Yesterday began well. I had a big to-do list – and felt inspired when I created it. I had planned to glean through my old journals, work on articles for my creativity coaching business, make strides in some of my projects-for-hire. But instead I spent the day making soup, watering plants, contacting family and friends… I don’t usually accomplish everything on my to-do list but I rarely completely ignore it. What the heck was wrong with me?
Then I remembered that Abdul died. Taken away without warning by a heart attack at age 64. Abdul, the patron saint of used car owners as I used to call him, had kept each of my ancient cars on the road for the past 20 years – Harriet the Honda, Tallulah the Toyota, Tina the Toyota… “Only two cars,” Abdul would often say, “Honda or Toyota.” The only two makes worth having. He was barely five feet tall and his motor was always running. He never overcharged me, he never made me feel stupid for being mechanically dyslexic, and he never let me down. He was savvy, efficient, and sharp as a tack. A shy, humble man of few words who ended conversations before they had barely begun, his good heart resounded like a temple bell and still does. His heart tolled his love and pride for his family, his gratitude for and pride in his home, his caring for me and his other clients. His heart tolled so loudly that his bereaved family has been besieged by visitors and well-wishers, and my mother who’d never met him, upon hearing of his death, felt as though she’d lost him too.
Such losses must be honoured. Luckily, my instincts to do the simple, life-giving things like make chicken soup, fertilize my orchid, light a candle and call Abdul’s son, Shahreem, and speak about the gift of his father’s life, spoke loudest yesterday. When we take the time to mourn, we pay homage to the living as well as to the dead.
My favourite spiritual teacher, Stephen Levine, says that grief is “an innate response to loss in a world where everything is impermanent. We don’t know what to do with our pain, and we never have. We have been told to bury our feelings, to keep a stiff upper lip, to ‘get over it and get on with our lives’ as though loss were not an inevitable part of life.”
According to Levine, disregarding our sorrow “inhibits intuition. We come to trust ourselves less. We cannot ‘feel’ the world around us as we once did, so we experience ourselves as ‘a bit unplugged.’…This quality of grief can slow our creativity and ‘dumb us down’ a bit.”
Our creativity demands that we pay tribute to our grief. It is no accident that great loss often gives birth – or new life – to the artist within. In my book, Did You Know I Would Miss You?, written after my brother, Steve, died by suicide in 2004, I speak of how acknowledging our unattended sorrows can free up our life force and our capacity to create. If you sense unattended sorrows clouding your heart and blocking your creativity, you might want to try this exercise:
Reflect on your own unmourned losses, using some or all of the following:
I have never acknowledged the loss of…
I had forgotten the loss of…
I can begin to heal the loss of…
And in the meantime, may you be inspired by the Abduls of this world. May the temple bell of your heart and of your creativity toll loud and long.