Saturday, January 24, 2015

Trust in the Face of Loss

When faced with loss, many of us feel untethered and frightened. Depending on the magnitude of the loss, the amount of time it takes to regain our peace and confidence can range from an hour to a decade. In some cases, the feeling of loss persists for a lifetime, even after we've made peace with it.

I experienced a deep personal loss over two months ago, and in working through it, I am finding some comfort in new depths of faith and trust. This week I was reading in the Yoga Sutras about the Hindu and Buddhist word for "faith," Shraddha. I did some research on the translation of the word and watched an uplifting talk about the role of faith in yoga practice, given by Dr. Douglas Brooks. I learned that the word shraddha is more similar to the concept of trust than to religious faith. It does include the notion of faith in God, but not in a God who regularly intervenes in our affairs. The God alluded to in the Yoga Sutras is a transcendent God, more akin to Paul Tillich's "ground of being" than to the personal savior in many forms of Christianity.

I was immediately drawn in when Dr. Brooks explained that shraddha has to do with where we place our hearts, that our very heart is the essence of true faith. The following root word analysis comes from Reflections on the Dharma by Harold Stewart, and closely resembles Dr. Brooks' explanation:

Shraddha derives from the Sanskrit shrat added to the verbal root dha, the t of the first assimilating to the d of the second in the compound. Shrat is related to the Greek kardia and the Latin cor and likewise means heart but it is also cognate with sat, from which comes satya, being or truth. The verbal root dha means to put, place, or set, so that the compound word shraddha signifies to put one's whole heart or being into something.

I had been reading about this concept of faith in Yoga Sutra 1.20, which has many varying translations of the original Sanskrit; some resonated with me more than others. My current favorite: "The concentration of the true spiritual aspirant is attained through faith, energy, remembrance, absorption and illumination." My mind affixed to this part, that the true spiritual aspirant gets further along the path with sure faith. Faith for me is definitely about where my heart is, and this brings to mind the verse from the Christian New Testament, "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also," (Matthew 6:21). If we ask ourselves what we value the most, that's how we get to the root of our faith, and discover in whom or what we place our trust. In my study and self-inquiry on the concept of shraddha, I found that faith in oneself and in other people was at least as important as faith in a Higher Power. What's most important to you? What do you trust? In whom do you trust?

A loss of any kind, be it material or personal, catapults us into a questioning place. When we lose something or someone, we start asking questions: Why did this happen? What will I do now? How will I go on? How can I know I'm OK? In seeking these anchors in a storm, we discover our deepest values, our true reference points.

I want to share examples of two recent losses which are helping me find my anchors. The first is a fairly trivial one: my Iphone stopped working. It went completely dead even though it was fully charged. I had just sent a text to confirm an appointment with a client and the screen went black. Nothing I did worked to reboot the phone. I was somewhat anxiety-ridden for half an hour. The list of reasons I needed the phone typed itself out in my head: my client needs to let me know her arrival time and doesn't have my other number, the auto shop still has my husband's car and needs to reach me, my kids' school uses this number to contact me if they are ill, my husband is getting big news at work today and I don't want to miss his text... . When I accepted the fact that my phone was no longer working, I reassured myself that I trusted myself, my client, my mechanic, my kids and their school's employees, my husband, and God (the ground of being sort of God); my client would show up with or without confirming and if we mixed up the time, we could work it out later; my husband's car was fine sitting at the mechanic's for an extra day; the school has other emergency numbers; my husband will share the news with me as soon as we see each other; and most importantly, I trust God, myself and the people in my life more than I could ever trust a phone. In our technology driven world, that was a good reminder.

The second loss is more significant and personal, concerning a friendship and work relationship. In processing this loss, I have asked myself what it was I valued about this person in relation to both my professional development and my happiness. Just because we lose a person does not mean we have to lose the qualities and experiences we associated with that person. This is little consolation for those who have lost a family member or close friend to death or some other unforeseen tragic circumstance, yet over time, people find ways to go on and fulfill themselves. People are irreplaceable, yet in the face of loss, we remain whole. I am discovering that while I lost an irreplaceable person, I continue to trust myself and God; I am welcoming new people, experiences and opportunities into my life. The qualities I appreciated in the person I lost still exist abundantly in the world and can be accessed in innumerable other ways in new and different forms. I am being enriched day by day through the provision that is always made for me and by me, and learning to have faith in this provision.

It can take an entire lifetime to learn what we truly value, to confidently know where to place our hearts. I am finding out that my trust in life goes deeper than hanging onto one person, place or thing for fulfillment. My deepest trust resides in an unchangeable, immovable quality of joy, abundance and peace that lies at the heart of every person and at the very ground of our being on this Earth. I am learning little by little to access this place in myself and to see it in others. As I do this, I gain more trust, my faith grows, and with this growth comes a certain serenity, the peace that passes understanding. The song, It is well with my soul, by Horatio G. Spafford, is a poetic description of shraddha, real trust in the face of loss. I am finding a place where my heart can reside, coming one step closer to the true meaning of faith, trusting in the soul of all things and all beings.

In the face of loss, we find where our treasure resides. Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

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