This is an excerpt from Resilience Art: A Grief Coloring Book Using Ritual and Music to Help You Grow by Elaine Voci, Ph.D. which is available on Amazon.com.
I believe that we are hard-wired for coping with loss and that some of our coping requires simple, ordinary settings that help us find a path to healing. Among the most powerful are the natural settings in our world, such as parks, large bodies of water, green spaces, public fields of grass, trees, and flowers, inhabited by birds and other living creatures with whom we share this earth. The experiences of beauty found in these settings strengthen us and offers us the chance to calm ourselves.
When I counseled alcoholics and drug abusers in treatment, one of the best and most frequent prescriptions given to clients by their psychiatrists, was to go for a walk on the grounds, find a bench under a tree on which to sit, and to journal their thoughts and feelings. Even if the skies were not always blue and the sun wasn’t always shining, the air, trees, and energy from the earth had the power to transform the ordinary into the sacred. Clients, even those who claimed no religious beliefs, would often speak of finding “God” or a “Higher Power” in nature, a tree, or flowers.
There are many kinds of spiritual experiences that can bring resilience. Some are known as “noetic” experiences, events that foster inner wisdom through direct knowing and a subjective understanding that is deeply personal. I have had a number of these in my own life and one occurred a few months after my father died. I was riding in a car with my mom as she drove to visit my Aunt “Dutchie,” my father’s only sister who was a gracious host and a wonderful cook. They had been close. I suddenly had a strong sense that my father was with us; I felt that he was joining us and was very happy that we were going to see her. Instead of feeling afraid or uncomfortable, I felt at ease, and happy that my dad was close to us again, not in the physical world, but in the spiritual realm.
When we got to my aunt’s house, she greeted us warmly at the door and said, “I’m so glad to see you . . . your Dad has been on my mind so strongly all morning, and I was remembering how he loved my butter cookies as I put them out on the tray a little bit ago. It’s almost like he’s been here with me getting ready for our visit.” When I told her of my experience, we all smiled at each other and then shared a comforting afternoon together, telling stories and remembering my father’s foibles, big heart, and strong will.
I heard similar stories from widows and widowers in the bereavement groups I facilitated for three years; whenever someone would share a story about feeling the presence of a loved one who had died, I noticed how the room always got quiet, and how people listened with rapt attention to the storyteller. Typically, one person’s story would prompt others to share theirs; the energy in the room would brighten, and all tension would slip away replaced with a mix of relaxed and quiet interest. Sometimes there were tears as speakers related their unusual happenings, but they were tears of joy, and there was laughter, too, at the delight they felt in being able to talk about these things with like-minded others who affirmed the mystery of life and death.
Such sharing is resilience building, and can bring a room full of strangers into a close bond that strengthens the entire group. This is a powerful benefit of peer support groups. In these healing circumstances, I think that two things are happening at once: storytellers are building resilience by sharing their memories which helps to relieve some of the sadness and loss they feel, while listeners are gaining resilience as they absorb the stories, and are comforted by the implications for themselves and their own grief journeys.
Whatever your definition of spiritual experiences, they can be profoundly liberating and can give us the opportunity to understand more of life when we approach them with an open mind and a reverence for the sacred. Spirituality reflects the wisdom we have gained, and the life experiences and teachers we have encountered, that shape our world-view of death and dying, as well as our understanding of how to live with meaning and purpose. The resulting inner strengths, among them our emotional resilience, enable us to face and deal with many kinds of losses while deepening our appreciation for how precious life is. “