5 Tips for Riding the Waves of Grief

 

By Ronya Banks

I have lost so much in this life, and although many of these losses have been quite painful, I have been rocked by the recent loss of my best friend and companion – Thomas, my cat of 15 years.

I could easily tell many stories about Thomas which exemplify what a consistently loving, supportive, and generous little being he was during his short lifetime.  But instead, I will share the Buddhist practice principles I utilized to help me to work with this loss, as well as the many benefits I have incurred from the grieving process itself.

The following five tips have supported my grieving and healing process:

  1. Remember that “suffering” is an inherently human experience.

“The stream of tears you have shed is more than the water of the four great oceans.”  – Buddha

When we feel the internal pain of grief after a loss, we tend to feel that something is “wrong” and that we should NOT be feeling these difficult emotions.  Some of us believe that we “should” be happy all the time.  These beliefs are not realistic and are actually a setup for disaster.

In reality, experiencing internal suffering after a loss is as normal as breathing.  In fact, the truth of suffering was the cornerstone of the Buddha’s teachings.  The Buddha’s First Noble Truth taught us that suffering, stress, loss, grief and despair are natural byproducts of being born a human being.  He also pointed out that grief is a normal part of life because each of us will eventually grieve the loss of that which we love and value.

Remind yourself that you are a “human being” subject to what the Taoists referred to as the “10,000 Joys and the 10,000 Sorrows”.  Sometimes, life will be wonderful and you will be happy, and other times life will be downright challenging.  When you accept that internal suffering, loss, and grief happen, they will be more bearable to endure when they arise.

  1. Remember that grief swells and rises up as a “temporary” wave.

When a wave of grief slams into you and threatens to split your heart wide open, it can be so intense that you may fear that it will never subside and it may even feel like this wave may destroy you in the process.

Remember that these waves are temporary, and you will experience calming reprieves in between the onslaughts.  Eventually, with practice and over time, these waves reduce with intensity, duration, and frequency.

  1. Self-Care is critical.

When beset with difficult emotions, we often do the opposite of what would actually be most helpful!  In other words, many of us tend to turn to unhelpful false refuges or unhealthy habits and behaviors for self-soothing.

For example, when you feel the stress of loss, you may reach for unhealthy comfort foods; stop going to your regular yoga classes; numb out in front of the television or computer for hours each day.  This is simply your unconscious mind’s unskillful attempt to bring in some comfort or solace.  What is ironic about this behavior, is that over-engaging in such escapism behaviors actually make you feel worse in the long run.

If you catch yourself craving for, or even lost in negative addictive behaviors, seek out some positive inner and outer resources to support you during your grief period.

This is the actually the time to ramp up your self-care regimen.  Eat healthy foods, go to your meditation group, spend more time out in nature, surround yourself with supportive friends or loved ones, exercise regularly, reduce your responsibilities, and create the environment wherein you can get some good sleep.

  1. Do Not “Resist” nor “Get Lost In” the Grief

During an intense and painful wave of grief, the natural inclination of the mind will be to either fear, deny, or push your internal pain away.  Or on the other hand, your mind may get lost in and carried away by the despair that often accompanies grief.

Your practice will be to balance on that middle ground wherein you open your heart to the emotional pain of grief when it arises, and let the wave wash over you without getting lost in or identified with the sorrow.  Easier said than done, but such an important point of practice.

Allow wisdom to decide when and for how long you can open to the grief wave without becoming overwhelmed by it.  When you feel that you are getting lost in the grieving emotions, give yourself a caring break from it all.  Perhaps pick up an interesting book, call a good friend, or watch an informative documentary.  Then attend to the next wave of grief with an open and caring heart when it arises.

If you are finding yourself mostly overwhelmed and lost, it may be helpful to seek out a grief support group or a mental health professional to help you navigate this roller coaster ride.

Do your best not to repress your grief by numbing out or replacing your loss with something new and exciting, for repressed, unresolved sorrow and grief can harden the heart and cultivate more sorrow in one’s future.

  1. Be Kind and Patient with Yourself

The deeper your connection to your loss, the greater the likelihood you will experience more intense grieving emotions.  Everyone grieves differently and one person’s grieving process will most likely not look like someone else’s.  Try not to compare yourself to others or to your own earlier grieving periods.  We are each different, we change, circumstances change, and losses affect us differently at different times.

