If you have ever experienced the death of someone you care deeply for, you know that this experience is challenging. Grief and loss can put us through an emotional ringer and leave us with a feeling of exhaustion and devastation. And yet, these dark moments are also likely to offer an opportunity for each of us to clearly see the reality of impermanence, suffering and no-self. The conclusion of another person’s life can assist us in putting things in perspective, motivating us to move in the direction of that which is most important to us in this life. As is often the case, it is those moments filled with pain and suffering that can often be the greatest teachers on our journey.
In witnessing the failing of a beloved’s health, all illusions are stripped away and the unavoidable and harsh reality of suffering becomes inescapable. In these excruciating moments, our egos will likely struggle mightily through this process, searching for all kinds of escape and illusion to cushion the blow of witnessing the agony and finality of a loved one’s life. It is in this struggle where the real opportunity exists. In the midst of the heartache and pain, we may actually experience a breakthrough. We have the chance to see the fragility of all life, that all of us must pass through the gates of death and that all the drama we may choose to fill our lives with is meaningless from the perspective of our final moments. From this place, we can tap into a deep sense of compassion for ourselves and all living beings. Through that experience, our hearts can be broken wide open.
Ironically, the death of a loved one can also help us to tap into a sense of humor and a lightness of being. It’s not uncommon for funerals to have an aspect of joy attached to them as well. The concept of having a party to celebrate the life of the person who has passed on is featured in many cultures. At this wake, people come together to laugh, share stories and highlight the ways in which the departed had a positive impact on the world around them. While it is common for those on the outside to think that the mindful path is a bit morose and depressing with all its talk of death and impermanence, those who are highly advanced practitioners are often the ones with the biggest smiles and the easiest laughs.
Whatever helps us to move beyond the small, egocentric version of ourselves, once we are there everything becomes a lot lighter and we are able to see the humor inherent in everything. When we smile and we laugh, even in the midst of the most difficult tragedy, we release ourselves from attachments. In that humor, we rise above the suffering and we help others to experience a release from their own tightness and illusion of separateness. That sense of playfulness allows us to avoid getting trapped in “the depths of hell”. When we recognize the folly of becoming engrossed in the ego’s games and we see the truth of the finality of life, we have the opportunity to experience everything from a much lighter and more amusing perspective.