An integral relationship to grief and loss
Welcome to the 2nd Integral Living Room Community Call of 2016. Our theme for the Living Room this year is death and dying, and this particular call focuses on grief and loss.
Terry has been plunged into a season of grieving, recently experiencing the deaths of two old friends. Jeff expresses feeling like a student of the subject, very much in touch with all his life-affirming identities, and not so closely in touch with loss and grief. And Diane describes how the sudden deaths of seven friends when she was 17 had initiated her spiritual life, and how several deaths, including the passing of her first student and her father, have made the past few years another season of grieving.
Then we hear from Ken Wilber, who offers some clarifying distinctions, pointing to a transcendental relationship to death and loss, recognizing that our contraction over loss is always related to a limited identity with someone or something that we can release. Thus we can relate to the pain of loss and grief as a pointer to limited identities that we can surrender into a greater freedom.
Ken tells his personal story of an immanent experience—grieving the death of his wife Treya after she lost her battle with breast cancer. He describes two particularly striking moments—hearing the snap of her sudden radical release into consciousness, and spontaneously weeping every afternoon for several months as he re-experienced each stage of a tortuous five years of bad news, medical ordeals, shocks and losses.
But Ken observes that growth only happens through the release of old forms. Even in the face of his profound losses, he expresses amazing confidence that the universe is “winding up, not down”. It needs deaths to grow into higher orders of complexity and consciousness. Diane expresses a deep appreciation for Ken’s way of looking at the world.
This illustrates powerfully how intimacy with death is intimacy with life. Growth always involves letting go of old forms, and that means grief. We tend to emphasize the expansiveness and inclusion of new possibilities that are also a part of growth, but we tend not to emphasize the flip side of the process—the grief of letting go as we outgrow things and leave them behind. It can be our old ways of looking at the world; it can be people; it can even be a profession. Death is a component of growth.
Jeff says that although he had participated in this conversation with Ken some weeks ago, it was like he was hearing it for the first time. He praises what a great teacher Ken is to him. “What a transmission I receive from him, just listening to him. Finding your teacher is a big thing, and Ken is my teacher. After listening to Ken’s perspective I feel more whole-hearted and optimistic.”
Terry resonates particularly with the theme of growth implying leave-taking, and refers to the remarkable integral poem by Hermann Hesse, “Stages”:
As every flower fades and as all youth
Departs, so life at every stage,
So every virtue, so our grasp of truth,
Blooms in its day and may not last forever.
Since life may summon us at every age
Be ready, heart, for parting, new endeavor,
Be ready bravely and without remorse
To find new light that old ties cannot give.
In all beginnings dwells a magic force
For guarding us and helping us to live.
Serenely let us move to distant places
And let no sentiments of home detain us.
The Cosmic Spirit seeks not to restrain us
But lifts us stage by stage to wider spaces.
If we accept a home of our own making,
Familiar habit makes for indolence.
We must prepare for parting and leave-taking
Or else remain the slaves of permanence.
Even the hour of our death may send
Us speeding on to fresh and newer spaces,
And life may summon us to newer races.
So be it, heart: bid farewell without end.
At the end of the call we open up to sharing among many members of the community. One woman shares the ways this conversation confirms her acceptance of her parents’ coming deaths. Another describes how the dwindling of her business is striking her as a tremendous loss, a death of sorts. Another describes how grief opens us up to larger griefs. And another points back to a visit to Shambhala books in Berkeley and an encounter with The Tibetan Book of the Dead, opening up a whole new relationship with death.
As we end the call, we share a resonant laugh, remembering how psychedelic experiences, feeling like death and dissolution, have delivered many of us into a space that’s bigger than our personal identity. We have been stretched by some mystical states into a free space from which we don’t snap all the way back. The laugh we share reminds us of what it feels like to be among fellow integral evolutionaries in the big room when we are all together in Boulder.
There are only about a dozen spaces left, so please register soon if you’d like to join us for the Integral Living Room, Nov 10-13, in Boulder at the Integral Center!