- Negative Thinking
- Emotional Intelligence
- Empathy & Compassion
- Defense Mechanisms
- Anger Management
- Coping with Loss & Grief
- Higher Purpose
- Meditation and Healing
Coping with Loss & Grief
We tend to think of grief as a bereavement process resulting from the loss of a loved one, but, in reality, we may grieve deeply over other losses that are meaningful to us, as well; for example, divorce, loss of other important relationships or a career. In the aftermath of a significant loss, we want to know what to expect and how long our grief will last. What constitutes “normal” grief? There are no simple, universal answers. Grief is different for every person and every loss.
Perhaps you’ve heard of the “DABDA” 5-stage model associated with grief, death and dying that’s become so deeply entrenched in modern culture. Bowlby and Parkes were the first to propose a stage theory of grief, which included 4 stages: Shock-Numbness; Yearning-Searching; Disorganization-Despair; and Reorganization (Bowlby, 1961, 1980; Parkes, 1972, 1983).
Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross later proposed a 5-stage response of terminally ill patients to their impending death: Denial-dissociation-isolation; Anger; Bargaining; Depression; Acceptance. Her 1969 book, On Death and Dying, was one of the most influential books in the history of psychology. It revolutionized how terminally ill patients were treated by caregivers and helped enhance patients’ understanding and acceptance of their impending death.
During the 1970s, in the hands of college professors and many mental health professionals, Kubler-Ross’ DABDA model of the stages of dying morphed into a stage theory of grief. The notion that a natural psychological response to loss involves an orderly progression through distinct stages of bereavement has been widely accepted by clinicians and the general public. But does grief necessarily occur in stages?
Forms of Grief
There are two widely accepted broad forms of grief: acute grief and integrated or abiding grief (Bonanno et al, 2004).
Acute grief occurs in the early aftermath of a death or other loss. It can be intensely painful and is often characterized by behaviors and emotions that would be considered unusual in normal everyday life. But, for example, it would not be unusual for bereaved individuals to dream of their deceased loved ones, to semi-look for them in crowds, to sense their presence, feel them watching out for or protecting them, or to rehearse discussions or “speak” to them. During acute grief, we may be preoccupied with thoughts and memories of the deceased person, experience disturbed eating and sleeping patterns, have difficulty concentrating and be disinterested in other people or normal daily activities.
Integrated or Abiding Grief
Integrated or abiding grief is often associated with sadness and longing. During the transition from acute to integrated grief, usually beginning within the first few months of the death, the wounds begin to heal, and we find our way back to a fulfilling life. The reality and meaning of the loss are gradually assimilated and we’re able to engage once again in pleasurable and satisfying relationships and activities. Even though the grief has been integrated, we don’t forget — or stop missing — who or what we have lost, or relinquish our sadness. But the loss becomes integrated into autobiographical memory and the thoughts and memories of the deceased are no longer preoccupying or disabling. Unlike acute grief, integrated grief does not persistently preoccupy the mind or disrupt other activities.
But grief is not only about pain.
In an uncomplicated grief process, painful experiences are intermingled with positive feelings, such as relief, joy, peace, and happiness, even though these positive feelings may elicit negative emotions of disloyalty or guilt in the bereaved. But, in reality, positive feelings at 6 months following a death or significant loss are a sign of resilience and are associated with good long-term outcomes (Bonanno et al, 2004).
Complicated grief, on the other hand, a syndrome that occurs in about 10% of bereaved people, results from the failure to transition from acute to integrated grief. It is often referred to as unresolved grief or traumatic grief, and is associated with substantial impairments in work, health, and social functioning.
Stages of Grief
Within the broad forms of grief mentioned above, the DABDA theory of grief proposes five stages…
When we first learn of a significant loss, our first reaction may be to deny the reality of the situation — block out the words and hide from the facts. It’s a defense mechanism that buffers the immediate shock and calms overwhelming emotions, a temporary response that carries us through the first wave of pain. Some experience this phase as a state of shock, numbness, or disorientation — especially in the event of sudden, unexpected loss — but this state doesn’t last long. Numbness, a common physiological response to significant loss, results from an overload of emotional energy in reaction to loss. It tends to be followed by distraction and an inability to concentrate. Some experience a trance-like state, short-term dissociations from awareness or a sense of suspended reality. Such a state may help us come to terms with the loss gradually, rather than being forced to process all our feelings at once.
For a person who is grieving, the denial may be more symbolic than literal. Disbelief is often expressed by mourners, (e.g., “I still can’t believe he’s gone”), but may just be a figure of speech, rather than a literal (and delusional) belief that the event didn’t happen.
