[I wrote this on a plane from SFO to Austin after having dinner with a friend and his friend. His friend told us that when he was at his office earlier that week, someone asked him how he was doing with the fact that his son had died 8 years ago. He answered, “It’s still difficult. I'm still really upset.” The other person said, “Oh, don’t worry, you’ll get over it, it just takes time.” That story bothered me. So I wrote my thoughts down on that plane ride from San Francisco. Here they are...]
by Kelvin H. Chin
Life After Life Expert and Meditation Teacher
My mom died when I was young, in my third year of law school. She was very young, only mid-50s, but she had the vibrancy, the energy of a 35-year old.
In fact when I outgrew her in the 4th grade, we went to a party together and people from her childhood thought I was her “younger brother!” Her look and her energy were that youthful.
She was 5’0", a small woman in stature but with a big engaging personality. A Renaissance woman, she was way ahead of her time – a chemist, an abstract artist (the Boston Museum of Fine Arts exhibited her oil paintings in the late 1950’s), an incredible gardener (Better Homes & Gardens ran a pictorial of her rock garden in full bloom in the early 1960’s), a seamstress making wedding dresses in our den for the local town aristocracy, a designer and maker of handmade jewelry, and the #1 Fuller Brush salesperson in the state of Massachusetts for over a decade. And she was a great mom.
I miss her still.
I still experience the sadness of the loss of my mom, more than 30 years later.
And I don’t think we ever lose that sadness. Nor should we.
Often I hear people say to others who are experiencing the sadness of losing a loved one, “Don’t worry, it will go away – just be patient, give it some time.”
Really? Let’s reflect for a minute on that seemingly well-meaning remark.
I think it’s almost disrespectful to say that to someone because, perhaps without realizing or intending it, underlying what you’re saying is, “That loved one really didn’t mean as much to you as you think he or she did. You’ll get over it.”
Not what you meant? Then maybe we should say something different, something clearer.
How about, “I think the intensity of the pain of the sadness may lessen somewhat, but she meant so much to you that the sadness is normal, it’s real, and it’s ok to feel that. And it may last on and off for a long time. It’s part of being human, it reflects the depth of your relationship. Enjoy the sweetness of her memory.”
Our culture does a terrible job at understanding death and the related emotions associated with it, and sadness is the most ubiquitous emotion we have surrounding death, especially the loss of a loved one. It’s not the sadness itself that we don’t want to have, it’s the overwhelming-ness of that emotion that is undesirable, the paralyzing effect of it.
If you can’t eat or take care of yourself, then that’s paralyzing. But if you’re very sad over the loss of a loved one, that is normal.
Sometimes we just don’t want to be reminded of our own sadness, or our own mortality, so we’re unconsciously dismissive of others when they come to us with their sadness. But, we should be mindful that if we’re needing our own attention to our own sadness, then we shouldn’t be trying to help others at that moment.
And at the end of the day, denying our feelings of sadness is not realistic nor is it loving or human. Not to ourselves. Not to our friends who need our help.
So, how do we lessen the paralyzing effect of the sadness that comes with the loss of a loved one?
One solution is to reduce the intensity of the sadness through the Power of Virtue in that ancient Greek sense that we have discussed in my “Overcoming the Fear of Death” lecture and other essays.
In summary, “turn within” and allow the mind to experience itself in a very natural way, through meditation or prayer or any effective method that works for you. This will kick start a neurophysiological process within your mind and body that will cause relaxation, more balancing of the emotions and greater peace of mind. This process of “Knowing Oneself” from starting 'on the inside out’ will ease the intensity of the sadness we’re talking about.
Another way to look at this can be illustrated by a simple but ingenious model that a good friend of mine who is now a philosophy professor, Charlie Donahue, came up with in 1970 when we began teaching meditation. He said all experience can be captured by the phrase “Conscious of xyz.” The idea is that most people identify themselves with the xyz’s of life, the concrete, easily definable, very specific “objects of experience.”
For example, if you go to a party or a reception where you don’t know anyone, and someone you meet says, “Tell me about yourself,” what do you usually say? I’m guessing that your answer goes something like this, “Well, I’m a doctor (lawyer, student, etc.), and I live in (fill in the blank).” Then the conversation typically goes to specifics like sports teams, where you went to school, social groups, cars you drive, and maybe even how much money you make. Because this is how many of us define ourselves. By our things. Stuff we can point to. Stuff we can touch. Material stuff.
But is that who we are?
Charlie would point out that we’ve ignored the left side of the equation, the “conscious of” side. Don’t we need that part of the equation to even have experience in the first place, to even be able to appreciate the objects of experience? I’d say Yes.
And in my terminology, I would call that side the mind, my mind, my consciousness. I need to have a conscious mind to experience. And that by regularly “turning within” through, say, meditation, I create a bridge or a connection between my mind and my objects of experience that is strong and balanced. Balanced in the sense that my experience of mind, my “Knowing Myself” becomes as strong as my experience of the material world of the xyz’s. And, as a result, I'm no longer imbalanced or overwhelmed by any experience of the xyz’s, including the experience of sadness, even the deep intimate sometimes debilitating sadness that may come along with the loss of a loved one.
It's not the xyz’s that are “bad”...it’s our disconnectedness with ourselves inside that needs attending to. That’s what balances us. That's what allows us to fully experience the xyz’s of life, in this case sadness, and not be overwhelmed, not be paralyzed by it.
So, once I “realized” this through my own experience of myself in this way, the sadness of having lost my mom no longer overwhelmed me.
Do I still at times experience deep sadness from missing her, and from thinking about how my children (and their mother) never got to meet my mom? And do I still cry sometimes remembering her sweetness, and her unique strong personality with its various quirks and permutations? Absolutely.
But is my identity, who I am inside, my sense of self, my inner stability shaken by that deep sadness? Absolutely not.
Not any more at least.
Kelvin H. Chin is a Meditation Teacher, Life After Life Expert, and Author of “Overcoming the Fear of Death.” He learned to meditate at age 19, and has been teaching Turning Within and coaching others in their self-growth for 40 years. He helps people understand their life challenges through their individual belief systems, and helps them find their own solutions. His past life memories reach back many centuries, and he accesses those memories in his teaching and his coaching in the same way all coaches draw on their own available experiences for perspective and effective analogies. He can be reached at www.OvercomingTheFearOfDeath.org or www.TurningWithin.org.