Spiritual Practice in Times of Tragedy

Spiritual Practice in Times of Tragedy

Posted by in Guest Posts, Non-Fiction

After the terrible events that have stricken Japan, Lara Owen, author of Growing Your Inner Light, explains that even out of the most terrible times we can grow and become stronger individuals. . .

Once, after a period of loss, I was sitting at the kitchen table staring out at a winter garden, feeling bereft and empty. This phase had been going on for a couple of years: first a baby, then a dog, then a marriage. I had been through one of life’s mills. A meaningful expression, as these old sayings often are. In a mill, the chaff is threshed away from the heart of the wheat until only the good part, the edible part, the sweet, digestible part, remains.

On that particular day, as I sat mutely at the table, a position I had become very used to, it dawned on me that something deep within me had changed. The thoughts I had, the way I related to my world, to life itself, was different. Spontaneously in that moment, out of the mute, dulled miasma of grief, an image of my own psyche came into my awareness. I saw layers of minerals, of gold, silver, shining crystals, and bejeweled rocks, laid in between strata of silt, granite, sandstone. Along with the image came a knowing: that these gleaming layers of richness were a direct result of the loss. I saw that my psyche was being cooked by the grief; that I was turning into a richer, deeper person because of it. This was a revelation, as I had been immersed in pain in which I had seen no meaning, only misery and hurt.

Since then I have related to my own personal suffering and the suffering of others differently. I always had strong empathy, and sometimes when I was younger it felt like this sensitivity was turned up too high for my own well-being. This can still happen: I have not slept soundly, from three nights before the earthquake in Japan, until last night when I finally slept through the night. I know many people who have this kind of relationship with the world. Our connection with the collective of humanity was on alert even before we knew what this alert was about (please click here for a comment stream with many examples of this).

But now I know, even in the midst of these experiences, that the people of Japan will emerge stronger from this tragedy. I am a holder of that vision; I can see it easily. The Japanese have for centuries been exponents of mindful, careful living. The modern material world corrupted some of this native skill. I hope now they will become torch bearers for sustainable, sensible living using non-toxic forms of energy. I hope they will rebuild their shattered infrastructure in ways that honour and protect the earth and her inhabitants.

When there is a global tragedy, what can we do to help others far away, and also help ourselves as troubled witnesses? We can give what we can at a material level, of course. But perhaps just as importantly, we can give to the world psychologically and spiritually. To do this, we observe our own reactions–our feelings and dreams and intimations–with compassion and awareness. We nourish those who suffer right in the centre of the storm with our love, our prayers and our thoughts. Some of us will be able to find the spiritual strength to trust in a good outcome from the tragedy. And as the dust settles, we can imagine a brighter future, in specifics as well as tone.

Above, all, we can trust the process. Loss and suffering are part of living and carry their own wisdom and gifts. It seems contradictory to say that grief can make us stronger, but many poets and philosophers over the years have written about this natural maturing of the human soul through tragedy and loss, such as New Zealand poet Janet Frame's moving Rain on the Roof.

For more information on Lara Owen and her book, Growing Your Inner Light please click here and to visit her website please click here

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