5 Tips to Move Beyond Suffering Grief

freeimages.com/Andre Monteiro

Pain is inevitable in life. Suffering is optional. -Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

We all experience loss in life, and when it comes, it hurts. How much we are impacted by that loss is proportional to the importance we place on the subject of our loss. Losing your Saturday afternoon football match hurts a lot less than losing your job. The sudden death of someone we are close to hurts much more than losing our job.

Most of us need no support to get past the loss of our soccer match. Grabbing a meal with our teammates, and maybe even our victorious opponents, and we all move on to next weekend.

Losing a job hits harder, stabbing at our sense of self-worth, and can stall our progress for a while. An unexpected death, especially if it’s a family member, partner or our Bestie, can precipitate an existential crisis we would never have predicted.

While all losses hurt, we end up suffering in them if we don’t understand how to move through our feelings. If our minds get wrapped up in the emotions, we may become trapped in suffering our losses.

Here are five tips to help manage loss, however big or small.

“Anyone who has lost something they thought was theirs forever finally comes to realise that nothing really belongs to them.”
Paulo Coelho

This is an awareness it helps to cultivate before we lose someone or something, but it helps even after a loss.

Nothing in this creation lasts forever. Over time, even mountains and seas change.

We take it for granted we are alive, and will be alive for some time to come. So we also take it for granted that others will be too.

We take it for granted that the people or situations we are in now, that we are attached to, won’t change without our consent; or will change only in ways we can imagine, and control.

It’s not true.

Look around. Things are changing all the time. Things are born or dying around us, all the time. But we ignore this because we do not experience that psycho-emotional connection to “everything”; we experience it just with what is “ours”; those we feel “belong” to us.

But there is big message in this: if we realize EVERYTHING IS CHANGING and none of us are here for very long, we can accept our losses as natural. We can take this a step further too, and realize these changes can also mature us, if we come to terms with our losses.

freeimages.com/Brad Harrison

And my mind was empty — or it was as though my mind had become one enormous, anaesthetized wound. I thought only, One day I’ll weep for this. One of these days I’ll start to cry.” James Baldwin, Giovanni’s Room

A period of shock is normal when a loss is “unexpected” (and most of them are — even if we realize that we saw, or should have seen, it coming). But once this wears off, we may still experience periods of numbness.

This numbness is usually covering a complexity of emotion. If we start by experiencing the fear, we can slowly get back on track to being present with all that we are feeling. Most of us know the only way out of grief is through it.

Two common fears are:

1) What if letting the emotions move overwhelms me? I don’t have time for this.
2) How will “living” with this loss change my life?

In the first case, we need to understand that emotions move. They take less time when we attend to them regularly. They are among the most temporal, transitory expressions in life. Ever tried to hold onto that high feeling at the end of a great concert or an excellent comedy? It doesn’t last long.

We can grab a hold of feelings mentally and replay them; and that can give us a glimmer of that feeling again. Do it enough with our sorrow and it can send us into misery as well; again and again. Or we can experience the pain like a child, who feels something fully, but then, often without reason, moves on from that emotion, and returns to the experience of the present moment .

This takes a little skill. The skill to observe. A simple practice of observing our breath while our emotions are dominating can help. Awareness of our breath brings us back to the present.

In the second case, living with the loss, we have to realize life isn’t going to stop by our becoming numb and withdrawing. We are hiding from the inevitable need to face a new reality. Go slowly and take small steps forward. This helps us realize life, beyond our loss, does exist however changed it may be.

The emptiness we endure after a loss, particularly with the death of a loved one, may never disappear. But we can learn to fill it with the loving memories we have of that life, or hopes of a new future. We can seek out new experience, little by little. We see that life goes on with or without our agreement. We have nothing to gain by refusing to move on.

To move beyond the numbness, we can sit in a quiet place where we will not be distracted. With eyes closed we can gently bring attention to the rise and fall of our breath. Whatever the thoughts or emotions, keep coming back to awareness of the breath as they pass. If there is fear, we can bring the attention to the feet and feel them on the ground. Stay with the connection to the ground, and slowly open the eyes allowing the breath to return to normal.

Once we face the fear, we are sure to find sadness or anger.

“They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.” — Psalm 126:5, the Bible, King James Version

If we find sadness, we must allow that feeling to express itself in whatever form it takes. We may cry or not; we may feel withdrawn into pain or not; but by becoming aware of the feeling, we could even say, the sensation of the feeling, and allowing it to be present, eventually it will no longer overshadow us.

We can also face our overwhelm. We can surrender those feelings to a higher power: God, Nature, the Universe, whatever aspect we relate to beyond our own small experience. To surrender to “something bigger” is a technique in almost all religions and spiritual traditions, and it works for many people.

Grief or sadness reminds us to let go. To let go of our limited perceptions of life.

freeimages.com/Peter Suneson

“If you try to get rid of fear and anger without knowing their meaning, they will grow stronger and return.” -Deepak Chopra

When we feel anger that is exactly what we must do. Feel it, not use it to rail against ourselves, others or the general cruelty of existence.

Expand your space.

If someone is stuck in their anger, they can sit somewhere quietly and bring their attention to their solar plexus or the navel region of the body. Using long deep breaths to expand this region of the body will bring relief. Long breaths in and long, slow breaths out. Often we will uncover an understanding of what we are not seeing in holding onto our anger: fear, grief or some concept or identity which we are not aware we are hiding from in our anger.

“He allowed himself to be swayed by his conviction that human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers give birth to them, but that life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves.”
Gabriel García Márquez, Love in the Time of Cholera

So just as our grief helps us to let go, our anger helps us expand. That expansion can move us beyond a limiting, or perhaps a no longer existing, identity.

When my father passed away in 2015, my four siblings and I had now lost both our parents. I remember my brother Tom declaring, only slightly joking, “We are orphans!” Though we were all in our 40’s and 50’s we related to his comment. While our experience can in no way be compared to that of a young child who loses both of her parents, the loss of identifying as the children of someone living was a real aspect of this grief with which we all identified.

The loss of these identities represent real changes. Mother’s and Father’s Days come and go with moments that pinch every year, though my mother has been dead for a decade now.

But because I can realize that is only a small part of the nature of existence of which I, we are all a part, far from shaking me, it makes me feel grateful. Grateful for all I have received by my parents efforts. I can celebrate their lives and all that they gave me, yet again.

This brings not only them, but me, the immortality of our story-the unending magical story of everyone and everything that passes through this creation.

And that always takes me past any remaining pinch of grief.

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