Grief & the Ego

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‘I hope it’s your last grief’ (غم),  people say at the Iranian funerals to someone who has lost a loved one. It is a well-intended, solacing phrase but grief is an inherent aspect of life where we find our depth and identify with the other;  there is no such thing as a last grief.  

We all know what happens when someone dear to us dies; grieving becomes a dimension of our thoughts and takes us through different stages until the loss is integrated. Ego (خود) in such circumstances cannot resist the grieving process for the loss is too close to the bone so the body takes over by overcoming the barriers of the ego.  

Relatives, friends, foreigners, we need to learn to imagine them as part of the same family. Yeats, the Irish poet once said, ‘There are no strangers here only friends you haven’t met.’ If we don’t open up to the world the world will find a way to teach us its truth. 

Nobody wants to consciously grieve. It’s painful. We can use all the delaying tactics but ultimately grief is unavoidable.  Sometimes we try to find a way to bypass the grief however we need to understand that only through grieving can we become transparent and more present to ourselves and the world. If we don’t grieve there is something wrong with us: either we are in a constant state of fear that does not allow us to connect with our feelings or we are in denial. 

People who are in therapy for addiction, rape and other traumas learn to grieve so they can face and grieve their pain. Unmourned pain puts a distance between people and their hurts and repeat the cycle of self-neglect. Not being able to grieve diminishes us as human,  and puts the ego on a treadmill, while our suppressed feelings wreak havoc in our lives and the lives of others because it wants to be heard and grieved. 

Last year I happened to be in the country that my uncle lived. He was very close to me and when he passed away I was there to attend his funeral.  He was a very positive, balanced person that helped others.  Not far away from his burial lay a famous dissident.  I had met him  once by chance; he was a fine person. The poor man was brutally murdered by IRI assassins.   After my uncle’s funeral I felt something heavy had been lifted from me.  There is a line in John Green’s novel, The Fault in Our Stars,  “Grief does not change you, Hazel. It reveals you.” Through grieving we become less hidden in our egos. The dissidents who cannot go back to their home country and see their loved ones and grieve properly for them, as they get older and pass away, need to find a way to grieve for them. 

We need to grieve for our suffering planet. What happened to the Aral Sea, fourth largest lake in the world is only one lamentable example. Many thousands lost their livelihood because the lake where a fishing industry once thrived turned into an arid land where no creature could survive.    


lt8jn16j.jpgThe ego likes to see itself as separate from the earth. Grieving lowers us to the earth so we can smell the dirt. The English word, humble, literally meaning ‘on the ground,’ comes from humus, meaning earth. Grieving humbles us, again.  

We need to learn to grieve for those who are suffering as the result of climate change. Their plight is also our plight, for they are not living in a different world. Whether climate is changing as the result of human activities or by itself, or both, it means devastation and desolation. If we learn to respond with our heart to each tragic incident we may be able to prevent it from happening again,  or at least be better prepared. We may deny the climate change all we like but for each damage done to the planet we need to find a way to grieve. One psychologist believes, ‘within each one of us exists a deep and uncontrollable sobbing that has not, for most, come to the surface as yet.’

I was on a small Greek island when a boat full of refugees landed on its shore. My acquaintance who lives there said we should go and find out if we could help in any way. Refugees were housed temporary in a local school and the person who was in charge of looking after them told us all their basic needs were being met by the locals. It was a fast human response by the kindhearted islanders who themselves were not in great financial shape but shared something with those who had nothing, and more importantly did not feel threatened by strangers who were different to them in religion, race and nationality and arrived uninvited on their doorsteps. 

Grieving is not a public show or a weeping competition for some religious figures who died centuries ago. That kind of ritual only makes people impervious to the pain that the world is experiencing right now. Grieving does not draw inward in order to tie us down to a particular doctrinal ‘truth’. True grieving takes us out into the open plane. It makes us less obsessed with death (martyrdom) and reaffirms our sense of vulnerability and gives us hope and make us more generous.

