Loss & Grieving: An Existential Meditation


I dedicate this conversation to Simone Ansaldi and Teresa Zelmanovits

Loss & Grieving: No Escaping Loss! Grieving is Optional

Loss is an existential fact. Which is to say no adult human being escapes loss: losing some person, losing some relationship/s, losing some pet, losing some thing/s, losing some place/s, losing some job/s, losing some future….

Given that loss is an existential fact, how can one go about dealing with loss? A good place to start is accepting the loss! Which is my way of saying: accept the loss, expect a punch (or two, or three..) so powerful that it leaves you on the floor: physically – lack of appetite, lack of energy; emotionally – sadness, melancholy, even misery; cognitively – hard to concentrate, to think straight; and even at the level of spirit – your inner core wobbles.

Acceptance of loss and the punch – physical, emotional, cognitive, and spiritual – is a good place to start. It is not the place to rest. From acceptance, it is necessary to grieve: to feel, actually feel, the intense sorrow and allow the tears (in the heart, in the soul) to flow outwards so that there is moisture in your eyes, and your cheeks, and perhaps some sorrowful howling too.

If this was a conversation from a psychological perspective then I would end this conversation by giving you some coping strategies like connect with your friends, go out and keep engaged in the world, plan a vacation or something nice. It’s from an existential perspective – so lets move forward on the existential path.

Being Human: The Existential Perspective

Facticity, and Transcendence lie at the very core of the Existential perspective on human existence. There is no escaping facticity – therefore one has to accept and deal with it. There is no escaping Transcendence and we do just about anything/everything to escape from it.

Facticity is simply that which is so. For example, I am a man living in Central Switzerland. The cut in my thumb is infected and not healing – so I take antibiotics. I work as a management consultant. I have three children. And I am grieving the loss of an important and beautiful relationship. That relationship had allowed me to invent an uplifting present and future. With the loss of this relationship, my present is filled with sorrow and my future is kind of empty.

Transcendence is simply that which goes with being a fully functioning adult. I am not my circumstances. I am not a rock – stuck with that which I am and no ability to change. No, I am a human being gifted with imagination, freedom/choice, and responsibility. I can imagine another uplifting new future – one without this amazing/wonderful person and this magical relationship in it. I can imagine myself as different man to that which I am today. And, I can then choose: who I wish to become, and which future I wish to live into and from. Finally, I am responsible for the choices I make. And, I am responsible for the actions I take (or do not take) to become that which I have chosen to become, and to create the future that I have chosen to live into and from.

Transcendence: Take This Powerful Stand

You will not find this anywhere in any existential literature. Why? Because I am the source of it, as in I invented this. And, I can tell you that it is one hundred percent in alignment with the Existential perspective. I invite you to show up (attitude) and travel (decisions, actions) from the following stand:

“I am a match for whatever Life brings my way – the opportunities, the obstacles, the joys, the sorrows……. I am a match for ALL of it!”

What is a stand? It is a declaration, it is a declaration that has impact – it has fundamental impact on who you are and how you live. Example, when the priest announces “I now declare you man and wife.” Another example, USA – Declaration of Independence. That which follows these declarations is so fundamentally different to that which was so before this declaration is made AND lived – the lived part is essential.

Notice, the stand/declaration creates the reality! Yes, one takes and lives the stand if it were already a reality. And in the very taking and living of this stand one creates that reality.

Transcendence: You Cannot Ask a More Powerful Question Than This One

You will not find this question in any existential literature either. Why? Because I am the source of it – as in I invented this too. Why did I invent it? Because I found myself dealing with immense sorrow and needed a way out of it – a powerful way. A way that allowed me to create an uplifting future. Ready for The Question? Here it is:

What does this OPEN UP for me – for me and my life?”

By “this” in the sentence, I refer to my loss – because when one loses something (say a furniture, or a friend, a country, a way of life) then space automatically is created for the new (furniture, new friend/s, country, way of life…).

Notice how this question moves the frame from the present in terms of loss/grief to the future – creating an uplifting future. Allow me to share an example, when my relationship/marriage of 27 years came to an end this is the question I sat with. Sitting with this question allowed me to imagine/create a future living outside of the UK – in some attractive country in Europe. Six months after the end of that relationship, I arrived in Switzerland and started a new life. Sixteen months later, I find that I love this life – everyday it occurs to me that I live in paradise.

