One of the core practices of my work is simply sitting and noticing. The idea behind this is to pay attention to the changing qualities within the mind and body, to see that they are ever flowing through us. In this practice, I pay special attention to the thoughts and desires that want to control this natural process. The example I want to write about today concerns the feelings of grief related to a loss that can arise throughout our life. I have been blessed to work with many people around this issue, as I have worked with it myself for many years.
Recently I was going through some books from my early studies on working with grief, and I began reflecting on the persisting cultural beliefs about loss and the grieving process. Many of us are taught that grief follows a specific path before vanishing from our life like smoke. When we lose someone, we might be given space for a time, but eventually we may be guided towards a sense of closure. In fact, we might even have a desire to be over it ourselves, which might then lead to the arising of guilt and shame. I was deeply touched by the story Patrick O’Malley told in his 2015 Op-Ed for the New York Times, in which he described a client named Mary. Having spent six months of despairing the loss of her child to infant death syndrome, as Patrick writes, “she had diagnosed her condition as being ‘stuck’ in grief, believing that a stubborn depression was preventing her from achieving acceptance and closure.” But Patrick offers a different perspective, as he writes, “I suggested to Mary that there was nothing wrong with her… She was just very sad, consumed by sorrow, but not because she was grieving incorrectly. The depth of her sadness was simply a measure of the love she had for her daughter.” By believing that she needed “closure,” she was attempting to control the natural process within herself that was calling out with sorrow.
There is another way. It is important to remember that we each have our own style and way of working with loss. Some of us are more intellectual, some have a more emotional center, and some are more kinesthetic and action or movement oriented. I find that we need to balance our way of working with the head, the heart and the entire body for inner peace while touching our inner pain. If we are grieving, the feelings of anger, sadness, shock, overwhelm, or despair can come in different degrees and in different order. We may discover new ways of working with old grief that can provide insight and new forms of release.
Ultimately, this idea of closure is at odds with my teaching and practice because of the way it constricts the mind to only one way of being. My practice focuses just on what is present. I have worked with many people, including myself who have felt a shift come after some time. Sometimes you feel lighter after working through some grief and that can go on for any length of time, but we never know when the memory of that person meant so much to us or the loss can come back and hit us in a new way. So it’s important to work with just whatever is coming up without judgement.
I have found that grief is a natural part of life. When I know about how many species are becoming extinct each day, and see many people dying from various causes, learn about wars being waged, my heart aches for all sentient beings. When I acknowledge my sorrow and meet it with compassion, just pause and sit still for a bit, I feel this glimmering light that grows into love. I see how much love is available, a love so large that I cannot even hold it. It holds us all. And, in this process, with each breath, and each step, there is just this, whatever needs to be faced right now, with love.