Greenspan: Let’s begin with grief. There is a kind of shattering that happens with, say, the death of a child, or any death, but perhaps most of all violent death. Not only is your heart shattered; you lose your sense of who you are and what your life is about. So reconstruction is needed. But first we need to accept that we are broken. This initiates the “emotional alchemy.” If we can hang in there with grief, it changes from a feeling of being “hemmed in” by life to a feeling of expansion and opening. We will never get back to the way we were, but eventually we reach a new state of “normal.” I’m not talking about the mundane kind of “getting back to normal,” in which we find ourselves doing the laundry again (although that is important too), but the deeper kind, which is a process of remaking ourselves and how we live.
Grief is a teacher. It tells us that we are not alone; that we are interconnected; that what connects us also breaks our hearts — which is as it should be. Most people who allow themselves to grieve fully develop an increased sense of gratitude for their own lives. That’s the alchemy: from grief to gratitude. None of us wants to go through these experiences, but they do bring us these gifts.
The same is true for fear. We think of fear as an emotion that constricts us and keeps us from living fully. But I think it’s really the fear of fear that does this. When we are able to tolerate fear, and to experience it consciously, we learn not to be so afraid of it — and this gives us the freedom to live with courage and enjoy life more fully. This is the alchemy of fear to joy.
We are all living in a heightened fear state now, and being able to tolerate fear is a true gift. Those of us who can live mindfully amid the chaos are doing something for the world as well as for ourselves. It’s essential to be able to bear fear and not go off the edge with it — not allow it to impel us to engage in one form of aggression or another.