Our Zoroastrian past has given us a concept of good and evil. Light and darkness.  But we need to rethink what darkness means. It does not necessarily mean evil. Darkness is a place we have not been to before. The lack of vision is disconcerting. The uncharted terrains disorienting - but in darkness we may also discover potentials that we never thought we had before. Only when our darkness is exposed to light does a definition appear and a new meaning forms. We are not meant to remain in darkness though sometimes we have to go there in order to arrive in a better place.

Grief is not a condition we should seek;  happiness is (1).   But happiness and grief are not mutually exclusive. They are like shadow and light. They give meaning to each other. Only the ego wants to erect a wall between the two. But the wall is only an illusion.   We need both light and darkness to guide us and teach us their lessons and rearrange us so the past is no longer a burden and the future becomes full of new possibilities.  


1. “Happiness” is a fluffy word.  I much prefer the Persian word for its scope and depth  خوش بختی.



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Dakho Dakho (@Dakho) Pinned comment
Parsa jan your contemplative reflections on issues of sorrow and self reminded me of two great poems which convey the same theme.

John Donne's "No Man is an Island" from 17th century is very similar in calling attention to human beings interconnectedness.

'No Man is an Island'

No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man's death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

John Donne


Closer to home our very own great poet Mehdi Akhavan Saalees, in his last published poem "We, I, We" writes about how "sorrow also just like joy has its own god, its own world."
غم نیز چون شادی برای خود خدایی ، عالمی دارد
Unfortunately I haven't found an English translation of this poem yet (hopefully one day I'll translate it) but for now here the poem in Persian.
And thanx for all your contributions.

ما ، من ، ما

هیچیم
هیچیم و چیزی کم
ما نیستیم از اهل این عالم که می بینید
وز اهل عالم های دیگرهم
یعنی چه پس اهل کجا هستیم ؟
از عالم هیچیم و چیزی کم ، گفتم .

غم نیز چون شادی برای خود خدایی ، عالمی دارد
نور سیاه و مبهمی دارد
پس زنده باشد مثل ِ شادی ، غم
ما دوستدار سایه های تیره هم هستیم
و مثل عاشق ، مثل پروانه
اهل نماز ِ شعله و شبنم
اما
هیچیم و چیزی کم .

رفتم فراز بام خانه ، سخت لازم بود
شب بود و مظلم بود و ظالم بود
آنجا چراغ افروختم ، اطراف روشن شد
و پشه ها و سوسک ها بسیار
دیدم که اینک روشنایم خورده خواهد شد
کِشتم اسیر بی مروت زرده خواهد شد
باغ شبم افسرده خون مرده خواهد شد
خاموش کردم روشنایم را
و پشه ها و سوسک ها رفتند
غم رفت ، شادی رفت
و هول و حسرت ترکِ من گفتند
و اختران خفتند

آنگاه دیدم آن طرف از سکنج ِ بام
سک دختر زیباتر از رویای شبنم ها
تنها
انگار روح آبی و آب است
انگار هم بیدار و هم خواب است
انگار غم در کسوت شادی است
انگار تصویر خدا در بهترین قالب است
انگارها بگذار
بیمار !
او آن « نمی دانی و می دانی » است
او لحظه ی فرار جائویی
او جاودانه جاودانتاب است
محض خلوص و مطلق ناب است

از بام پایین آمدیم ، آرام
همراه با مشتی غم و شادی
و با گروهی زخمها و عده ای مرهم
گفتیم بنشینم
نزدیک سالی مهلتش یک دم
مثل ظهور اولین پرتو
مثل غروب آخرین عیسای ِ بن مریم
مثل نگاه غمگنانه ی ما
مثل بچه ی آدم
آنگه نشستیم و به خوبی خوب فهمیدیم
دیدیم باز آن چراغ روز و شب خامش تر از تاریک
باز ما
هیچیم و چیزی کم .



تهران فروردین ۶۹
مهدی اخوان ثالث

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