LOS ANGELES, California—“Connect with your center at the edge of the world…” the tagline on the Terranea brochure read. Terranea is the resort-spa where my childhood friend Joy was taking me for the day, a good 24 hours after I landed in the city of angels.
Driving through the winding coastline that would bring us to Palos Verdes for the day, Terranea is a beautiful resort-spa that is poised above coastal bluffs with absolutely gorgeous and sweeping vistas of the Pacific Ocean and Catalina Island.
I’m in Los Angeles this week for my annual grief conference—that time of year when I get away for a while to immerse in the latest developments and research on grief counseling and education. Before the conference proper began, I spent a few days trying to kill my jetlag by walking by the beach each day and spending quiet time by the sea. Just last week, I was across on the other side of the Pacific with the children when we spent time at Crimson on Mactan Island. This time, I was by myself (well, with a childhood friend who lets me be) trying to find my center once more.
Bonding with colleagues
Attending these conferences always feels like coming home as I bond with colleagues from the disciplines who are just as passionate about journeying with people in transition.
Today, among others, I had classes on the important role of identity transformation in moving forward after a loss. “Our sense of who we are is often challenged by death or loss but it is also an opportunity to move from a false self to an authentic self, to reevaluate our skills and strengths, and to move beyond our roles to forge a deeper sense of identity,” crisis counselor Dr. Wayne Leaver said.
He also reminded us that the journey to wholeness is really a process of disenchantment and grieving. “Grieving a particular loss, we realize that we cannot always remake the world, and so we learn and find new ways instead on how to live our own life, minus the loved one in the real world.” True joy and pleasure, he stressed, could only be found in surrendering and letting go.
Serendipitously, day one at the conference ended with a class on “The Art of Letting Go: Coming to terms with Impermanence.” A class taught by Aliyya Behles, an RN specializing in end of life care with a master’s degree in Divinity, and professor at the Mount St. Mary’s College in Los Angeles, talked about letting go in the context of working with patients who are close to the end of life. “Accept everything, push away nothing—both the comfort and the discomfort. It is only in doing so, when we accept both the dark and the light that we are able to fully grasp the situation, and transform.
Acknowledging the experience
She said that acknowledging our experience as it unfolds in the present and neither repudiating it or pursuing it cultivates the attitude of being with it rather than trying to get rid of it or change it into what it “should be.” Aliyya then closed the session by reading a beautiful piece by the Sufi poet Rumi, “The Guest House.”
“This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.”
It is in letting go that you are able to find hope once more, and in time you learn to truly forgive. Hope, as described by one of my favorite authors, Dr. Thomas Attig—eases suffering’s constriction and quickens your pulse, opens you to and reaches for the possible.
In his latest book, “Catching Your Breath in Grief,” he writes, “Hope is not expectation. Expectation presumes to know what will happen and takes for granted what has not yet been granted. Hope is not wishing. Wishing focuses on what is beyond reach, resigns to harsh realities, and waits for something to happen. Hope strives humbly in uncertainty and is receptive to grace. It desires goodness fully, dissolves passivity, perseveres, and nurtures that goodness, even in life’s shadows.”
Finding my smile and my center once more, and catching my breath momentarily, all is well, here in the City of Angels.