The pain of our loss may manifest as anger. Even as we may experience a sense of relief that, for example, the suffering is over for a loved one who just died, or for no longer living under the pressure of a stressful job we just got fired from, we may feel anger.Not everyone experiences anger after a loss, but some find that once the pain-masking effects of denial and numbness wear off and reality emerges, so does anger. We may not be emotionally ready to deal with the overwhelming feelings triggered by the loss and may be inclined to deflect our intense feelings of sorrow into expressions of anger, away from our own vulnerable emotional core.
Our anger may be redirected to friends, family, complete strangers, or inanimate objects. When a loved one has died, for example, we may feel anger at God, a disease, doctor, hospital, a person who killed our loved one. We may even feel anger at our dying or deceased loved ones who didn’t take good care of themselves, or who took their own lives. We may even resent the loved one for causing us pain or for leaving us, even as we understand, rationally, the unfairness of our resentment. We may then feel guilty for being angry, which may only make us even more angry. We may be angry with ourselves, blame ourselves.
Bargaining and Yearning
Bargaining is our way of negotiating the pain of loss. It’s a normal reaction to feelings of helplessness and vulnerability, indicative of a need to regain control. We may make secret deals with God or the universe, attempting to postpone the cold, hard, inevitable truth.The bargaining phase generally includes deep yearning for who or what you’ve lost. (“If I could just have one more day with her, I promise I’d…”) If you’ve lost someone close to you, just seeing the person’s clothes hanging in the closet could trigger a fierce longing and a whole new wave of grief.
For many, bargaining includes feelings of guilt, which some have suggested may actually be its own stage of grief. They find themselves having useless “if only…” thoughts, ruminating about what they could have done to change the outcome.
- If only we had sought medical attention sooner…
- If only we had gotten a second opinion…
- If only I had been kinder to him…
But the outcome can’t be changed, of course, and wishing you had done something differently, better, or more often is not a constructive way to deal with your broken heart. Guilt can only keep you stuck in a place that’s far, far away from acceptance.
The sadness and pain associated with loss can invade every corner of our lives and some level of depression is common amongst grievers and perhaps even “normal,” especially for the bereaved. But the line between grief-related depression and clinical depression can be blurry. One large study of more than 8,000 subjects revealed that as many as 25% of grieving people who were diagnosed with depression and placed on antidepressants were not, in fact, clinically depressed and would have benefited far more from supportive therapies that could keep them from developing full-blown depression (Wakefield et al, 2007).One of the problems with diagnosing clinical depression during bereavement is that grieving, in itself, shares some characteristics associated with clinical depression. For example:
- low mood and loss of pleasure
- poor concentration
- sleep disturbances
- appetite and weight changes
- fatigue and lack of energy
- sense of despair
While grieving, we also experience problems such as crying spells and irrational, unwarranted guilt (e.g., believing we could have prevented a loved one’s death) that while, technically, not symptoms of clinical depression, are associated with depressive episodes.
However, most people who are grieving a loss are not clinically depressed (although, people with a previous history of clinical depression will be more prone to it). Grief, after all, which may share symptoms with depression, is not a disorder. It’s a normal reaction to loss. Clinical depression, on the other hand, is abnormal and requires treatment. It can be helpful for anyone who’s suffering substantial impairment in work, health, and social functioning for sustained periods to seek help from a mental health professional who can make this determination.
For in-depth information, see How Sahaja Helps Relieve Depression.
Acceptance is sometimes equated to “closure,” a term that’s often batted around as the post-loss goal we should be seeking. Some swear by it; others don’t believe any such thing as closure exists. Most grief therapists seem to agree that, for most people, grief is never fully “completed” (Zisook & Shear, 2009); however, that doesn’t mean we can’t achieve acceptance and go on to live content, meaningful lives after a loss. Unfortunately, not everyone is able to achieve acceptance; for example, someone who is never able to conquer his or her anger over the loss will have trouble ever being at peace with it.What constitutes acceptance? For sure, acceptance means adapting to a new normal… picking up the pieces, reorganizing our lives to accommodate the loss, and taking steps to build a meaningful new life.
Does Grief Occur in Stages?
Kübler-Ross repeatedly stated that a dying person might not experience all five stages, nor would he or she necessarily experience them in her proposed sequence. But her statements often fell on deaf ears. Since then, many researchers have sought to empirically prove whether stages of grief exist and how long each stage should “typically” last. But what they’ve concluded is that, when it comes to grief, there may be no such thing as typical. In fact, one large bereavement study at Yale designed to educate everyone from clinicians, caregivers and bereavement counselors to bereaved laypeople about what to expect following the death of a family member or loved one concluded just that (Maciejewski et al, 2007).
