The human heart is a cosmic jewel woven with threads of love and grief. It is within the crucible of these sensations that we discover the essence of our shared humanity, where vulnerability and resilience coexist in an intricate dance of contradictions. Spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle says ‘when you go deep enough to the formless, the dreadful is no longer dreadful, it’s sacred. Death can enable you to find that dimension in yourself. {...} Death can help you find the sacred dimensions of life – where life is indestructible.’ It is indeed within the indestructible realms of death that love is born; and love is a formless muse that shape-shifts in a kindred manner to the beast of death. Tolle underscores the transformative power of spiritual insight, and invites us to reframe our perception of death as something ‘sacred’, suggesting that only in death can we understand the divinity of life. Ultimately, it is by delving into the formless dimensions of our existence that we can truly transcend the heartbreak associated with mortality.

The anatomy of the broken heart

A broken heart is a fractured jewel, in its exquisite agony, it finds resonance not only within the captivating verses of literature but also within the very chambers of our own bodies. Victor Hugo describes grief as ‘the darkness within’, where grief is a silent and internalised storm that rages through our veins, affecting us at the most fundamental and primal levels. ‘Thus with a kiss I die’ were indeed Romeo's last words before gulping the potassium cyanide to meet Juliet who he believed to be dead. Likewise, T.S. Eliot’s tragic poem ‘The Waste Land’ reflects the desolation that follows death in the aftermath of World War I. In the tangible medical world, ‘broken heart syndrome’ or Takotsubo cardiomyopathy serves as a poignant metaphor for the entwining of our emotional and physiological realms. This transient heart syndrome affects the left ventricle’s ability to pump blood throughout the body as a result of inflammation. It commonly occurs in response to intense emotional stress, frequently stemming from the death of a loved one, which in turn restricts essential blood flow. So these poetic expressions and medical syndromes reveal how grief not only becomes an emotional state but is equally a physical, palpable presence in our very cells. In these moments, the world’s colours fade to grey, and even our breaths become jagged, as if we are navigating the precipice between two worlds.

It is in these moments that we find ourselves at the crossroads of our own humanity, where the lines between heartache and heartbeats blur, where we uncover the profound connections between the poetry of our emotions and the prose of our physiological responses. The ancient Egyptian Phoenix ‘Bennu’, a mythological symbol of rebirth and regeneration, is a felicitous metaphor for the physiological and spiritual embodiment of grief. Consumed by flames of anguish that burn through the very fibres of our existence, grief leaves us scorched and formless in a sense. Yet our hearts, like the great Bennu, do not perish in this fiery inferno but rise anew from its ashes. In this paradoxical dance between devastation and resilience, we come to understand that Bennu—who is an extension of us—encapsulates the universal essence of transmutation that comes with death and rebirth.

The alchemical process

The mystical art of alchemy, with its roots tracing back to the ancient civilisations of Egypt, Arabia and Greece, offers a profound and symbolic framework for understanding the transmutation of grief. The etymology of ‘alchemy’, derived from the Arabic ‘al-kīmiyā’ signifies the ‘Elixir of Life’. In the classical sense, alchemy was the quest to transform base metals into gold, and today has been allegorised through spiritual enlightenment and inner transformation. The Emerald Tablet, a foundational Hermetic text in alchemical philosophy famously declares, ‘as above, so below; as below, so above.’ This principle highlights the interconnection between the macrocosm of the universe and the microcosm of the individual soul. Just as alchemists sought the Philosopher’s Stone to transmute hidden potentials and attain spiritual enlightenment, individuals navigating grief embark on a quest for their own inner Philosopher’s Stone—the means to transform pain and loss into profound understanding and healing. The medieval alchemical process of ‘Solve et Coagula’ {dissolve and coagulate} mirrors this need to break down and dissolve the old self in order to reform a more powerful, resilient and enlightened self. This ancient wisdom speaks to the possibility that through the transformative fires of grief, we can find the golden elixir of strength, compassion, and a deeper connection to the mysteries of life and death.

In the sacred teachings of Hindu and Buddhist traditions, grief is not just a shadow of devastation, but a transformative vessel through which personal growth and healing are forged. Like the sacred lotus emerging from murky depths, the ancient concept of ‘dukkha’ in Buddhism emphasises that suffering is an intrinsic part of the human condition. It is through this suffering, particularly in the form of grief, that we gain profound insights into our own existence. The Sanskrit Hindu scripture, ‘Bhagavad Gita’ also reminds us that ‘the soul is neither born, nor does it die’ [II.XX]. In this understanding, grief becomes a pivotal moment of awakening, where we realise that the essence of who we are remains unscathed, even in the face of profound loss. In both traditions, grief is seen as a catalyst for personal growth, a spiritual path to transformation. It serves as a reminder that, like the sacred phoenix rising from its ashes, we too can emerge from the depths of despair with renewed strength and an enriched understanding of our own resilience.

