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Reviews of books on grief, love, relationships, life, spirituality

Raja Yoga Meditation and the art of letting go…

Raja Yoga Meditation and the art of letting go…

Stunning and peaceful gardens at the Global Retreat meditation centre

The Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual Centre in is based on a splendidly beautiful country estate in Nuneham Courtney in Oxfordshire, where you can enjoy free meditation, spiritual study and personal development courses amongst like minded people seeking answers to some of life’s more philosophical questions – or perhaps just looking for a little time out and peaceful contemplation.

The Brahma Kumaris is an organisation that started back in 1936 in then India, but now Pakistan, by Dada Lekhraj, a 60 year old businessman who experienced visions about the nature of Soul, God and Time after becoming aware that he needed to seek more understanding about life and “being”. Since then, the group has expanded and grown to be represented in over 100 countries across the World.

Courses at the Global retreat Centre on personal developmentThe course I attended was a meditation insight and introduced the principals of Raja Yoga meditation, the core of which is to connect with your inner self - your soul - and to learn about the connections between soul, God (or if you prefer, Higher Power) and the material world. Aside from meditative practice, which was very effective, calming and peaceful, there was a great deal of insight into the subject of control. It’s a theme that has been coincidentally present in other areas recently – through reading online success stories about conscientious capitalism, ethical business practices and the subject of personal development, particularly involving women. Though there are complexities to the subject, the core idea is simple: the only thing you have complete control over, is yourself. What you can have no control over is other people and social and environmental elements like weather, tax and so on. So concentrate on controlling your “self” and let go of the rest. And essentially, stop trying to control other people.

Our attempts at controlling others are ultimately self defeating. However hard we try to persuade, coerce, force, bully or otherwise attempt to make others do as we wish, unless it just happens to be something they naturally want to happen themselves, the most likely reaction is at worst greater resistance accompanied by anger and rejection and at best some short term movement in your direction that quite quickly results in resentment and a reversal towards freedom from others. What we are encouraged to use instead of control is a conciliatory form of influence. Give and give freely, expecting no return and only when you have established that what you want to give is something the other person, or people, wants to receive. For example, don’t give advice because you think other people need it – that is not your decision to make (that’s you trying to control someone else). Offer the opportunity of advice and only give it if the other person agrees it’s something they want (that’s you influencing the other person in a way that’s truly helpful to both of you). In this way, progress is more likely in a spirit of harmony and peace. And it applies to all areas of life – and very much so in business. It’s such a simple way of being, take your hands off the business of others and concentrate on yourself. The greater respect, peace, love and understanding you have of self, the more likely you are to engage appropriately with others.

I’m sure there of those of you that would read this and think perhaps that without control, the result might be some form of chaos, a breakdown in structure, a lack of defined action that means the things we want to achieve will simply not happen. That leadership is undermined or perhaps that a plan cannot be met. But what this principal really is founded on is the art of letting go. It does not mean that we don’t set goals and have plans in place, it means we let go of the desire to stick rigidly to those plans and goals without taking into account the changing, unpredictable and unaccounted for factors that surround us all the time. What it requires is that we set our goals and formulate our plans and then stay open to the flexibility of altering our path along the way to accommodate emerging circumstances. It’s less rigid and more free flowing, less coercive and more collaborative, less stressful and more relaxed in style of delivery. It should make so many areas of our life more joyful and ultimately more successful.

At it’s most basic, I like to think of it in terms of Nature’s Metaphors and the natural elements of our world. When we try to control some of those powerful and naturally evolving forces we almost always fail or at best make our life difficult. Like battling against the tide instead of going with the flow of water.

“Letting Go” is a huge topic – one I’ll write more on. It’s also one of our most difficult lessons in life – and yet so incredibly freeing and empowering.

Free meditation courses at the Global Retreat CentreThe Centre offers a whole range of one day retreats and events, covering many topics, including self esteem, positive thinking, dealing with fear and much more and there are courses on learning to meditate.

