The Spiritual Path to Healing, Part 2
Author: Alan Wolfelt
Editor’s Note: The death of a loved one challenges us in many areas including our religious and spiritual beliefs. While spirituality and religious tradition help many who are grieving, TAPS does not endorse any one spiritual belief or religion over another.
This magazine may well be in your hands because someone you love has died. I am so very sorry for your loss. You have been “torn apart” and have some very unique needs. Among these needs is to nurture yourself in five important areas: physically, emotionally, cognitively, socially, and spiritually. While all of these areas are important, this article offers practical ways to nurture yourself in the spiritual realm.
NURTURE YOUR SPIRIT
Nurturing your spirit relates to caring for that part of yourself that is transcendent. You can care for your spirit in ways ranging from inspirational reading to listening to or playing music, being with those you feel support from, walking in the woods, strolling on the beach, or spending time in the company of wise people of any spiritual path.
Nurturing your spirit means giving attention to your underlying beliefs and values. It also means being non-judgmental as you observe and appreciate people who have a different faith or spiritual outlook than you have. You can expand your own spiritual journey by going beyond your comfort zone and trying one of the practices in this article that you would not normally participate in.
Take action: Look over the spiritual practices in this article and select one to participate in that you might not naturally be drawn toward. Try it out and be open to how it expands your capacity to nurture your spirit.
SET ASIDE TIME EACH DAY FOR SPIRITUAL PRACTICE
You get up every morning. You brush your teeth. You shower. You eat breakfast. Perhaps you read the newspaper or check your e-mail. You say hello to your family or coworkers or neighbors.
Every day you engage in rituals of self-care. You take care of your body. You take care of your brain. You probably take care of your social self, at least to some degree. But how do you make sure you are caring for your emotional self and your spiritual self each and every day? Your spirit needs feeding just as much as your body does. Set aside time to feed it each day.
What will you do with your spiritual time? You decide! Perhaps you have a favorite spiritual practice, such as yoga or meditation. Maybe you could use your daily time to try different ideas in this article.
Take action: You know that you’re supposed to exercise your body for 30 minutes a day. Start exercising your spirit for 30 minutes a day, too. Begin today.
REACH OUT TO OTHERS FOR HELP
Perhaps the most compassionate thing you can do for yourself at this difficult time is to reach out for help from others. Think of it this way: grieving may be the hardest work you have ever done. And hard work is less burdensome when others lend a hand. Life's greatest challenges—getting through school, raising children, pursuing a career—are in many ways team efforts. So it should be with mourning.
Sharing your pain with others won't make it disappear, but it will, over time, make it more bearable. Reaching out for help also connects you to other people and strengthens the bonds of love that make life seem worth living again. When Bill Cosby’s son Ennis was murdered, Mr. Cosby reached out to other families who were that day also confronted with the murder of their children. He was not alone and you aren’t either.
Take action: Call a close friend who may have distanced himself from you since the death and tell him how much you need him right now. Suggest specific ways he can help.
VISIT THE GREAT OUTDOORS
During times of grief and loss, many people find it restorative and energizing to spend time in nature. Returning to the natural world encourages you to discover what is essential both within you and the world around you.
As a human being, you are a part of the natural world, and you are interdependent with it. As many naturalists would remind you, a close relationship with nature grounds your psyche and soul in the spiritual certainty of your roots. If you lose touch with nature’s rhythms, you lose touch with your deepest self, with what some would call “the ground of your being.”
If you allow yourself to befriend nature, you will discover that its timeless beauty is renewing and healing. Observe how children respect and honor the spirit of nature and its beauty because they understand it instinctively. Flowers, birds, bugs, and butterflies often bring enthusiastic cries of recognition in children. You too can approach nature with the openness of a child. Take pleasure in the sounds, sights, and smells that fill your senses.
Look up at the sky filled with beautiful clouds or twinkling stars. Stand barefoot in cool grass. Play in the snow. Taste sweet strawberries from the field. Feel the wind and sun on your skin. It doesn’t matter if you are in a garden or a park, in the mountains or beside the ocean. Nature will soothe your soul and refresh your spirit.
Take Action: Today, reflect on your relationship with the natural world. Go for a walk or hike and invite the Divine to come along. Allow nature to sustain you and bring you peace.
GO TO EXILE
Choosing to spend time alone is an essential self-nurturing spiritual practice. It affords you the opportunity to be unaffected by other’s wants and needs. Alone time does not mean you are being selfish. Instead, you will experience rest and renewal in ways you otherwise would not. A lack of alone time produces heightened confusion and a muting of your life force.
Getting away from it all can become your refuge. So much of modern life invites you to keep busy—e-mail, cell phones, satellite TV, all competing for your attention. Yet when you have special mourning needs, the last thing you need is distraction. Remember, this time of exile is not only for you. As you rest and renew, you can also better meet the needs of those who depend on you. Your human spirit is naturally compassionate, and once you feel restored, your instinct to be kind and generous will be revitalized.
Even Jesus went to exile. He modeled the simple spiritual practice of rest and alone time as a natural, nourishing, and valuable companion to times of busyness. Jesus would sometimes send people away, disappear without warning or explanation, and retreat to a place of rest. If Jesus went to exile, so can you!
Within your exiled time and space will evolve the insights and blessings that come to the surface only in stillness and with time. Schedule alone time on a regular basis. Don’t shut out your family and friends altogether, but do answer the call for contemplative solitude.
Take Action: Schedule one hour of solitude into your day today.
Get in touch with the Creator by creating. Make something that expresses your feelings or honors the loss you are mourning. Is there a creative activity that you find you lose yourself in—that you get so involved in that you lose all track of time and place and you become immersed in your creative process? If so, that’s the kind of activity you want to do now.
Write. Paint. Sew. Scrapbook. Knit. Garden. Cook. Play an instrument. Decorate. Organize. All of these activities are forms of creation. Pick one that moves you.
Take action: Make something today.
The ideas in this article are excerpted from Dr. Wolfelt’s book Healing Your Grieving Soul: 100 Spiritual Practices for Mourners. For more information and to order this or any of his grief resources, please visit www.centerforloss.com.
By Dr. Alan Wolfelt, PhD: Dr. Alan Wolfelt is a respected author and educator on the topic of healing in grief. He serves as Director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition and is on the faculty at the University of Colorado Medical School's Department of Family Medicine. Dr. Wolfelt has written many compassionate, bestselling books designed to help people mourn well so they can continue to love and live well, including Understanding Your Grief, The Mourner's Book of Hope, and The Depression of Grief, from which this article was excerpted. Visit www.centerforloss.com to learn more about the natural and necessary process of grief and mourning and to order Dr. Wolfelt's books.