Grief, Guilt and Acceptance

by | Oct 6, 2022

There are many coaches who coach to overcome grief. There are others who coach on happiness. I do not come across many who coach to overcome guilt, or to acceptance.

With apologies to Kubler Ross, the 5 stages of grief do not start with denial and anger, at least not in the Eastern mind. The reason we tend to deny a loss, especially of a loved one, is to deny the guilt we feel for causing that loss. I would redefine the stages of grief as Guilt, Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. Until we overcome guilt, there is no acceptance.

Many years ago, in a meditation workshop I held in Taipei, a woman dressed in black, very sombre, met me briefly before the program. She said she had lost her husband recently and wanted to overcome her grief. During most of the first day, I saw her alone, seemingly lost in thought. In the last session of the first day, I addressed the issue of loss, including of loved ones. Part of the session focused on guilt following the loss. The next day, in one of the breaks I looked for her and couldn’t locate her. The translator brought an exuberant woman dressed in a bright flowery dress to me. When I apologised for not recognising her, she said this.

This woman had persuaded her businessman husband into a pilgrimage of Buddhist centers in India. During this pilgrimage the husband fell ill and died. This was six months earlier. She felt guilty for having caused his death and was depressed. In the previous day’s session, she accepted that while she may have persuaded her husband to undertake the pilgrimage, she was not responsible for his death. The shift was simple. The transformation was profound.

Guilt, is a Western expression. It has no existence in Tibetan or Sanskrit, except perhaps in a legal sense of being responsible for an event as an expression of karma. This Western expression perhaps derives from the anxiety of being born in sin, in the Biblical ethos. This expression then finds action is needing to confess and be redeemed. Unless it combines with remorse or regret of not indulging in that action again, confession serves no purpose. The Eastern ethos is a belief in one’s divinity, and the quest is to integrate with this divine Self.

As the Dalai Lama says, the correct expression instead of feeling guilty should be that of remorse and intelligent regret, deciding to do things differently. Guilt erodes like cancer. Remorse heals. Guilt judges the action. Remorse reviews the intent.

When I explained the process of recovering from grief in my meditation session many years ago, I did not know what the Dalai Lama had said about guilt. My explanation came from the logic that guilt is a waste product of useless cognitive analysis, of what we did without sufficient knowledge resulting in harm to us and others. Present moment superior wisdom creating guilt is incapable of compensating for what has happened. It can produce cancer instead. However, what can and needs to happen is the intelligent recognition through remorse and regret of our role in that situation. If indeed we were responsible, we must do what we can to correct the situation, if possible, and if not, act responsibly by resolving not to repeat such action.

Genuine remorse leads to acceptance. This process is similar to Ho’oponopono, we had blogged about earlier on.

An effective way to coach people with grief is to explore feelings of guilt. Get the client to relive the grief experience somatically, then label emotions that come up. This act of experiencing sensations in the body and labelling emotions that come up, relieves grieving in most cases. Complete acceptance may take a few repetitions.

Ram Ramanathan
Ram Ramanathan


Ram is the Founder and a Principal at Coacharya. As the resident Master and mentor coach, Ram oversees and conducts all aspects of coaching and training services offered under the Coacharya banner.

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