Grief: Going From Pain To Peace

You have neat, tight expectations of what life ought to give you, but you won’t get it. This isn’t what life does. Life does not accommodate you, it shatters you. It is meant to, and it couldn’t do it better. Every seed destroys its container or else there would be no fruition.”

Flora Scott-Maxwell

Grief might be its own cure.

David Whyte from poem Glentrasne

Your suffering is your benefit.
The Buddha

All loss engenders pain. Whether it is from death, divorce, an empty nest, estrangement, or other life shattering event. Even less obvious losses, like the loss of autonomy after marriage, the loss of familiar co-workers when taking a new job, the loss of physical comfort when giving birth, or the loss of youth as you age result in psychic pain. Loss is an integral part of life. You can’t avoid it. Luckily, there are many ways to handle its fallout. (See Losing Friends, Loss & Liberation, and Phantom Marriage Syndrome.)

As always, the first thing is to feel your feelings. Even if every cell in your body seems as if it’s about to explode, allow yourself to experience it all. Breathe into it. Give yourself the opportunity to open to awareness. By trying to stem the emotional tide you will only increase your pain and exhaust yourself in the process. Remember, grief masquerades as sadness, anger, depression, guilt, anxiety, numbness, shock, worthlessness, etc. So, please refrain from pathologizing your feelings into an illness. You are not sick, you are grief-stricken. It’s a normal part of life that no one escapes. Your emotions will wax and wane. Just when you think the pain is gone for good it will grab you and rapaciously take another bite.  Don’t despair. You are healing even in the midst of misery.

Allowing your feelings naturally morphs into accepting them, though this is also a roller coaster ride. One minute you think you have accepted what life has given you, and the next you’re back to ranting and railing against it. It’s all OK. You probably won’t like what you’re feeling, but you can make it safe by consciously choosing to view it as a natural part of life. In time, you will adjust to your new state. It may be as a single person, an empty-nester, a parentless adult, or someone with a disability. Whatever the situation, you will eventually find ways to embrace and enjoy it.

We all evolve. It’s our biological destiny. If you choose to see grief as an avenue to personal growth, you can catalyze your pain into compassion for everyone. The Dalai Lama once said: “Our prime purpose in this life is to help others.” But first, you need to attend to yourself. You will know when your reserves are built up enough to give again.

In the meantime, practice loving kindness meditation.

Sit comfortably, or lie down.

Say the following to yourself:

May I be peaceful, may I be happy, may I be free from suffering.

Next, think of the people you love and wish them peace, happiness, and freedom from suffering.

Now, choose someone with whom you have difficulty and wish them peace, happiness, and freedom from suffering.

Think of a stranger you saw on the street, or in the market, and wish them peace, happiness, and freedom from suffering.

Lastly, wish all creatures peace, happiness and freedom from suffering.

This practice can be relatively short, or you can linger on each word and let it sink in. Either way, it reminds you to put your own well-being first and to wish everyone goodness, even those with whom you have difficulty.

In time, your compassion for yourself and others will grow.  You will relate to people differently, whether it’s the clerk at the market or your best friend, because your grief has sensitized you, and opened your heart to everyone’s suffering.

Copyright Nicole S. Urdang

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Nicole Urdang

Nicole S. Urdang, M.S., NCC, DHM is a Holistic Psychotherapist in Buffalo, NY. She holds a New York state license in mental health counseling and a doctorate in homeopathic medicine from the British Institute of Homeopathy.