As much we would like, we are also not in control of the grieving process; it has a mind of its own and lasts as long as it lasts.  We cannot just wake up one morning and decide we are going to stop grieving now and “will” the grieving process away.  This controlling and suppressing does not work.

Do your best not to judge yourself or your grieving process.  You may hear your mind generating thoughts like:  “Gee whiz, I should be over this by now!”  Or, “I should be stronger than this!”   Or, “OMG, here I go again crying in public!”

If your mind is being judgmental, unkind, restless or impatient with your healing process, then counteract these unkind thoughts with some self-soothing, supportive statements like: “This is difficult, but I am doing the best I can”, or “I am choosing to be patient and kind with myself during the grieving process”, “Given everything, I am doing well!”, or whatever kind thoughts that intuitively arise to bring more balance and ease to your mind and heart.

I have found it helpful to remind myself of the Rumi quote: “The wound is the place where the Light enters you.”

As painful and difficult as grief can be, I have found that during these raw, vulnerable moments my awareness is heightened and my heart is wide open.  It intuitively feels as though the grieving process itself is actually opening and preparing my heart and mind for profound healing and transformation.

During this period, remember to also turn your heightened awareness and open heart towards the beauty of this world and the gifts you already have in your life and allow the majesty, love, and gratitude to permeate every cell of your being!  Along with the painful waves, also feel the aliveness coursing through this moment!  This energy will expand your heart and mind even further such that you will be that much more alive, present, and open to each moment’s unfoldment.

During this process you can sense a greater presence, a letting go, or the sense of your tapping into a limitless pool of peace and pulsating aliveness that bubbles forward out of the abyss…….and this is the ultimate healing of the awakened heart and mind.

What have you done to support your grieving process?   Comment below.

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Making Wise Decisions

You get invited to various events and social outings, or you may want to take a specialized class or trip, etc throughout your life.  Then the question becomes, which ones do you choose to attend, and which ones do you pass on for now?  What criteria do you use to make a wise decision?  What is your decision based on?

The obvious optimal solution would be to have an invisible clairvoyant personal assistant that knows exactly what would be best for you and it could make perfect decisions that would be in your best interest!  Haha!  Since I haven’t met my optimum prime assistant yet, I have come up with some other more helpful pointers.

If you are like me, you may occasionally find yourself in a less than pleasant situation before realizing that you did not make a very wise choice (That Damn Hindsight is 20-20!).

I have learned that before I make a decision, it can be very helpful to employ the following Mindful strategies to help me make the wisest decision.

Wait!  

Most times, a quick decision may not be the best one!  Unless you are on the stand, or some other urgent situation, you usually do NOT have to give your answer that minute.  Tell the person(s) you will get back to them with your answer later , or bookmark this event on your computer to look at at greater length when you have more time.

Let the question of whether you want or need to go germinate in your being without needing to come up with an answer.  No pressure.  You don’t have to think about it or worry about it.  Just be patient and know that eventually, your preference will emerge in your being via thoughts, feelings, or physical sensations.

Guilt Sucks!  

Do not and I repeat – NOT commit to or agree to any decision out of guilt.

Sometimes I find that when I am in people-pleasing mode, or I want to make up for not being there for someone, (or whatever my guilty side is feeling) I will offer to do things with this person(s) that I REALLY do NOT want to do.  This is a recipe for a miserable time!

How do I feel beforehand when I think about going?  

Pose this question to yourself beforehand and feel your body’s physical reaction.  Does it feel relaxed or a little energized?  If so, that is a “Go!”  Does it tighten up, or feel really heavy, or does a surge of anxiety hit your body?  If so, that is a definite ‘Do NOT go!”

Is this Aligned with my Highest Good?

Sometimes we choose to do something that we really do NOT want to do because it is aligned with our highest good (like exercising or meditating).  Or, perhaps it is a needed step towards some future desired outcome (like an educational class)?  If it is aligned with your highest good, your values, and other resources line up – Go!

How will I feel afterwards if I do or do NOT do this?

Pose these two questions to your imagination and then feel what sensations comes up:  How will I feel afterwards if I have attended the event?  How will I feel afterwards if I have not attended the event?  Let your sensations be your guide.

Life is short and getting shorter every day!  If it is a true passion, you will feel good and fortunate afterwards.

What do I REALLY Want?

