Friday, May 1, 2015

A Review of Elaine Mansfield’s Leaning into Love: A Spiritual Journey through Grief

(Larson Publications, www.larsonpublications.com, 2014). ISBN: 978-1-936012-72-5

A decade ago, I lost someone very close to me. My Aunt Annette was not only a favorite family member; she was a spiritual teacher who first instilled a love of myths and stories in me. At the time of her death, her husband, a counselor and spiritual teacher in his own right, suggested that I read Neil Donald Walsch’s Home with God: In a Life That Never Ends to help me process the profound sense of loss I was feeling.

In the years since, I have turned to that book many times, as I have lost other family, and some close friends and mentors. I recommended it to those I knew who were dealing with losses of their own.

Elaine Mansfield’s Leaning into Love, for the reasons that I will explore in this review, is the book that I will now turn to and recommend first in times of sickness and loss.

First, because it is so personal. Mansfield, who was a nutritionist and personal trainer before her husband’s two-year battle with cancer and his subsequent death, leaves nothing out as she tells the story of their journey. Their love and commitment to each other through decades of partnership is made all the more real and precious as Mansfield relates the darker moments, both before and after Vic got sick. There were times when the struggle was too much for Mansfield to handle, and she took much needed alone time to recharge; times when she felt that Vic’s experience of illness became the dominant story, leaving her own story of a spouse’s experience of the illness unheard and unappreciated; and the moments where these two very much in love individuals had a difficult time connecting. These very human moments are often left out of discussion on grieving and loss, and yet they are essential.

Second, because, as spiritual and based in ritual as the book is, it holds a broader view of grief and loss and ways to work through them than more traditionally based religious books such as Walsch’s. Mansfield and her husband were both deeply involved with various spiritual groups, and Vic was a scholar on Tibetan Buddhism who knew the Dalai Lama personally, but the source material for their journey was widely varied, from the poems of Rainer Maria Rilke to the writing of philosopher Paul Brunton. Mansfield also writes about the healing power of journaling, painting, working with myths, and Jungian dream work and the importance of synchronicity. The varied array of tools she provides will offer strategies and inspiration to any reader, no matter their own religious–philosophical background.

I was most drawn to the emphasis on ritual and dreams. I can attest to the power to heal that ritual provides. After my Aunt Annette passed, I wrote a memorial to her that I published on my blog and share each year on the anniversary of her leaving us. My wife and children and I went to the parks she loved and said prayers and shared remembrances, and each of us had our own simple altars to her memory. She came to each of us in dreams for awhile, before, I believe, moving on to other realms and other concerns in her new life beyond death.

Third, Leaning into Love resonates with energy. You can feel the love between Elaine Mansfield and her husband, Vic, and the love of their two sons and their family and friends coming off the pages as you read. As she describes their acreage in upstate New York, you feel like you are there, walking among the flora and fauna with them, participating in the rituals, often tied to the turning of the seasons, and being able to listen almost first-hand to their hopes, dreams, arguments, and discussions. I began to experience parallels and synchronicities in my dreams and waking life that I believe were the result of the honesty and energy of Leaning into Love.

I suggest watching Mansfield’s TEDx talk (“Good grief! What I learned from loss,” available on YouTube) just before reading the book. Her quiet, yet strong and experience-strengthened personality and voice enhance the reading experience if you picture them as you go.

After finishing the book, you can continue the journey by subscribing to the author’s blog and newsletter (elainemansfield.com). As anyone who has lost a loved one knows, the grief and sense of loss never end, although they do morph over time. I continue to learn from Elaine Mansfield as she walks her path of writing, lecturing, and learning about grief and loss and how ritual can help guide us through. Losing a loved one is perhaps the hardest of life’s hard lessons, and when the inevitable time comes that we must face it, I cannot imagine a more moving and helpful story than Elaine’s to help us in that time of need.



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