Contrary to stage theory, the Yale Bereavement Study found that denial or disbelief was often not the initial, dominant grief indicator. Yearning was the dominant negative grief indicator in the first 2 years post-loss. Study-wide, the 5 grief indicators did, however, peak in the sequence (denial, anger, yearning-bargaining, depression, and acceptance) predicted by the stage theory of grief. Disbelief decreased from an initial high at 1 month post-loss, yearning peaked at 4 months post-loss, anger peaked at 5 months post-loss, and depression peaked at 6 months post-loss. Acceptance continued to increase throughout the 6-month period.
Grief is not a state; it’s a process. And it often proceeds in fits and starts. Regardless of whether you believe grief occurs in stages and follows a specific sequence, it’s useful to understand the complicated thoughts and emotions involved in each of these stages and learn how
Sahaja meditation can help you achieve acceptance and resolve grief. There is no right or wrong way to grieve, but certainly there are healthy and unhealthy ways to manage your grief.
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How Sahaja Helps Resolve Grief
Experienced Sahaja practitioners tend to be able to live in complete acceptance of events and forces that are beyond human control. To begin with, the initial process of Self-Realization itself creates a hypothesis that a powerful and subtle energy exists within us. Then through meditation, developing an awareness of — and sensitivity to — this energy confirms the existence of this power within us. The actual experience of meditation also confirms our ability to connect this inner energy to the all-pervading power of the universe and tap into it to receive ongoing self-improvement benefits.
So Sahaja practitioners tend to sense the hand of the invisible force behind most happenings in their own lives, as well as larger events throughout the world. They have a lot of faith and confidence that everything that happens is happening for a reason and purpose: it is either a natural occurrence, or an unfortunate occurrence delivering a message from this all-powerful force — a lesson to be learned or a subtle, indirect hint that right action is required to rectify a condition. To these practitioners, it seems impossible that nature or destiny doesn’t have a hand in any adverse incident or loss that happens to anyone.
This enhanced level of acceptance provides a tremendous life advantage for Sahaja practitioners over those who don’t meditate or practice Sahaja. In fact, in many adverse situations, it could even be argued that many Sahaja practitioners may almost instantly experience acceptance after loss, before they have really begun the grieving process that might include other DABDA stages.
Sahaja practitioners tend to lead a life of greater empathy and compassion towards others. They may be more inclined to go out of their way to help make the loss more bearable and acceptable for others who are grieving, even people they don’t know. They have an immediate sense of appreciation, understanding and feeling for what others are going through. When they experience significant losses in their own lives, they do tend to grieve like everyone else (e.g., non-meditators), although the grief process is often modified or shortened. They are usually able to be quite philosophical about it and try to immediately adjust and come to terms with the situation as quickly as possible.
From a subtle energy system standpoint, the Sahaja practitioner’s strong connection with the universal all-pervading power helps replenish depleted emotional energies in the left energy channel that govern emotional functioning. There is generally a readily accessible supporting force within Sahaja practitioners that helps them acknowledge, understand, cope with and accept loss and work through grief in healthy ways. This significantly reduces the amount of time it takes to effectively manage the loss, compared to the average non-meditator. In fact, the awareness of one’s own subtle energy provides a sense of confidence that grief can ultimately be overcome, which can be a significant psychological boost.
Various components of the subtle energy system are key to dealing with grief or loss. The Vishuddhi chakra, specifically, is associated with the long-term trait of being a balanced, emotionally detached witness to most events, without overactivity. A strong, balanced Nabhi chakra helps manage anger in the longer term, which may help prevent us from experiencing anger when dealing with grief or loss in the short term. A well-developed Agnya chakra can facilitate our ability to move on more quickly from a difficult loss by helping us accept it as an unavoidable event; in other words, by putting us on the path to forgiving and forgetting immediately after experiencing a loss.
Most Sahaja practitioners develop high emotional resilience and can expect to bounce back fairly quickly. Confronted by loss, they demonstrate good anger management skills, a lower degree of emotional involvement and reactivity and the ability to forgive and move on. The extent of these abilities vary among practitioners and with the severity of the loss, of course, but with Sahaja practitioners, it is perhaps typical to expect what might normally be years of grieving to be reduced to months or even a few weeks.
