The first stage of grief and the first step toward health are both denial. Yet if we’re to heal, however long it takes, we can’t live in either.
I’m reclaiming denial as a stage that honors the stakes of our situation. Perhaps we risk physical death. Perhaps we risk losing our sense of common identity with someone we’ve loved or a group we’ve cherished.
Denial testifies that Yes, we love being alive and don’t want to stop; yes, we care for that person and their well-being; yes, we believe in that group and what it has the potential to offer the world.
But we can’t live there.
The minute we know more than we once did, the old is gone, and we have to release it. Really, it was gone before we realized it was, and what hung back was our own projection of it. It is gone. And we can’t call it back by wishing.
In the end, it’s worse to lose the old and then also lose the new through rejecting it for an old projection that no longer matches reality. Better to simply lose what was. And better still to cede the old to the passage of time and seek to re-encounter what stands in its place. The re-encounter means we don’t have to lose everything.
For leaving the stage of denial, then, the most important virtue isn’t equanimity or indifference. You don’t have to stop caring. You don’t have to become a higher order of human, if such a thing exists. The most important value is simple humility.
There are fewer than 8 days left in the year, and lots of people will participate in “burning bowl” ceremonies around New Years’ that ritualize this lesson. But you don’t have to wait that long if there’s an old thoughtform or belief or memory or relationship or approach to life that no longer serves you well.
Get a metal bucket with sand at the bottom or a mini-grill outside. Follow the instructions for fire safety, and write down your thing(s), and let that stuff go.
Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year when it comes.