Transforming Grieving

Years ago, I wrote my Ph.D. thesis: “Reality Transformation in Gestalt Therapy Groups.” It is based on the theory of a socially constructed reality, i.e. through social interaction and words we continuously construct our world. Reality is, according to this theory, a fluid, contextual phenomenon that shifts and reform with every encounter and every new interaction. We do a lot of mental work to maintain the illusion of continuity and one paramount reality. However, we have been doing it for so long that reality does indeed seem to exist separate from ourselves.

Occasionally the illusion of this single paramount reality breaks down. When the old order no longer works, when all our effort at patching up the illusion of continuity fail, we are forced to break with the old order and literally make a leap of faith into a new world order.

In Gestalt Therapy groups, a client slowly and fearfully lets go of familiar self-conceptions and moves to a wholly new one that is completely incompatible with the former. In order to facilitate this shift, the Gestalt therapist uses various therapeutic strategies to undermine the stability of the old mental order. When the old order is destroyed, the client is compelled, like a deer escaping a forest fire, to leap the chasm separating the old from the new. And like the deer, the leap is made with no knowledge of what is waiting on the far side.

A similar process can occur in grief. The death of someone close is one of those occasions when the continuity of the social reality breaks down and the older order no longer functions. It is both painful, disorienting and also an opportunity for profound transformation. Death, however, unlike Gestalt Therapy groups, calls into question not just our social reality, but the very reality of existence. It stops us in our tracks and nudges us to consider who we are, why we are here and what we are meant to be doing. It is an extraordinary opportunity to look within and heed our hearts. We have a choice in this time of confusion, once we get over the initial shock. We can gradually return to the everyday reality, unchanged except in circumstance and relationship, reapplying the bandaid of illusion or we can discover a whole new way of experiencing our world. Death is an opportunity to discover the mystery and magic of life.

For more about death as transformation see the documentary film series, Secrets of Life and Death. Come to a screening, respond to this blog and join the conversation.

When we are alone on a starlit night, when by chance we see the migrating birds in autumn descending on a grove of junipers to rest and eat; when we see children in a moment when they are really children, when we know love in our own hearts; or when, like the Japanese poet, Basho, we hear an old frog land in a quiet pond with a solitary splash – at such times the awakening, the turning inside out of all values, the newness, the emptiness and the purity of vision that make themselves evident, all these provide a glimpse of the cosmic dance.Thomas Merton

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR EZINE OR WEB SITE? You can, as long as you include this complete blurb with it: Grief Transformation Coach Michelle Peticolas, Ph.D. helps people transform their grief with a holistic approach to mind, body and spirit that heals trauma, reframes past attachments and releases limiting beliefs while uncovering a true life purpose and direction. If you’re ready to shift into a whole new way of being with death and loss, a new way of living your life, get Michelle’s complimentary guide, Essentials for Grieving Well at

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