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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.