Grief as Guru: Mindfulness of Loss

BlueSkyBuddhaMindfulness in daily life and sitting with difficulty took on new meaning recently when three personally important beings died within the space of a few months. The last time I faced a significant loss was well before I had a regular mindfulness practice and the contrast was notable. Just as I was taught, the practice allows me to be a witness-observer to the unfolding of grief. Being with the experience of loss, moment by moment, allows space for self-compassion, compassion for others, and wisdom – and it is the consistent, daily practice that provides the awareness and courage to do so.

When a loved one is dying, our thoughts tend to be centered on their comfort and care. We feel compassion for their suffering and for the pain of others close to them. Our actions turn toward doing what is needed. This sort of pain is difficult, but it feels different from the pain of loss.

When the loved one has passed, the thoughts may turn to I, me and mine – my friend, my companion, my love, my life without them, my misfortune. The pain that follows these thoughts cause a particularly poignant sort of suffering. We can be blinded by the illusion that we are alone in it or that it will go on and on, forever, unchanging. There may be urges to avoid or withdraw. Painful emotions such as sadness, despair, hopelessness, and longing inevitably follow. We may find ourselves overwhelmed or paralyzed with grief, left with no space for greater understanding or self-care.

Having cultivated a consistent mindfulness practice and having experienced firsthand its benefits, I have come to trust its usefulness implicitly. Through it, I have developed an increasing willingness to open to whatever arises. It has been a reliable scaffolding in times of difficulty. In returning to the yoga mat and to the seat of mediation, the way becomes clearer. The practice of mindfulness allows me to stand outside the “self” and observe suffering – to face the power of it without being swept away by it. There emerges a sense of spaciousness and compassion out of which I am better able to respond with kindness and care. This allows me to process grief and other emotions in a much more skillful way.

Rather than withdrawing in pain, closing off, pushing away and perpetuating loneliness, we can open to the common humanity in suffering. Rather than using death as a reason to judge life harshly, we can remember the value inherent in each moment of this precious human existence. Every experience, whether wanted or unwanted, is an opportunity to gain wisdom about ourselves and others, taking us further on the path toward liberation. A daily mindfulness practice provides the skillful means to open ourselves to these opportunities.

Through the practice of meditation, we can develop a mindfulness that helps us see our internal processes and dampen [the] sparks of egotism with the refreshing water of compassion. – Orgyen Drime Ozer



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