Although I remain a firm advocate for allowing the flow of grief to do its transformational work in us, I also believe that stepping back from sorrow is essential to healing.
For example, as part of my annual intention-setting project, I was saddened by how much of my vision for 2012 had failed to materialize. I knew it would be a year of challenge and change, but I had no idea how emotional and physical the upheavals would be. And how dramatically they would throw me out of my work as a writer.
Writer’s block has never been an issue for me. And yet, for the past several months, inspiration has failed in the face of my elderly mother’s mounting health problems and the demands of my own rather astonishing decision to move to Montana after selling the home that my late husband and I had created together in Colorado.
For most of the four years since the death of my beloved life partner, I have been able to use creative process to write my way through that singular loss. But the compound “letting go” aspects of 2012 have been so pervasive and multi-faceted that I have often found myself in survival mode, just trying to plow through a troubling state of mental and emotional overwhelm.
Considering the many tragedies and truly cataclysmic events that have befallen families and communities this past year, my sense is that overwhelm has become a collective state that we would all like to shake off in favor of a fresh start for 2013.
Of course, some sorrows will take years to heal. The loss of a home, entire neighborhoods, the brightest military and public servants among us, and the unthinkable loss of children will require of us new levels of sensitivity and mutual care that the speed of popular culture threatens to obliterate.
To me, this feels like a call for us to become more organic, more personal, more present, and more observant in our dealings with one another. And for this attitude of kind attention to become the "new normal," it must begin at home—within our own hearts.
It is so easy to fall into anger—especially in the face of heinous crime and senseless loss. That anger is both understandable and justified. But it is insufficient and potentially dangerous when we get stuck there. And especially if we turn it back upon ourselves as self-criticism or depression.
In reflecting upon the disappointment I feel over the uncompleted vision I had for 2012, I have noticed a subtle attitude of internal anger and blame. A critical voice has crept into my meditations—one that says, “You didn’t do enough. You let yourself down and you failed in your work.”
I can hear my friends reassuring me that I have actually accomplished a great deal this year. But, unless I believe it myself, the victories are lost—the blessings denied. And that’s a terrible way to begin a new year.
I suspect there’s no small amount of blame and regret going on across the nation—even as we look forward with the hope that a fresh calendar engenders. So, today, I would like to suggest that each of us take a step back from sorrow and loss to review the golden nuggets of awareness that may lie unnoticed in the ruins.
Even in the midst of unfathomable grief, there is often insight to be gained, the opening of a different way forward, new modes of showing up for life. And we may not see them unless we step out of the torrent of bereavement to rest awhile on the shore.
I just took down my 2012 calendar, but I’m not going to throw it away just yet. In fact, today, I’m reviewing each month’s recorded events with a sense of appreciation and celebration—because 2012 wasn’t all challenge and strife.
Well, actually, almost none of it was easy. But many of those trials were important points of turning in my awareness. They offered unprecedented opportunities for communion with loved ones. And they forced me to rely on intuition and spiritual guidance as never before.
The process is called “reframing” and the result can be a realization that the worst thing to ever happen in our lives can become the most important. From the depths of abject despair can come profound compassion. Out of the soul’s darkest night can emerge a deeper spiritual communion, even a sense of partnership with the Divine.
Of course, renewal doesn’t happen all at once. But we can encourage the process by reflecting on the good we have done, identifying the positive connections we have forged, and remembering that, even within the throes of death and destruction, all is not lost.
In the past, when I have asked my workshop attendees to identify the times of greatest learning in their lives, without fail, they name the challenging ones, not the easy ones. So, let us build on that knowing for 2013 and celebrate the blessings of what has been for many a really brutal year.
To do so does not minimize the loss or diminish the sorrow. But it does remind us that grief is only part of the story here in our imperfect, yet resilient, world.
It is right and natural to both celebrate and mourn. Together they lead to healing. And that is my prayer for each of us in this New Year.