When my 28-year old daughter uttered these words to me out loud recently, I decided she was a flipping genius – way ahead of her time!  She said she is practicing asking herself regularly “what do I really want?, and letting the answer to this question help her make her decisions.

Ask the deepest part of you, your inner adult – what it really wants and needs right now?  By doing so, you will invite your authentic life essence to direct your life, and not your scared, insecure self or your inner spoiled brat!

Do you do something else that is not mentioned here to help you make wise decisions?  If so, I would love to hear about them.

Ronya

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Waking Up from the Trance State

A lot of Buddhist teachers (including myself) describe our meditation practice as the tool we use to wake up out of our induced “trance state” of consciousness.  This implies that we have been sleeping all along, and with practice we begin waking up to a more real conscious reality.

That has certainly been my experience.  Before regular meditation, while in this trance state, I experienced people, things, and even the world as more solid, stable, and rigidly held into place according to my perceptions.  There were little to no grey areas and no space.  My reality was also object-focused.

As my practice has deepened, everybody and everything has changed.  Walls, people, and even rocks do not appear completely solid.  Things have become more fluid, dynamic and amorphous.  Reality is constantly ebbing, flowing, and changing, and is experienced more so like from a waking, sleeping dream state.  The “me” has dropped away most of the time, as it too ebbs and flows into and out of existence (could say a lot about this too).  Reality is also more space or emptiness-focused.

Awakening out of the trance state of consciousness into a more dreamlike state of conscious awareness sounds ironic, doesn’t it?

So the question is, what state of consciousness is more real?  Are any of them real?  Or is our experience in varying states of consciousness just a collection of projections created by the mind?

 

 

 

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Connecting with the Ground – Earth

Tonight I gave a dharma talk about connecting with the “Earth” as an important grounding part of your spiritual practice.

I spoke about how cultivating our minds is similar to cultivating one’s soil and earth in preparation for a garden.  Before planting one’s garden, it is helpful to pull out the weeds, remove invading pests, rocks, and enrich the soil with helpful additives like compost, pete moss, manure etc.  We do this process with kindness, patience, and wisdom as we take one step at a time to create the best growing conditions.

We use our formal meditation practice in a similar way to cultivate calmer, stable minds capable of fuller presence (soil) and to work with unwholesome experiences that arise with kindness and love, such that these unwholesome roots get weakened, and do not get strengthened.  In this way, we are creating the conditions for wholesome roots of the mind to take hold and grow in our inner garden.

The expression “Water the flowers and not the weeds” comes to mind.

During our discussion, many people spoke about how restorative, calming, and balancing it was for them to be out in nature, either walking, sitting, hiking, or gardening, etc.

If you want to get more out of your practice, get outside in nature more often.  Touch the earth.  Connect with the earth.  Connect with the nurturing, supportive, quiet, and stable ground.

This is our birthright.  We are beings of this planet.  When our spiritual practices deepen, we feel this supportive connection with our Mother Earth, and this connection, in turn deepens our level of practice.

 

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Follow the “Flow”

Go to http://www.flowdestiny.com to follow my new blog project, called Mastering “Flow”.  It is based on a spiritual, energetic theme I have been exploring in my contemplative and life practices, which I call “Flow”.

In this blog, I will be sharing my process of uncovering, understanding, accessing, and surrendering to the “Flow” – A process of allowing my life’s destiny to naturally unfold.

 

 

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How Much Truthfulness Is Too Much

Strangely enough, the same week our Vipassana meditation group (AIM) explored truthfulness, two people whom I consider close friends were both independently and blatantly dishonest with me.  There was no question about the fact that they were lacking truthfulness.  My questions were WHY and HOW should I respond?

During the actual dishonest occurences, mindfulness revealed that I was experiencing some major physical contraction and discomfort.  Given this, I realized that anything I said or did would come across pretty unskillfully, so I didn’t say or do anything to my so-called friends at the time.

Since both instances happened on the same day, within a couple hours of each other, once the dust settled, I felt a little shell-shocked!   Once I got over the shock, my initial internal reaction was to feel confusion, followed by the thoughts of being disrespected and dishonored, which resulted in feeling angry and finally hurt.  Wow!  All that within a few moments!

I gave myself the time, loving kindness and attention I needed to feel what was arising in my mind, heart, and body.  I also saw how this process of taking my SELF so seriously caused a great deal of internal strife as evidenced by a mindstorm of repetitive, negative thinking, physical discomfort, and hurt feelings.  Wow again!  

