How to balance new traditions with old ones.
In the early days of my monastic training, I met a remarkable, instantly likable man, named Joshi. We got chatting while waiting for a bus, and we continued to meet over the following weeks. Each time, I learned a little bit more about his story… and the grief he had faced in his life.
He had lived in a village in India with his wife, four children, parents, and in-laws (neither family was wealthy, so practicalities meant they all shared the one small house.) Joshi described it as a very crowded but a very happy home. Not long after having their fourth child, Joshi’s wife was killed in a road accident, along with her parents and the newborn baby. As he recounted this story, he recalled the unbearable pain and the feeling that he wanted to retreat from the world and hide away. But his own parents reminded him that he still had three children who depended on his love and support, so he threw himself into being the best parent he could possibly be.
A few months later, a monsoon caused serious flooding in the region. As a result, there was a lot of standing water, and the incidence of disease rose dramatically. Tragically, his other three children, and then his mother, succumbed to that disease, dying within two weeks of one another.
Unable to live in the house that had witnessed such sadness and loss, Joshi went to stay with friends. His father said he would look after the home until Joshi felt able to return. But within a few days of moving out, Joshi received the news that the house had burned down, with his father trapped inside. I’m not sure whether it was an accident or whether his father had decided he simply couldn’t go on.
I listened to this story with tears rolling down my cheeks. It is hard to imagine the scale of suffering and loss that one person could endure. Everything he had known and loved – his entire world and sense of belonging — had been seemingly ripped away in a matter of months.
Lost and confused, Joshi eventually moved to an entirely new area and went to live in a meditation centre. I asked him whether he thought the time spent meditating had changed the way he felt about all the terrible events. He said that meditation hadn’t changed the way he felt – he still felt the enormous sense of loss and sadness — but it had changed his experience and perspective of those feelings. He described how, through meditation, he’d found a place of stillness and calm beneath it all; that this place of stillness was the one thing that couldn’t be taken away; the one place where he could remember his family with a sense of joy in his heart.
Joshi’s strength, vulnerability, and perspective has long been a source of inspiration for me, as has his decision to turn to meditation at such a challenging time. It is not that meditation could ever undo these tragic events, but the practice clearly offered him, as it has done for so many over the millennia, a place of refuge, solace, and peace, in some of the most difficult circumstances imaginable.
Grief has been one of the most requested packs at Headspace for many years. And yet it has been challenging to record. Losing someone is so personal. Nobody could possibly know how you feel, and so many factors serve to create a truly unique set of circumstances for each and every one of us: our relationship with the person who has passed, with others who are grieving, the nature of the death, our conditioning in life, our belief system, our perspective on life, to name but a few.
Yet even when the circumstances differ, there are aspects we all share. Joshi once told me that in his deepest, darkest hour, it was knowing that others were experiencing the same pain that gave him the strength to carry on, knowing that even though he was going through it on his own at the time, he was never alone in his suffering. My hope is that the Grief pack will help to provide this same sense of strength and solidarity.
Of course, at first, it is quite natural to fear sitting with such strong emotions and challenging thoughts, free from the usual distractions. But when we summon the courage to sit with grief, we discover that we are cultivating an environment where thoughts can be heard, where feelings can be felt, and where healing can begin. Not only that, but in stepping out of the confusion that so often accompanies the loss of a loved one, we are better able to connect: with ourselves, with those we have lost, with others who are grieving and, ultimately, with our renewed perspective of the world around us.