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Mindful : December 2017
Living with Loss The idea that acceptance reduces suffer- ing can be hard to get your head around, especially when it comes to accepting some of life’s most painful and life- altering events. It’s one thing to accept not finding parking and missing a dinner reservation. It’s another thing altogether to accept the death of a deeply loved per- son or the foreclosure and eviction from your family’s home. There is no choice but to go through grief when tragedy strikes. But we make it worse when we fight or struggle against it by getting pulled down the rab- bit holes of regret (If only I had not done this or had said that) and fear (I’ll never love again. I’ll never be free of this pain.). These regretful and fear ful thoughts are normal responses to grief, and yet spending time lost in them amplifies and ex tends your pain. Accepting a great grief, seeing the truth of your suffering, also means see- ing a critical aspect of the pain: that it is temporary. When you are in the midst of overwhelming sadness, it feels as if the pain will never abate. But that is not the way grief works. That is not the way any- thing works. Everything changes. Even the pain of loss subsides over time. It can take a long time, but it subsides. Accept- ing the loss and the pain that comes with it allows the healing to begin. A friend of mine suffered the worst tragedy that many of us can imagine: Her young child was killed in a tragic accident. Now, five years later, she still has moments of sadness and pain, but they are balanced by fond memories of her lost son as well as her awareness of the moments of love and caring and goodness that have continued to exist in her life since her loss. Though acceptance of a great loss does not come easily, a regular medita- tion practice can help build your ability to be with the pain, holding it with patience, understanding, and compassion, rather than struggling with or amplifying it. Here is a practice I find particularly help- ful for working with deep loss. A HEAVY ANCHOR A shor t meditative poem can be a great aid to meditation when your mind is tor tured by painful, grief-stricken thoughts. Repeat the lines of the poem silently to your- self as you sit in meditation, linking the words to the flow of your breath. They provide a “heavier” anchor for your awareness, holding your attention in the relative calm of the present moment rather than having your mind fall backward into regret or for- ward into fear. The following poem (or gatha) is from Thich Nhat Hanh. You can practice with this one, look for others online, or, even better, write your own. I know I am breathing in. I know I am breathing out. Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I smile. I dwell in the present moment. I know this is a precious moment. ● When a great loss leaves a big hole in our heart, acceptance is still what we need. It just takes time. For a guided practice from Holly Rogers, go to mindful.org/acceptance PRACTICE