Summing Up: If You Are Dealing With Loss and Find Yourself Grieving Then I Invite You To Take This Path

Loss is that which always and necessarily comes with human existence. There is no escaping it. A good start in dealing with loss is to grieve – to feel the intense sorrow. To be ok with the intense sorrow – as in let it come, and to simply experience it – without clinging to it, without pushing it away, without wallowing in it. Just experiencing it.

And that is NOT enough. If you wish to move past it and create an uplifting future and allow that future to lift you up on to your feet and pull you forward to that future then:

1-Take the following stand: “I am a match for whatever Life brings my way – the opportunities, the obstacles, the joys, the sorrows……. I am a match for ALL of it!”

AND

2-Ask yourself as in seriously sit with this one powerful question: What does this OPEN UP for me – for me and my life?”

If you have gotten this far then I thank you for your listening for it takes something to hear my speaking. I wish you a good/great day. Until the next time….

Hurt: An Existential Meditation


I dedicate this conversation, as it is deeply important one, to Teresa Zelmanovits. She is a person of deep humanity and considerable insight into the human condition. And, the source of this conversation.

“Don’t Fuck Up!”

Stephen Margarito, a friend, is fond of saying “DON’T fuck up!!” Is such a stand – way of showing up and travelling in the journey of life – possible? Let’s say for the sake of argument you (or I) are perfect – we never ever fuck up. Does this mean that you (or I) will lead a perfect life – a life without hurt, a life with only happiness?

I say “No!” Get real, you (and I) are going to get hurt. Hurt is a certainty for every human that has walked, does walk, ever will walk on this Earth. Why? Because, you (and I, and every other person) is a being-in-the-world-with-others.

As a being-in-the-world-with-others my existence is intricately tied to that of this world, and to that of others. Take others, if one’s life partner fucks up then one is impacted. If those who act as teachers to one’s children fuck up then one is affected. If one’s employer fucks up then there are likely to be redundancies and one is affected. Now, let’s take the World. Covid-19 broke out and how many have been affected?

The Existentialist Perspective: Fucking Up and Hurt Are Intrinsic to Human Existence, There is No Escape

One (you, I, the other) will fuck up. There will be consequences for the one that fucked up and others. And where there are fuck-ups there is likely to be hurt – not always, but likely. Hurt, you know as in “I hurt!” When I say “hurt” I am not pointing at pain. When I sliced my thumb open, there was blood everywhere, and pain was present. Even today, some 3 weeks later pain in my thumb is present.

By “hurt” I point at emotional hurt as in when one feels hurt. Example, your loved one leaves you, or dies. Beyond the emotional there is a deeper hurt. Of what do I speak? Of the hurt in one’s soul – in one’s very being. Example, you really really wanted to be say a dancer yet you became a lawyer because that is what your father or mother did. Or you did not seize the moment to pursue the only that truly mattered to you – the one that lit up your very soul and left it dancing joyously.

What Matters Is How One Deals With Hurt

Hurt is an existential fact: everyone of us will experience hurt. It’s what we do with this hurt that matters. Put differently and more powerfully: it’s how we choose to use hurt that makes all the difference.

What are the standard (playing small) options in relation to hurt?

1-One can withdraw from life – into one’s shell so that one does not allow the other, or the world, to inflict more hurt. Some go one better, they withdraw, comfortable in that withdrawal, they stay there for a lifetime.

2-One can play victim – feel sorry for oneself, look/demand sympathy from others, one can go further and expect others to drop what they are doing and looking after me, the victim of life. By playing victim one can inflict one’s hurt onto others – almost always on those who are closest to us, those who love us. Why? Because they are the only ones willing to accept the injury and almost always the domination; the victim gets to dominate by playing weak and demanding loved one look after him/her. Failure to play this game leads the victim to ambush loved ones with guilt as in “If you loved me…..” Often the victim does not even need to do this, cultural upbringing already conditions one to feel guilty if one does not do their all for loved ones who are down.

3-One can burn with resentment, anger, even rage. These will lead to the corresponding actions For example, where one resents another, distance, blame, and critiscism of the other/s follows. I call this “inflicting death by a thousand cuts.” Anger can lead to lashing out at the other/s. Whether that is the abusive tongue or the abusive hands.

What Are The Playing BIG, useful, Options in relation to hurt?

