Story of growth

Story of Growth from Loss
Tayyab Rashid

OTHERS(S) – Optimism and Hope

Colorful falling leaves of autumn remind me both beauty and finality of life. One such fall, back in 1999, the second year my graduate school, was filled with black color of grief for me. Within a span of 18 days, I lost both of my parents, in Pakistan, some 8, 000 miles away, where they raised me with joy until I came to America in 1997 for graduate studies. I had visited them in early fall, 1999, because both were not doing very well but I was sent back to America, optimistically reassured by my elder siblings that my parents are just a bit sick and frail due to aging (folks in 50s are considered aging in Pakistan where average life expectancy is 45) and will be fine. I returned to America, two weeks into the fall semester, optimistic that my parents will fine. I came back and tried to engage in studies. My optimism did not let me consider seriously anything could happen to my parents and that I have met them for the last time. Mid way through fall, when both passed away (due to under diagnosed problems) within 18 days, I realized it yes, it was my last meeting with my parents. Gripped by shock, grief and also by anger and guilt (for why I came back to US earlier), I rushed back to Pakistan, annoyed at my optimism, and tried to find solace by holding onto emblems of their death (i.e., soil from their grave, their rosaries, praying rugs) but nothing provided any solace in the short run.

Upon my return to the USA, in the depth of my thoughts and feelings, I told myself; never be an optimistic again as I may miss important cues of reality. So, I coated my emotions and thoughts with pessimism; isolated myself from my wife and friends. The pain of grief latched onto my pessimism and I felt if my existence is meaningless. Laughs, cheers, smiles and hugs felt foreign. My grieved soul took toll on the body and I became ill and depressed. Among other things, doctor suggested me to work out. Initially I ignored his advice but then my wife almost dragged me to a nearby gym. My body found some relief but my grief, guilt and anger did not release until I accidentally discovered a yoga class at the gym. It turned out to be spiritual uplifter. The yoga postures, deep breathing and Shavashana (relaxation) helped me slowly let go of grief, guilt and pessimism that I was holding onto tightly. It did not jolt me into instant happiness but let me recede into deeper contentment which allowed me to realize that no one is to be blamed for the death of my folk; after all, like autumn leaves finality is an inevitable reality. More importantly, I realized that this reality doesn’t have to be distilled in pessimism.

As Yoga connected my body with soul, the American Psychologist issue of January 2000 (a special on Positive Psychology) bridged my mind to optimistic avenues of thinking. My inner dialogues started reassuring me that finality of life, yes sad and inevitable, nonetheless can be transformed into some meaning. And for me, that meaning was to help myself (and others) to not be pessimistic but put to optimistically put engagements of life into perspective. As a graduate student in clinical psychology, my work thus far, had mostly been identification and amelioration of emotional pain. With this new found reassurance, I thought that pain and loss are inevitable, like finality of life, but holding onto them (and their allies; guilt, anger and pessimism) will make finality of life more painful and bitter. Instead, we can grow from it, not out of it thought. And this is how I did it. For the following spring semester, I had registered for an independent study which was to explore deeper trenches of psychopathological terrain of our emotions and thoughts. Despite many logistical challenges I dropped that project and decided to do a study on optimism. I read extensively on optimism, not the one portrayed by pop psychologists which is outer hand waving and taking a superficial rosy view but harder optimism, one required to exercise when chips down and everything in life appears gloomy. This exploration helped me to learn specific ways to look for silver lining when clouds are dark and deep, how to let go and how to hold onto thinnest thread of hope, despite being in the well of grief and how to turn it into rope of growth and thriving, and most importantly how to find meaning in loss.

Not that my grief has dissipated completely, my heart still sheds tears of loss when leaves fall, memories of my parents knock doors of my heart. Almost every middle aged woman reminded me of my mother and every frail and aging male remind me of my father. I meet both of them in my dreams. However, yoga and positive psychology has helped me tremendously to carve a meaning out of my loss. In my dreams I ask my parents, what would you like me to do so that two of you are always close to me? Their answer is always same and simple, don’t morn our departure from life just spread joy and goodness.

My journey, I have to acknowledge, of turning this thread of meaning into a rope of growth, has not been smooth and straight, I guess it never is. Images, memories and emblems of my parents often prick the pain of loss. But I constantly remind myself that I can keep my parents closer to me by doing what they would have wished me to do. So, I do yoga regularly and then often meditate on beautiful images of my parents which are vivid on screen of my mind and heart. I also teach yoga and basic relaxation and mindfulness. Currently I am in process of becoming a yoga certified yoga instructor. Professionally, instead of steeping into psychopathology exclusively, through positive psychology I learned ways helping my clients to authentically access their pain, grief and troubles and learning some ways of letting go rather than not shallowly suppressing. I also try to equip them with therapeutic techniques which cultivate positive emotions of comfort, contentment, serenity, and bliss, help them to savor little but important joys of life, ways to find their highest strengths and open themselves to explore highest qualities of others.

Fall still comes with reminder of finality, the pain loss of my parents still seeps deep down in my heart and soul but now instead letting it sit there, I lift myself with a reminder from my parents - go spread joy and goodness, there is little time left.


 

 


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