The resilience of love

Amid the turbulent tides of grief, love emerges as an unwavering anchor, echoing the timeless wisdom found in ancient scriptures. Just as the Gita teaches that the soul is beyond birth and death, love is an eternal force that endures even in the wake of loss. In Buddhist teachings, where compassion and loving-kindness known as ‘metta’ {meditation} are central principles, we find solace in the notion that love is not extinguished by the impermanence of life but instead deepens through the experience of grief. Rumi’s verse, ‘don't grieve — anything you lose comes round in another form’ invites us to look beyond the immediate pain of loss and recognise that love, like life itself, is a continuous cycle of change. While we may grieve for what is gone, we can find comfort in the belief that it will return to us. Rumi also explains how ‘the wound is the place where the light enters you’, a beautiful allegory that serves as a poignant reminder that our grief functions as a conduit for spiritual enlightenment and love.

C.S. Lewis’ profound reflections on the death of his wife in ‘A Grief Observed’ serve as a beacon that illuminates the relationship between love and the deeply misunderstood pain of grief. He says that ‘the death of a beloved is an amputation’, speaking to the permanence of certain losses as irrevocable alterations of the self and the soul. Even though this darkness is invisible and the ‘amputation’ is non-physical, Lewis underlines how the psyche and spirit are infinitely ruptured. He depicts the omnipresence of his wife’s absence like ‘the sky, spread over everything’, engulfing all that stands in its wake. The old proverb says that ‘pain is proportional to love’, and grief is really just love, all the love you want to give but cannot, all the love you have for that person with nowhere to go. Throughout his reflections, Lewis comes to understand that ‘sorrow turns out to not be a state but a process’—a beautiful realisation of grief as an unfolding and dynamic journey, where love becomes the guiding compass throughout the desolation.

Transmutation through creative expression

Art and creative expression emerge as transformative alchemy, echoing the wisdom found in ancient and religious texts as well as the insights of celebrated alchemists. Grief dissolves into the colours of a painter’s palette, the verses of a poet’s pen, or the melody of a musician’s composition. Through the lens of art, the transformative and enduring nature of grief becomes evident, reflecting Hippocrates’ aphorism that ‘Ars Longa, Vita Brevis’ {art is long, life is short}. This could also allude to the idea that artists will come and eventually go in death, yet their art stays with us forever. There are indeed countless souls who have transmuted their grief into golden works of love through the alchemy of creativity. Consider the ancient Greek myth of Orpheus, who in his mourning for his beloved Eurydice, channelled his grief into music so hauntingly beautiful that it softened the hearts of even the gods, and momentarily alleviated the sorrow of the Underworld. In the modern realm, surrealist painter Frida Kahlo translated the anguish of stillbirth into her evocative and raw artwork titled ‘Henry Ford Hospital’, where grief metamorphoses into a profound expression of the human’s spirit and its unyielding capacity to create beauty from pain—this was certainly the theme of her art and life. From Édith Piaf and Amy Winehouse who were muses of melancholy haunted by ghosts of personal struggles, along with Leonard Cohen’s stirring melodies and the soulful strains of Chet Baker’s trumpet, these musical luminaries all transformed their grief into a melodic tapestry of unbounded love.

Additionally, this infinite alchemy exists across oceans of diverse cultures, where high-spirited traditions harness and transmute the sorrow of death back into the vivacity of life through community. Amongst the vibrant hues of Mexico’s ‘Dia de los Muertos’ {Day of the Dead}, families come together to alchemise their grief with colourful altars adorned in marigolds, photos and other ‘ofrendas’ {offerings}. They dance and sing effervescently with the spirits of their loved one’s as a celebration of their lives past. Similarly, the haunting melodies of Irish ‘keening’, a traditional vocal lamentation, becomes a communal expression of sorrow, transcending personal grief through shared musical mourning. In Japan, we see the delicate art of repairing broken pottery with gold, known as ‘Kintsugi’ {joining with gold}. This craft mirrors the alchemical process of transforming something once broken into something even more magnificent, and ultimately highlights the beauty that emerges from embracing scars through art. Such traditions resonate with the belief that connection through creative expression can become a collective alchemy that dissolves the weight of grief into shared narratives and melodies of love.


Grief, the silent yet resounding anthem of the human condition, knows no discrimination; it is the universal language of the heart that transcends time and space. From the sombre psalms of King David to the elegant verses of Rumi, from the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead {Papyrus of Ani}, to the teachings of the Buddha, grief has been a theme woven into the very fabric of human existence. It echoes in the cries of the grieving mother and the lament of the poet, resonates in the temples of worship and the oldest of chapels, and is an unspoken bond that ties humanity across the quantum field and its infinite timelines. Whether in the swaying of mourners in a Ghanaian funeral, the glorious memorials in Mexico City, or the solemn rituals of Tibetan sky burials, grief is the sacred tie that binds us all in our collective acknowledgment that life is fragile and transient. It is ‘not a state but a process’ that transcends borders, beliefs, and languages, reminding us that in our most vulnerable moments, we are profoundly and intrinsically interconnected. Grief, in all its multifaceted beauty and sorrow, is the universal testament to the profound impact of human emotion on the human experience.