GRIEF AS A SPIRITUAL TEACHER
A Profound and Transformational Hero's Journey
Growing up in South Africa during the apartheid era, the author witnessed firsthand its many injustices and inequities, and could not wait to escape. But by the time he leaves his native land, at 17, he has been shaped by it in ways he does not understand. He is unaware that an entire worldview has been planted in his psyche. He has been taught, for example, that there is only one right way; therefore, all other ways are wrong, and all wrong actions must be severely punished. He has been trained to believe that he must “succeed” at all costs; anything short of that is unacceptable. Thus, he ventures out into the world a strong-willed white male obsessed with accomplishing his goals and convinced that, to do so, he must exercise absolute control.
From South Africa he ventures to Israel, where he spends the next eight years. But he cannot wait to get to the ultimate battlefield: America. Once there, and for the next 25 years, he implements his deeply engrained understandings of how life functions. At last, one evening, he pauses to take stock, and concludes that his strategies have, indeed, worked; life is a hard-fought "battle,” and he was won. On the patio of the ultimate trophy, his newly constructed 8,000-square-foot home, he sits back and finally celebrates his success.
That same night, the unthinkable occurs: his son is killed in a tragic car accident. In a flash, everything collapses into ruins and he plummets into a deep, dark pit of despair, a broken man. Not only does he no longer feel validated, but he also feels the universe has betrayed him in the cruelest and most mendacious way.
As the metaphorical beast (grief) takes over his life, he is incapable of processing, let alone accepting, the loss of his son. Ridden with guilt at not being able to protect his son, his fractured mind devises a strange plan. Ofir must still exist somewhere in the universe, he reasons; therefore, the only logical thing to do is to go and find him and bring him home. Drawing on his identity as the guy who always gets the job done, he embarks on that impossible journey.
How to start? Since he only understands the universe in rational, material terms, he turns first to science, to physics. After stumbling across quantum mechanics, his search evolves into an investigation of consciousness. The quest then broadens into examining a wide range of disciplines, including Indigenous cultures.
His search is intensely focused, but his personal life is in shambles. Desperate for relief from the constant, excruciating pain and sadness, he intermittently acts out, seeking to escape over and over again, in a vicious cycle. As he takes every opportunity to run from his inconsolable grief, his marriage crumbles until finally it, too, is lost.
He never crosses the threshold into total self-destruction however. A fragile balance, albeit a very skewered one, develops. As grief fuels his journey to find his son, his focused dedication to the search prevents the grief from totally destroying him.
The story takes on the motif of the hero’s journey, with many victories and losses along the way. Finally, after years of searching, he thinks he is on the brink of piercing the veil, of understanding the nature of reality, when something happens, and all seems lost. Defeated and exhausted, he gives up. But then, seemingly out of nowhere a breakthrough comes: a moment of profound—and fierce—illumination.