In advanced stages of the Sahaja practice, the disturbance created by grief actually becomes sort of a test of practitioners’ traits and evolutionary progress. Advanced practitioners may interpret their level of emotional disturbance and ability to recover from it as test of whether they were overly attached involved or reacting to something.
So beyond grieving, they may rise to the challenge and focus on trying to permanently fix over-involvement and reaction attachment issues in themselves, rather than focus on the actual grief or loss itself.
It is possible for such individuals to remain largely calm and composed even during difficult situations, to stand unperturbed like a rock, as some would say.
Having said all this, those who practice Sahaja are not entirely immune to the common DABDA phases, and it is likely that most may experience various phases when grieving a major loss, albeit in a somewhat altered fashion. Sahaja practitioners may also inherently understand that it’s important to complete the grieving process, rather than avoid it; otherwise, the grief can remain unexpressed and unresolved, causing longer term psychological difficulties in their lives and more importantly, their spiritual journey.
There’s another issue that may actually make some Sahaja practitioners inclined to experience more intense emotions about a loss: Sahaja meditation greatly improves sensitivity to others’ feelings, and increases feelings of compassion and love, in general. Practitioners may actually feel emotional losses more deeply than many non-meditators — their own losses, as well as others’ losses. However, because they are highly self-aware, they are well aware of this trait in themselves and are able to control it through because of their overall maturity and ability to self-assess. If emotional sensitivity, in general, is high, so is perception of one’s own emotional state. And that helps speed up the recovery process, or at the very least, provides quick, early detection of their emotional state during a grief or loss.
While each Sahaja practitioner grieves differently, what follows are descriptions of how typical practitioners would likely react to loss within the DABDA stages of grief…
For meditators, higher emotional and mental resilience, along with the ability to be a detached witness, can greatly shorten the denial stage or eliminate it altogether. In fact, Sahaja meditation, in general, focuses on appreciating and living in consensus reality rather than in any state of illusion or delusion, which could include denial. More importantly, the inherent connection and harmony with the mightier, more powerful force of life prevents them from spending little or no time at all in denying the reality of a loss situation. They are used to expecting anything to happen and accepting everything that does happen as the ultimate doings of this power.
Sahaja meditation offers a distinct advantage in controlling the root causes of anger, in general, regardless of whether grief or loss is triggering the anger. The majority of Sahaja practitioners report decreased anger in the longer term and being better equipped to manage it effectively, constructively. This ability especially helps during the grieving process.
It’s even reasonable to expect that most Sahaja practitioners will move through the grief process without experiencing anger, and certainly without surrendering to it.
Sahaja practitioners might bargain, but in an atypical and more positive, constructive manner. Typical practitioners would likely engage in what is called “positive-minded bargaining.” They would recognize that an adverse event has happened and try to introspect as to why it occurred and what needs to be done or changed within themselves to prevent or minimize the impact. Examples might include training oneself to achieve a reduced level of emotional reaction to emotionally-charged events, or analyzing the root cause if the loss possibly resulted from mistakes they made and accepting responsibility. So, meditators typically focus on positively changing themselves and inducing positive changes in the environment and in their own and others’ behavior to improve the outcome.
Specifically, such positive-minded bargaining might involve acknowledging and expressing that the adverse event happened for a specific reason and by will of the all-pervading power and that the event is a message that a change needs to occur — someone involved needs to get better at accepting change or loss and/or do things differently. This might involve persuading others of this, or meditating to connect with the all-pervading power and introspecting to pinpoint the specific root causes of the loss. Then, it might involve making a set of commitments, say, for example, to improve one’s sense of emotional detachment to emotionally-charged events and so on.
Because stages such as denial, anger and bargaining are modified for the typical Sahaja practitioner, reality and acceptance may sink in more naturally, which may reduce the likelihood of significant depression. By the time depression typically sets in for most grievers, an expert meditator is already preparing for, or has begun, the battle to return to normalcy as quickly as possible and rectify mistakes, if applicable. Also, Sahaja meditation helps manage depression triggered by any cause, which is especially useful when dealing with loss.
Acceptance and closure
Of all the grief stages, acceptance is the one that comes most naturally to Sahaja practitioners and almost instantly, right from the start. Meditators are more likely to persistently try to reconcile themselves with the loss, seek the fastest route to acceptance, and move towards closure. The instinctive practitioner reaction is to try to adapt to the situation and defuse its intensity through longer and more frequent meditations. Clearing the left energy channel and chakras also helps. Their first resort may even be to surrender and submit to the all-powerful all-pervading power and allow that surrender to heal themselves and the situation.
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