Do check out the website, I highly recommend that you consider it, if only for a lovely, peaceful and interesting experience. But there’s so much more to gain – there are also other sites around the UK that you can attend. One very interesting thing of note about the meeting I went to, of an audience of around 100, at least 90% were women.

There is also a festival called Peace In The Park which is held in the summer every year, join their mailing list to receive details.

Healing Through the Dark Emotions – Miriam Greenspan

Healing Through the Dark Emotions – Miriam Greenspan

“Making meaning out of suffering is the basis of the human capacity to survive evil and transcend it"

Embracing our darkest emotions is a difficult concept. Accepting that they are there to serve a purpose and that without them we would not grow and evolve is a challenge.

Miriam Greenspan is an Internationally renowned psychotherapist and in this book she rationalises that facing into grief, despair and fear is the most effective way to heal and transform our lives. The book uses her own experience and the stories of her clients to provide a platform for delivering an understanding of how our emotions work and a methodology for transformation.

Our temptation is to avoid the dark side and live only with what is positive. But we can only know and appreciate the good emotions, happiness, joy, passion; if we have a context against which to identify them. We must know sadness in order to feel happy, we can’t be fearless without knowing fear. How we deal with the negative is the critical aspect that Greenspan addresses.

Healing Through The Dark Emotions by Miriam GreenspanIn the midst of the deepest grief, it can feel so overwhelming, so utterly dark and desperate that we are tempted to seek a form of relief that is instant, seemingly straightforward. This book relays that distractions, denial and avoidance may only delay, numb and possibly even deepen these feelings and result in negative behavioural patterns.

It’s a complex read, intelligently delivered and thought provoking. It discusses the relationship between mind and heart, the role of faith, the nature of reality, shame and many other aspects of emotion. It also includes a series of practical emotional exercises.

The Language of Letting Go – Melody Beattie

The Language of Letting Go – Melody Beattie

This book by Melody Beattie is a series of daily meditations based on people regaining their sense of their own identity, owning their power and fully feeling their emotions. It was written in response to her own need - and the recognised need in others - to deal with what is coined as codependency. It became a daily source of reference for me as I struggled with my feelings relating to grief. It also helped in addressing my loss of identity and behaviour that developed from distraction. 

There was a point for me when the need to be needed again became extreme, compulsive. It was combined with a process of giving everything I had away, emotionally, financially. I didn't want to keep anything, of me or what I had. There didn't seem a point. I had no future, so why the need to retain anything? And the process was a good distraction - from feeling anything.

But ultimately it led to my life staying in limbo - and in the dark. Another devastating experience of loss came as a consequence and I was compelled to look at myself to find out why. After more online research I discovered the work of Melody Beattie and I came to understand that my behaviour was typical of codependency - a trait that is apparently exacerbated by grief. Codependency is to some extent a contentious subject. All relationships are to a level codependent - and in its healthy definition that is good, a mutually beneficial form of support between people. Like the perfect balance I had with Maria. But at its unhealthy extremes, the process becomes dramatically skewed. One person gives, care-takes, enables excessively and the other relies on that, taking but with little to give back. And the caretaker gives at their own expense, neglecting their own needs in order to focus on another.

There's an organisation that's set up as a support system for codependency specifically, called Codependence Anonymous. Their website is on this link if you would like to find out more:

The Language of Letting Go by Melody BeattieI'll write on that subject more at a later date, but aside from the issue of codependency, this book helped me to understand more about myself and my behaviours. It also helped me to gain some sense of future, of direction, to making a commitment to myself and living life again. It made me think about life in a wider context and introduced the concept of a Higher Power; I started to consider the perspective of a Universe through which our journeys continue after the time we spend on Earth. It finally started to give me a way to make some sense of death, because  Maria's soul lives on somewhere in that Universe. Being able to believe that her journey continues gave me comfort and started a sense of hope.


