became known as The Red Book, and although compiled from 1913 to 1950, the book was not published until 2009.
Remembering Your touch Your kiss Your warm embrace I’ll find my way back to you Please say you’ll be waiting
-Tracy Chapman, “The Promise”
I listened to “The Promise” the other day while playing with my daughter. I hadn’t heard it in years. Amidst pandemic uncertainties, my first Mother’s Day as a motherless mother, and missing my mom, the lyrics touched me deeply. The first Mother’s Day without my mother was difficult. The ones since then have largely passed unnoticed, with a silent nod of gratitude to my mom. This year, I wish we could have three generations together, and two mothers celebrating each other.
“Well, the Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together.“
It is May the Fourth, and Star Wars Day offers a helpful meditation on life and our place in it. Every living thing is connected through the Force. Every living thing also contains a piece of the Force. The Jedi, wielders of the Light Side, do so in service of others.
In an effort to support small businesses through this time pandemic period (and beyond), I have become an affiliate member at Bookshop.org, a website that connects book buyers with independent booksellers nationwide. Any books I recommend on my blog will be linked to my shop page at Bookshop.org. I earn a small commission from these purchases. Bookshop.org will by book vendor going forward for all reading suggestions posted on ANCarroll.com. Links in my current reviews have been updated to connect to Bookshop.org.
Thank you for helping me play a part in supporting our independent bookstores!
Cultivating inner stillness while grieving during a pandemic is difficult. However, finding stillness is necessary when processing grief and adapting to post-loss life. One way to approach the search for stillness is by taking a break from the hustle and bustle of everyday work and home responsibilities. When you are sheltering-in-place during a pandemic, there is no real opportunity to get away from things since you are confined to your home. How do you give yourself a break so that you can begin to cultivate inner stillness?
Patience is not simply the ability to wait–it’s how we behave while we’re waiting.
Self-isolation and social distancing require a great deal of patience. We have to wait out the run of a highly communicable virus. We have to wait out a difficult economic situation. We have to wait out loneliness. If we’re grieving, we have to wait out the chance to grieve communally and receive comfort for our loss.
After a loss, you may wonder if you did enough for your loved one, if you were nice enough, if you spent enough time with them. In their book I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye, Brook Noel and Pamela D. Blair call this the “ ‘If Only’ game,” a mind game grievers play to control what feels out of control. No amount of beating ourselves up over events will change them. COVID-19 adds a new dynamic to this guilt game as pubic health emergency protocols prevent us from visiting the sick, saying our goodbyes, and grieving in community. Feelings of guilt may be more intense because we cannot be with our loved one’s bedside to offer a last bit of love to them as they pass.