Turning Grief Into Compassion & Personal Power

If we have the tools to navigate it in a constructive way, grief can liberate us from fear and help us cultivate a deep sense of compassion. This notion was completely foreign to me for the first half of my life during which time I would unconsciously let my grief become anger and project it at the world around me. We see this same reactive pattern every day in the news though we rarely take the time to dissect and understand it. Unresolved grief is the source of violence and illness, so let’s look at a more healthy approach to this universal human emotion.

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Grateful for grief?

The idea sounds ridiculous, especially when we are engulfed with darkness. Grief is every bit as powerful as love in it’s ability to shape our lives. We tend to shove it away, put a smile on it and pretend it isn’t there. Though sometimes we need to be “strong” in social situations, developing a close personal presence and relationship with grief will transform it. Just the simple mental switch of considering grief as a teacher can be profound.

I was first introduced to this concept while seeing Tibetan Monk, Palden Gyatso speak at a local event. He had spent years in a Chinese torture camp yet he was filled with love and forgiveness for his experiences. It made me think of all the minor things I have moped and complained about in my life. As I compared my struggles with his I couldn’t help but admire his strength. I realized that it was time for me to learn some new coping skills.

During this time I was introduced to Tonglen Meditation. As I began to open up to my own grief with these new coping tools, the gates blew wide open. Realizing how much I had been ruled by my own fear of grief, I began to enjoy letting myself cry. The practice of Tonglen Meditation made me aware of how often my choices were based on how to avoid grief. Despite our best efforts, grief is unavoidable.

I am not a Tonglen teacher, but there are plenty of good ones out there including Pema Chodron who has a wonderful audio-talk called Good Medicine. The basic concept is simple though… You sit quietly and breathe in all the fear, grief and pain happening in your life. You breathe it right into your heart and feel it with all your senses. When your lungs are full of air, it is time to exhale and let it all go while focusing on a deep and eternal peace. At the end of the exhale you begin to inhale grief again. In this cycle you allow yourself to be like a pump breathing in grief, and breathing out peace.

The other component is that you cultivate the ability to become the observer of this internal process that is universal to all humans. An intimate relationship with grief also allows one to feel connected in a profound way with everyone who has ever lived. It is strange to consider, but grief might be more common than even love…

Mayan Wisdom about Grief

Grief is most often associated with the loss of someone or something that we love. Martin Prechtel speaks of the Mayan wisdom that  considers grief as the highest form of praise. In the Mayan tradition, crying is seen as a form of prayer and tears actually feed our ancestors. When we can be present with our own grief we are less likely to project it in anger or violence onto others, we become compassionate warriors.

We can not expect nations to act on this principle until enough individuals are able to embody it. We don’t want war so we need to cultivate peace within. Grief can be a teacher for the compassion that dissolves violence with love. Many people confuse control and power. Real strength and resilience comes from the personal power of being liberated from fear. I still grieve on occasion, but my fear and anger towards this world has quickly dissipated through these practices.


What if this perspective was part of the global story?

Palden Gyatso changed my world in a very short moment by challenging me to change the way I look at the tough parts in life. I had the pleasure of bringing him to the Hopi Mesas to meet elders and discuss ancient history the day after his talk. He laughed at me a lot as I continued to ask him about prophecy and earth changes.

He assured me over and over that if we are in the right place within our heart nothing can harm us. Coming from an individual who endured torture to speak of compassion and forgiveness, I knew I better listen to what he had to say. So if you are going through grief remember that it will pass. Welcome grief as a teacher and you will become a stronger, more resilient person when it does pass. Like everything, it will pass.

**Post originally appeared at UPLIFT**

Art is Activism in Public Places

Advertising is used everywhere, on billboards and posters cluttering our visual landscape with messages to buy this or that. What if public space was used to convey an idea instead of a brand? What if advertising was used to inspire thought instead of encourage mindless consumption? For many years I thought everyone agreed that education was a good thing, but then I considered just how profitable it can be for some businesses if everyone remains ignorant. The internet is changing this sad truth and with the advent of social networks, people can share endless information about everything from politics to environmental or social issues. But what about public space, how can that be reclaimed transformed?

Recently I watched “Exit Through The Gift Shop“, which I highly recommend to anyone who hasn’t seen it. It’s about street art, reclaiming public space with creative and thought-provoking expression and it features Banksy, Shephard Fairey, Invader and many of the world’s most infamous underground artists. From cave drawings to urban graffiti, images and words shape the way we perceive the world yet the paradigm of competition and consumption continues to rule the visual landscape of the modern world.

Some argue that is human nature, but it isn’t exactly true. Humanity evolved from cooperation as much as it did from competition. Tribes, bands, communities have been the support network that has raised generations of people in cooperation. Even wars between tribes or nations showed much cooperation in each individual side as they fought the enemy. Where do we see messages of cooperation, of compassion, of inspiration in public spaces?

The life of a street artist might be a little too daring for the average person, but there are ways that artists find their own ways to inspire the community around them. Jeff Daverman of Root Concepts is one of them. He has made a successful business giving people a voice in public space with ideas that inspire. I had the opportunity to visit Jeff in his studio and see his philosophy in action. You’ve probably seen his stickers on Prius’s, hippie vans, in health food stores, street light posts, bikes, kids lunch-boxes sand yoga studios.

Jeff has the inspired notion to use stickers as a way to encourage dialogue, to make people think and to dream. Like many artists, and primarily street artists, Jeff understands that there is a battle of ideas occurring in public spaces. Another thing his stickers do is remind us of the words and lives of social justice heroes, encouraging us to reach our highest potential. Whenever I see his stickers around I am reminded that I am not the only one who dreams of something better. I am reminded that there is still a huge community of people who believe in cooperation, in working together and dreaming bigger for the sake of our future and our planet. When you watch this video, I’m sure you will recognize the work of an artist who has left his fingerprints all over the country.

I know there are many many other artists out there doing this kind of inspired works, tell me a few of your favorite…

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