The Grief Club – Melody Beattie

The Grief Club – Melody Beattie

There are some words that somehow feel wrong when you are grieving - when I first saw the title of this book, I kind of felt like that about it. The concept of a "Club" associated with grief jarred. But when you appreciate the concept that empathy in grief becomes stronger based on the closer someone else's experience is to yours, then the value of this book becomes more apparent. You understand that you are unavoidably in a club. And that others who belong to your club have an understanding and empathy well beyond anyone else. Their experiences and feelings echo yours and you are finally able to find comfort from the knowledge that you are not alone. I sometimes felt like I was going completely mad trying to deal with what went on in my mind. If you'll excuse the language, grief can be a total "head fuck". Knowing that others felt the same and got through it, gave me more strength to deal with it.

The author, Melody Beattie, is in my opinion a hero. A lionhearted woman whose courage in the face of devastation in her life has been immense. She has written many books, most of which are self help oriented. This one resulted from her own experiences of the loss of her husband and son and her time as a therapist, helping others with their grief.

In it, she tells different people's stories of loss. It covers many traumatic circumstances. What's elevating about this book is that it describes the process that people have been through - how the felt, how they dealt with it, what they experienced - and how they came out the other side. It took me through connection, understanding and provided The Grief Club by Melody Beattiepositive comfort of a way forward, I accepted that baby steps were ok. There's a framework to it that you can refer back to. Sometimes it's difficult to absorb a lot of information at once - and facing some of the realism is a process only each individual can judge. What is apparent is that each person who told their story gained a catharsis from doing so - and connecting with that somehow helped me. Telling your story, even if you do it for yourself only, in some form of journal or diary, can be really helpful.

Available from Amazon on this link

A Grief Observed – C. S. Lewis

"Her absence is like the sky, spread over everything."

C S Lewis's A Grief Observed was recommended to me by a MacMillan nurse who had been involved in Maria's care and

C S Lewis and Ivy Davidson
C S Lewis and his wife Ivy Davidson

who had come to know us personally - and the nature of our relationship. She had come to visit me to find out if I was coping - or not. I had explained to her that everything felt pointless now. That life had no meaning. She talked me through that as best she could and recommended I read his book.

I read it about 3 months after Maria passed.

I am specific about the timing because the book, which is about the loss of Lewis's wife Ivy Davidson to cancer, is a painfully, sometimes brutally, honest diary of his grief. I sometimes found it difficult to read because it cuts through that cloak of denial we wrap around ourselves in order to protect us from the harsh reality of the truth. But in that, I was also able to identify with his precise articulation of the overwhelming, debilitating sense of utter emptiness. As if your core has been completely ripped out. Leaving a void. A void that somehow endlessly aches. He also describes the seemingly perpetual loop of feelings, disbelief, anger, fear that we find ourselves in. In a way, the fact of his frank openness gave me a level of empathy I was unable to find elsewhere.

“For in grief nothing "stays put." One keeps on emerging from a phase, but it always recurs. Round and round. Everything repeats. Am I going in circles, or dare I hope I am on a spiral?

But if a spiral, am I going up or down it?

How often -- will it be for always? -- how often will the vast emptiness astonish me like a complete novelty and make me say, "I never realized my loss till this moment"? The same leg is cut off time after time.”

Lewis also addresses the subject of faith. This was a subject that would come back for me, but at the time of reading, I didn't factor it as part of my healing. Neither Maria nor I believed in God. For him, the circumstance of his wife's death makes him question his faith. It was the first time I recognised faith as needing to be blind, like love. A matter of total and utter trust regardless of the tests that life asks of it. Of you.

Ultimately, the book provides the light at the end of the tunnel as Lewis comes through the depths and emerges from the dark. From that perspective, it was the first inkling that I would find a way forward.

A painfully honest diary of deep griefA Grief Observed is a short but penetrative read, it condenses so many aspects of grief that repeat and echo through the journey. As a scholar and philosopher, C S Lewis is adept at crystallising the emotional, physical and metaphysical impact of his experience, much of which I have found to be a mirror of my own. I would add a caution, though I found it to be an essential read, timing is, in my opinion, essential. You need to be ready to look in the mirror and fully accept your feelings and the truth of grief. For those who are not grieving but wish to understand its impact, this couldn't be a more powerful read.

Available from Amazon on this link.