Finally, my mind, heart, and body calmed, leaving a huge space of loving kindness and compassion for myself and my friends.  I clearly saw and understood how their own internal stress motivated their dishonesty, and I felt a great sense of compassion for the huge amount of fear or contractedness any sense of self can manifest – in each of us!

From this grounded place, I was able to decide whether addressing the two friends would be skillful or even necessary.   Wisdom communicated to me that one of my friends would not be open to receiving anything I had to say about the matter, and that any such actions would only motivate more ego development and stress, so I did nothing.  Wisdom did motivate me to tell the other person some of the process I experienced as the result of her actions, and how sad I felt during our time of perceived disconnection.  We ended up having an open, honest, and deeply healing and connected conversation.

Obviously, I’ve left a lot of details out of this story, but the main point is that these things happen to all of us more often than we’d like to admit.  Sometimes, we are dishonest to with others to protect our fear-based ego selves from looking bad, being misunderstood, disliked, or rejected.  During our dishonest protection of our SELVES, we are stuck in a mind habit pattern that we’ve used as an ego survival mechanism.  This is a very painful pattern to be stuck in.  Most everyone has been there.

Before you confront someone else’s dishonesty, it is very important to first be grounded in the other person’s motivating disconnection and pain.  This will help you come from a place of compassion, as opposed to judgement or blame.  Then, let your inner wisdom guide you as to whether to say anything at all, as well as guide your words.

It is important to remember that because we all have these crazy human minds, we are all delusional to one degree or another.  It is irrational to expect delusional minds to operate with clarity, caring, and perfection at all times.  

We get to have patience and compassion with ourselves and others.  If the other person’s level of delusion motivates regular dishonest communication, we also get to decide who we want to be in close relationship with.

Most importantly, we continue to commit to practicing every moment, on the cushions and off, in order to gradually peel these layers of delusion away.  As we do so, beauty, clarity, love, and connection take over.

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Transforming Our World From the Inside-Out

I am honestly tired of hearing so many spiritual soothsayers from around the globe bombarding us with warnings that we are entering a new era, where humankind will be subjected to overwhelming spiritual and physical energies.  According to their prophecies, these new energies are expected to propel us forward to a new awareness into psychic and spirit realms, while promising extinction to the not-so-evolved suckers!

Although these predictions vary somewhat, most contain forebodings of incredibly tough times to come.  Many also contain pleas, warning us earthlings to “get with the program” and start preparing ourselves spiritually and physically for the chaos that will supposedly occur during an en masse spiritual awakening process.  In fact, such talk is quickly becoming main stream in many spiritual circles.  After hearing this constant babble, I have the inclination to go stockpile food, meditate for four hours to calm my nerves, and laugh at my gullibility, all at the same time.

Whether we personally believe such future changes are probable or not, as compassionate human beings on earth today, it has already become quite challenging dealing with Continue reading

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Mindful Speech – Part 1.

While leading AIM sangha’s group discussion, I was very moved by people’s sharing about their difficulties with practicing Mindful or Wise Speech.  Their sharing (some of which I will include below)  illuminated our mutual challenges as human beings.  After all, we have all felt great fear, frustration, disappointment, joy, excitement, and sadness at some points in our lives.  The goal is not to AVOID  feeling negative emotions, but to learn how to work with even difficult emotional states with growing skill and compassion.   Then, to communicate with others from a place of love and caring.

One woman shared that the worst mind habit pattern she has to deal with is how she speaks to herself.  She confided in how she has bought into a “Big Lie” that she is just not capable of handling whatever life task or situation that lies before her.  Since she has had many life successes, she intellectually realizes that this isn’t true, but even still, she spoke about how difficult it is for her to let go of this self-deprecating belief.  Luckily, she feels that she has made progress in simply being compassionate with herself, while she continues to figure out how to let go of this limiting belief.  This brought up the question, which is:  “how do you speak to yourself?”  I’ve heard people say that I would never speak to another the way I speak inwardly to myself.  When we strengthen our mindfulness practice, we start to hear our self-talk.  What’s really freeing is when we take the leap of understanding that we do NOT have to believe or buy into the oftentimes inane chattering of our minds.

