Every day we get out of bed and assume that our day will mostly go according to plan; my job will be there, the people I care about will be there, my home my car. We don’t think “gee, today might be the day I get in a bad car accident on the way to work!” If we did think the worst, we might not get out of bed! Of course if you cut to the root of the matter, none of these things is guaranteed. These are assumptions we make all of the time yet in spite of our assumptions life seems to have a way of pointing the impermanent nature of everything. Often suddenly and very unexpectedly — we experience a significant loss.
The death of a loved one, sudden loss of a job, losing the house, loss of health and many other things are common experiences for all of us. Is there any one of us who doesn’t know someone who is going through loss? Perhaps you are going through loss yourself right now.
In my counseling work people come to see me because they don’t know how to deal with significant loss. They no longer know how to cope nor how to function on a daily basis. They are experiencing grief. Where do you find a life-philosophy that informs you on how to respond to the fact that everything we have we will eventually lose? What can you depend on? How do you stand on quicksand without sinking? While both western psychology and Buddhist science of the mind help us to work with our minds, neither one informs us on how to respond to grief and to live skillfully in the world in spite of loss. And for many people, western religious philosophy also tends to fail them when they are facing painful loss. So where do you turn?
One of my teachers, Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche says that Buddhism
is both a science of how the mind works and a philosophy for life [living skillfully in the world.] It is not a religion in the conventional sense. . . Rather, it is a way of viewing our existence that brings meaning into our lives and benefit to the world. (Dzogchen Ponlop, Mind Beyond Death, Snow Lion Publications, Boulder CO 2006, p. 35)
Buddhist philosophy tells us how to deal with loss and how to respond to the uncertainties of life.
There is a Buddhist teaching story that takes place during the life of the Buddha, around 500 BC. Those familiar with Christianity could think of it as a parable. In this story a mother’s child dies suddenly. In her grief she is unable to admit to herself that the child is dead. She comes to the Buddha with the dead child in her arms and asks for medicine for her child. The Buddha tells her to go to the town and get some mustard seed from a family who has never experienced a death. She tried and of course could not find such a family. Through her efforts and the Buddha’s teaching she then realized that everybody experiences loss. Loss is painful but it does not need to be a bad thing! To live is to loose. The only other strategy is to try to hide from life, not experiencing life but protecting yourself by avoiding relationships and the other challenges we all need to face everyday. Some people try to do this and create even more suffering for themselves and those close to them.
Life is impermanent. If this is true, how do we find peace? What can support us when things go wrong? This is what Buddhist teachings provide the modern world, a way to understand that all things that appear also disappear The teachings include instructions on how to live in the world with joy and a sense of fulfillment even though there really are no people, places, events or things that are permanent, unchangeable and 100% reliable. Acknowledging this fact often leaves people feeling like there is nothing to depend on, no solid ground to stand on. They feel they are going to sink into the quicksand. But it is possible to stand on quicksand. This is the great gift for everyone! This is how to get out of bed in the morning in spite of loss and to be with our grief instead of trying to avoid our grief (which never works anyway). This is the key to true freedom and joy in life. Is it better to be prepared before a profound loss happens or to experience the loss and not know where to turn and what to do when the inevitable happens?
We all will experience loss and grieve that loss. With my training in western and Buddhist psychology combined with my training in Buddhist philosophy, I can help. If you or someone you know has experienced loss and could use some help learning to relate to the world again, please call or email me. Let’s talk and see if I can be helpful.The Loss of Loss by Larry Cappel,