The Antidote To Grief Is Compassion
It has been almost four months since I lost my older brother. There are no words I can use to describe what the experience has been like; each of us encounter grief, big and small, at some point in our lives so I'm sure you can relate to parts of what it feels like.
Grief is rapidly changing and unpredictable initially. It's hard to know where you're "at". However for me the roller coaster ride has levelled out somewhat and I've gained some wisdom thanks to the profound teachings of my mentors who have helped me on this journey. I'd like to share some of this with you.
Our Bodies Know How To Mourn
Although the natural tendency is to resist the process when we feel like our heart is being torn apart, we can acknowledge that grief is a necessary and primal part of the human experience when we lose who or what we love. Whether it's the death of someone close, a relationship break down, divorce, the loss of a job or illness, we need a mourning period to allow our heart to grieve fully for this loss. This is how we recognise and honour that we've lost something we cared deeply about. Allowing this process to occur organically keeps our hearts open.
Take All The Time You Need
Forget about timetables or how you should be doing. The waves of grief can wash over us at any given time... It might be a photograph, a song, or a certain event that can plummet us into unbelievable sadness at anytime. Surpressed grief can live on for many, many years and take it's toll on us. Allowing our grief to live through us and be given all the tears and gentleness it needs no matter how long after our loss is a form of self-care. We can create additional suffering when we tell ourselves that we shouldn't be feeling what we are, or "I should be over this by now". Forgive yourself for whatever you're experiencing for it's out of your control.
Compassion Is The Antidote
The antidote to grief is tenderness. We heal when we bring compassion to our suffering. Compassion means to be with, feel with, suffer with. The classical Buddha texts describe compassion as a quivering of the heart, a visceral tenderness in the face of suffering. This means not running from our suffering but bringing attention to it.
How Do We Bring Compassion To Our Grief?
When the familiar waves of profound sadness come in we can learn to turn towards the pain we are feeling. When we feel like we are going to be swept away by these feelings it may require having someone to support us in this process like a friend or a therapist.
Take a moment to pause and close your eyes if it helps you drop into your feelings. Allow your body to relax if you can. Take a full deep breath to help bring you into the present moment.
See if you can bring a gentle, kind awareness to the place inside you that feels the most tender. Is it possible to feel where in the body this is located? Does it extend to anywhere else?
Without resisting or pushing away see if you can let the rawness be there as it is. Just for a moment can you allow this feeling to live through you. You may begin by placing a hand on your heart to give this place care and compassion as you sit.
You may say to the tender place: "I'm with you", or "Be here as much as you need to be". See if it's possible to feel the care from your hand on your heart flowing to this place. Rest in this place for as long as you need to. With time you may notice a spaciousness to the feeling, or you may be brought to tears. All of this is okay, your body knows how to grieve.
You can come back to this practice again and again. Just the gesture of your hand on your heart can offer care to your suffering.
Without trying to see the sunny side of this situation I realised whilst hiking here in Colorado that my heart broke open from this experience. I know a new found depth of compassion for myself and for others and I know it's helped me to awaken more to the life that's here.
May all those who are suffering know compassion.
Jessica will be teaching Insight Meditation at our Weekend Retreat, Finding Stillness. She has been studying under David Chernikoff, Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach in the USA: clinical psychologists, meditation teachers and authors influential in introducing eastern meditation practices to the west. Even if you have minimal experience, you can learn how to cultivate a daily meditation practice.