1-One uses hurt to connect with one’s fellow human beings – recognising our mutuality, our shared human existence and condition. By connecting thus one opens the gate to compassion – for the other/s who are just like me hurting in some manner.

2-One goes into the hurt to enquire, to learn – about oneself, about the other/s, about the world. Example, one seeks to understand why it is that one’s spouse is emotionally distant or cutting. What is going on here? What burdens/scars does the spouse carry that lead to his/her behaviour? How am I being, and/or what is it that I am doing, that contributes and perhaps is even the source of my spouse being distant or cutting? At the end of the learning process one is almost always in a much more powerful place in relation to the hurt. And often the hurt is gone, at the very minimum it is diminished. Example, I see how my recent way of showing up and travelling in life (say being impatient and critical or just plain indifferent to him/her) has awakened the spouse’s scars and fears. And led to the spouse’s emotional distance or cutting remarks. S/he hurts me because I, unknowingly, hurt him/her.

3-One uses hurt constructively on the journey of becoming. As the Existential philosophers point out a human being is, alway and forever, a being and a becoming: for one always has the freedom to choose to become other than what one is today. So, having approached the hurt through the mode of enquiry / learning (option 2) one can act: to change oneself; to influence others; and/or to make a change in the world. Taking the example of the distant cutting spouse, I go up to my spouse and apologise – really apologise for my behaviour and the impact of my behaviour on him/her. And in this very act a new possibility, a new future, is created: one of connection, harmony, intimacy.

Summing Up

No human being, who lives a normal human life, can escape fucking-up and that which often comes with it: hurt. Playing BIG, involves choosing the path less travelled: expecting hurt, accepting hurt, looking into hurt to enquire and learn about myself, about others, about the world. And, then using this learning to take action – action that heals me, heals the other, and ideally heals the world.

If you have gotten this far then I thank you for your listening for I know that my speaking is not easy to hear. And, I wish you the very best. Until the next time…..

Existential choice: a life in the stands (as spectator) or a life in the arena (as creator/player)?


As beings-in-the world that are thrust into the world there is so much over which we have no choice. We don’t get to choose if we come into this world. We don’t get to choose the timing – we are thrust into this world when we are thrust into this world. We don’t get to choose our family – we get what we get. We don’t get to choose our language – we get what we get. We don’t get to choose our culture – we get what we are given. And so forth. So it is tempting to fall into the pattern ‘I have no say in the matter of how I show up in life!’ and live accordingly

We do have a fundamental choice over how you/I are being as beings-in-the-world. I get that most of us are not present to this choice nor the default setting. Yet, that does not change the fact that we do have this fundamental choice. What am I talking about? I am saying that you and I have a say in how/where we show up. When I say how/where we show up I am talking ontologically – that is to say I am pointing to a way of being-in-the-world. So what exactly is this fundamental choice?

You/I can show up in the stands as spectators watching the spectacle – life – occurring in the arena. And as such we can observe, we can comment, we can criticise, we can enjoy or not enjoy…… Whilst it is less effort, more convenient, it is also the case that for many of us it leaves us unfulfilled, without joy, and from time to time wondering “Is this all there is?” Showing up as spectators in the stands is the default setting

Alternatively, you/I can actively leave the comfort of the stands and step into the arena. Put differently, you/I can choose to show up in the arena and shape how the game (of life) turns out. Being a player on the arena involves more effort, more work. It also requires courage because we are on show standing for what we say matters to us and thus open to criticism, ridicule and even attack. In some cases, we even put our lives at risk like Malala Yousafzai, 14 year old girl, attacked for championing education for girls and highlighting Taliban atrocities.

By this stage, you/I might be wondering why leave the safety/convenience/comfort of the stands for the risk/effort/vulnerability of being in the arena? Because you/I want to experience a certain kind of living, a certain kind of life. A life of meaning, of absorption, of fulfilment, of joy. It matters to us, at some fundamental level, that you/I live lives that matter, that are authentic, that are fulfilling. Those of us who chose to show up in the arena as players/actors/creators are not faced with the question “Is this all there is?”.

As you/I ponder this fundamental existential choice, I wish to share this “Man in the Arena” passage from a speech from President Theodore Roosevelt, Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, France, April 23, 1910:

“It is not the critic who counts, nor the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; Who, at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who, at the worst, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”