Another young man spoke about how much fear comes up for him around speaking honestly, because it requires a certain level of naked vulnerability.  Let’s face it, being honest can be downright scary!   Which brings up the question:  “how might you be holding back out of fear of being vulnerable?  How might you be hiding, lying to yourself or others out of fear, or to be accepted, liked, or to gain something?”  Please ask yourself these questions from a place of curious inquiry, and not use them as one more opportunity to beat yourself up.

My personal practice and the work I do with my clients, includes teaching others to allow their inner wisdom to guide their interactions with others, which includes the wisdom to know when, if, and what to speak up about.   Initially, it takes courage to allow your inner wisdom to be your guide.  But, with continued practice, it becomes as natural as breathing.

More to come about Mindful Speech!!!

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Why the Buddha made the “No Wealth” Rule for the Noble Disciples

During our Dharma talk discussion last Tuesday night concerning money, one of the sangha members asked why the Buddha made the rule that the persons taking refuge with the Buddha – noble disciples, now called Buddhist monks, could not own or acquire wealth?

Unfortunately, I did not have the time to answer this question completely, so this writing is a more in-depth response to that question.

The Buddha’s rule for anyone joining his order was that this person had to relinquish ALL worldly possessions (not just wealth) as part of his or her process.  A noble disciple became “homeless”.  He or she was allowed to own only a robe and a begging bowl.  No more, no less.

I think it’s important for us to first understand the culture during the Buddha’s era.  There were hundreds of different religions in India at that time, and the people were heavily steeped in the religious underpinnings of their culture.  People who chose the Holy life as their path and contribution often became wandering ascetics (with only their robes and a bowl).  They left their homes, and spent their time during their days praying, meditating, or doing whatever prescribed practices they were led to perform.  Such devotees did not have the time and energy to work for food.  Householders who chose the different life as a layperson or noble person who respected the ascetics’ commitment to their spiritual path saw it as an honor to feed these homeless wanderers.  In turn, these wandering ascetics often gave the householders the benefit of a spiritual teaching, or even just their presence for a short while.

The Buddha, himself, left his home and life as a wealthy prince to become a wandering ascetic, with only a robe and a bowl in his possession.  That was the path of the holy life.  So, it makes sense that the Buddha would continue this expectation of those who took refuge with him.

To break it down further, there were many logical benefits for noble disciples to forfeit their wealth and worldly possessions.  For example, the Buddha found that:

  • Your mind can be clearer and calmer if it is not preoccupied with taking care of its wealth and possessions.  No things to worry about.
  • You can wander around from village to village without having to carry a large pack around.
  • Your mind will have less greed and wanting when you learn to live without the need to acquire.
  • The Noble Disciples’ begging, gave the householders an opportunity to practice generosity.
  • Receiving alms food from householders allowed the noble disciples to practice gratitude in receiving.

Of course, these rules made sense over 2500 years ago in that particular culture.  I am not sure why ordained monks continue with these rules today.  I assume to carry on the tradition that the Buddha set out, as well as to lessen the input for Greedy or Wanting Mind to become a hindrance.

Jack Kornfield talks about the time when he returned to the States as a monk, attempting to beg with his bowl and robe in a major US city and being shunned and treated poorly by Americans.  I don’t think we would do very well attempting to go on alms rounds in the USA.

During my last move, I got rid of so much superfluous stuff.  Even still, while packing and moving, I longed to own less.

I’ve heard it said that people without money are typically preoccupied with wanting more money and planning how to get more of it, while people with money are oftentimes preoccupied with wanting to hold on to it, and/or with getting more. . .   Owning nice things and having nice homes is certainly not bad, while being a homeless beggar is not, as well.  The key here is to be okay with whatever we have, and do whatever we have to do, to live this life without the wanting-greed  taking over our minds.

Although becoming a homeless “holy” person in our society may not always be a viable option, simplifying our lives and learning to work skillfully with the “Wanting Mind” is a wonderful opportunity we lay people (householders) have every day!

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Faith – Saddha

When we hear the word faith, many of us lean towards of the concept of “blind faith” presented to us by exposure to organized religion.  While many folks’ previous experience with this version of faith has buoyed their confidence, by providing them with a sense of internal support and life direction, others speak of the damage and guilt they were beset with after being subjected to prior doctrinal systems.

The traditional definition of faith is “having belief in something without evidence”.  Although the Buddhist presentation of faith has some similarities, I will present the ways that it is quite different, as well as provide you with some suggestions you can use to strengthen and use faith to further motivate and nurture your spiritual practice.  Continue reading

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