Dear Susan, How Do I Deal With Loss?April 18, 2016 | 1 Comment
A meditation teacher and award-winning author provides guidance on readers’ real-life problems. Here is her advice on dealing with loss.
It has been 11 years since my late husband’s tragic death, I have since remarried, but I am missing my late husband greatly. I still miss him very much. How can I fully move on with my life and feel happy?
I am so sorry for your loss. To lose a loved one is awful, but when the death is also tragic, there is not just sadness, but anger, distrust, and trauma. My heart goes out to you.
There are certain states of being that we simply cannot game, meaning that when they are present, we cannot make them disappear, and when they are absent, we cannot make them come back. They are exempt from intellectual theories and conceptual strategies. They turn us upside down. Love and heartbreak dominate this category and there is no life-hack for love, nor is there one for loss. I’m sorry.
The key to removing the onus from longing is to take Pema Chodron’s advice: “Feel the feelings. Drop the story.” When you are missing your late husband, instead of judging yourself, turn your attention fully to the emotion itself. Where does it live in your body? Is it hot or cold? Is it contracting or expanding? Does it make your chest ache or your shoulders hunch? Feel into these things. Allow them to simply be present without attempting to alter, increase, or diminish anything. Stay with what is.
When you notice yourself attempting to overlay a narrative (“I will never love anyone the way I loved him,” “I must move on or I’ll never feel happy,” “Missing my late husband is not good for my current husband,”) let those thoughts go and return instead to the feelings. Notice how they expand, contract, disappear, reappear. Listen to them as you would a piece of music. Rest with them, even though it may be quite uncomfortable.
Spending time with what you feel (rather than the story of why you feel it or what it means) has a kind of metabolizing effect. Rather than attempting to ward off some feelings and hold tight to others, you can include them all. In this way, you can actually relax. When you do, you see how much love your heart can hold and no matter where it comes from or who it is directed toward, it is good.
Sometimes, though, it is all just too sad and unbearable. We are asked to bear so much in our short, crazy, brilliant lives. At such times when you might be engulfed in love and longing for your dear departed, instead of noticing what you feel, you could practice with the feelings themselves.
The traditional Buddhist practice of loving-kindness (metta in Pali and maitri in Sanskrit) is custom-made for this. You could take all of the love you feel for your late husband and simply offer it to him. It is a relief to be able to do so.
There are three steps in this process.
To begin, simply sit or lie down for a little while, focusing on your breath. When you feel ready, think about yourself and how much love you have gained and lost. Appreciate yourself for daring to love again and wish for yourself the following:
May I be happy.
May I be safe.
May I be peaceful.
May I live in love.
If these words don’t feel natural to you, substitute those that do. Spend a little while saying these things to yourself, silently, wishing yourself well.
Next, think about your late husband. Bring his face and presence to mind. Look at him for a little while. Feel the love, the ache, and the reality of your connection. He too has loved and lost. From within a sense of compassion for him, send these wishes:
May you be happy.
May you be safe.
May you be peaceful.
May you live in love.
Spend as much (or as little) time as you like, expressing your love for him in this way.
When you are ready, let go and bring to mind all beings who have lost a partner tragically. See your heart as a giant disco ball spinning slowly in your chest, sending out rays of warmth and light to the ends of the earth. Imagine that these rays could carry the following wishes to all who feel the pain you struggle with:
May all beings be happy.
May all beings be safe.
May all beings be peaceful.
May all beings live in love.
To close this sweet and brave practice session, let the practice of loving-kindness go and just sit for a bit.
You could also use the practice in a less formal way, which is very handy for those moments when you may feel overwhelmed, but are on the subway or standing in line at the market and it would be weird to sit down and start meditating (or sobbing). Instead, look around you. See the people who are there. Know that, without question, they too have suffered (or will suffer) grievous losses. “Flash” loving kindness in their direction by simply thinking, “May you be happy” or “May you live in love.”
There is something empowering and balancing about taking our sorrow and converting it into love. As you do so, you will see what I have seen in my own experience of heartbreak and of writing and teaching about it: Love and heartbreak are identical. Heartbreak is simply this: love unbound from an object. Released in this way, it expands and careens and rushes into every part of our being. Though it is indeed overwhelming, it is also sacred.
That said, it can feel wildly disorienting and totally groundless. At such times, it is helpful to remember what the great Tibetan meditation master Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche said about such states:
“The bad news is you are falling through the air, nothing to hang on to, no parachute. The good news is there’s no ground.”
I wish you well. I send my love. I offer you a deep bow.
Do you need advice? Submit a question to Susan here.
Lead Photo by Joel Caldwell