Sunday, January 31, 2016

Attend and Befriend Grief

Those we love from the first can’t be put aside or forgotten; after they die they still must be cried out of existence….Galway Kinnell

Cry out! Don’t be stolid and silent with your pain. Lament! And let the milk of loving flow into you. Rumi

The tears of grief are a gift as they melt away barriers to our heart. As we open our hearts to the love we shared and now miss we become closer to the spirit within. It is the moisture of our tears that can bring new life. The Lakota Sioux considered grief a great gift because they believed the gods are closest to us when we suffer. When a Lakota Sioux is grieving their prayers are believed to be especially powerful and others will often ask one who grieves to pray for them.

Allowing ourselves to feel the depth of emotions is a critical foundation for awareness and awakening. As Jack Kornfield says in his book, A Lamp in the Darkness; Illuminating the Path through Difficult Times,"much of the insanity in the world comes from people not knowing what to do with their feelings. We are nuclear giants and emotional infants.”

In the past, I buried grief and went on as if nothing happened. I rationalized that pain away with intellectual B.S. like “oh she had a wonderful life and I was lucky to share part of it with her.” Or “she is in a better place.” Sure my heart would break  and I would cry and feel the sadness of missing a presence that brought me joy, but I never dropped the barriers consciously in order to feel the depth of emotion pain. Was it fear? Was it conditioning? Was it the need to be strong?  I am not sure, maybe it is all of the above. Without the awareness that comes with a Mindfulness practice; I didn’t know how to grieve and I didn’t know that I didn’t know.

This time, it is different. Mindful grieving allowed me to listen to my body and mind and heart. I meditated to Stephan Levine’s Soft Belly as I laid surrounded in warmth on my bio-mat. I allowed the warm tears to flow down my face. There was no fear and no need to be strong. I surrendered to my heart’s desire to grieve. This sweet meditation allowed me to awake to my body and the sensations of grief. For me, it was a feeling of coldness that chilled me to my bones. Through my mindfulness practice grief became a new experience for me.

Mindfulness teaches us to “attend and befriend” difficult emotions. It is about awareness without judgment; experiencing the feelings and body sensations fully without judging and trying to change what you are experiencing. And when you do catch yourself trying to change or judge what you are experiencing you label it, “judging” and go back to attending (experiencing it fully). Do not judge that you are judging or trying to change what you are experiencing. Be open to whatever you are experiencing as a witness. By opening your heart, you find a softness and heart wisdom. Neuroscientist Richard Davidson’s research tells us that we can actually rewire our brain for more  emotional resilience through Mindfulness.

When we listen to our body sensations we will find that all of our emotions are felt in our body.  Our body sensations are great messengers. When we listen to our bodies we gain a feeling of empowerment that comes from knowing. Befriending our grief gives us the feeling of security and allows us to merge into a more resilient faith in ourselves and our ability to survive the pain and deep sorrow. Maybe it prepares us for death itself.

Tim Desmond, LMFT has a Self-inquiry Practice that is a good summary and helps us “attend and befriend” grief.


 Modified from Tim Desmond, LMFT:

You can use this practice when you have a strong feeling.

·       Allow it to be just as it is. Do not try to change it, deny it, or judge it.

·       What do you notice in your body when you feel this emotion?

Try to ask the feeling:

·       How are you trying to help?

·       What do you need me to hear?

·       What do you need?

·       What is your job?

Can you show compassion and empathy for the emotion?

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Death the Catalyst for Living Life Abundantly

Over the last few months, it seems that quite a few famous people and people I knew personally have died.  I remember reading someplace that the death rate for the planet averages about a quarter of million a day. So there are quite a few people dying every day. I don't remember a time when so many people I knew left the planet. Maybe this means I am old. As we live longer, we face losing many companions on our way to our death.

What is it about the death of a beloved that inspires us to look differently at life? I remember after Willow died driving home and wondering how the world could just go on as usual. Suddenly the world was a different place. I remember this same feeling after the death of my best friend and the death of my father. Their deaths inspired me to stop and look at life differently. Things that mattered changed and I wasn't taking life for granted and little problems I realized aren't all that important. There is a bittersweet feeling of love that connects. I was more focused and more attentive and while my heart was breaking it also felt so much love for the people around me as they comforted me and shared in my grief.

In the past, each time the effects of this "death" inspiration gradually faded and I went back to falling asleep into my life without even realizing that is what I did. Why do we lose the inspiration and awareness that comes from profound loss? I believe it is complicated. It has something to do with Western Culture's views on grief and its death phobia. It also comes from a human response to avoid pain. We armor our hearts instead of allowing our pain to progress naturally. With armored hearts, we return to a life of little awareness sometimes referred to as falling asleep or living on auto-pilot.
This time, I want to do things differently. Thoreau's famous quote comes to mind, "Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with their song still in them." With the remainder of my life, I want to use this gift of inspiration to live more fully. I want to sing my song before it's too late. So I turned to some of my favorite authors; Stephen Levine because he recently died, Eckhart Tolle, Ram Dass, Ernest Holmes, Tara Brach, and Jack Kornfield with the question how can I live the rest of my life abundantly. As I shuffled through these cherished books I found, POLISHING THE MIRROR; HOW TO LIVE LIFE FROM YOUR SPIRITUAL HEART by Ram Dass. I read this book about two years ago. As I sat down to reread parts of it; I realized that it was talking about aging in a way that fits with my desire to sing my song loudly before it is too late. 

The way I learn things best is to teach what I need to learn. I believe this is my song; writing curriculum and teaching the lessons I am learning about myself. Today my journey is learning how to live an inspired, abundant life to share. I have been writing curriculum for a six-week group on creative aging using Mindfulness and New Thought principles. The gift of Willow's passing is knowing there is the seventh week When We Face Death We Face Life; Death is a Reminder to Live Life Fully. So as I write this curriculum I will share it in this blog hoping that it can inspire you as well.

Row, row, row your boat,

gently down the stream,

merrily, merrily, merrily merrily,

life is but a dream……