What is grief?
Grief is the heart’s natural response to loss. We have to honour our grief and journey with it. “When after heavy rain the storm clouds disperse, is it not that they’ve wept themselves clear to the end?” —Ghalib Human life inevitably brings gain and loss, joy and sorrow. Grief is one of the heart’s natural responses to loss. When we grieve we allow ourselves to feel the truth of our pain, the measure of betrayal or tragedy in our life. By our willingness to mourn, we slowly acknowledge, integrate, and accept the truth of our losses. Sometimes the best way to let go is to simply grieve.
Ways of grieving
It takes courage to grieve, to honour the pain we carry. We can grieve in tears or in meditative silence, in prayer or in song, in whatever way feels right to us. In touching the pain of recent and long-held griefs, we come face to face with our genuine human vulnerability, with helplessness and hopelessness as we realise that we are losing everyone and everything that’s dear to us in this life. These are the storm clouds of the heart.
Grieving with others
We need to respect our tears and help one another. We can’t do this alone. And we don’t have to. We can turn to family and friends, to support groups, to counsellors, to holistic therapists. Even though it mightn’t always feel like it when we are in the midst of a really painful episode, when it feels like grief is ripping us apart, there is always support out there for us. Without a wise way to grieve, we can only soldier on, armoured and unfeeling, but our hearts cannot learn and grow from the sorrows of the past. We have to be aware that the grief we carry may be our own, or the pains of those close to us. It may also be tears for the world, the sufferings caused by climate change, human divisiveness, racism and war. These, too, are in our hearts.
Human suffering is not the end of the story
When we touch our grief and tears honourably, they can empower us: they can lead us to care more deeply, to love more fully, to renew life through our actions.
I want to invite you today to meditate on grief. Let yourself sit, alone or with a comforting friend. Take the time to create an atmosphere of support. Sense a field of strength and support wherever you can – of your loved ones, of your spiritual teachers, of Mother Earth who has seen it all – and try and relax into the supporting field. When you are ready, begin by tuning in to your breath. Feel your breathing in the area of your chest. This can help you become present to what is within you. Take one hand and hold it gently on your heart as if you were holding a vulnerable human being. You are. As you continue to breathe, bring to mind the loss or pain you are grieving. Let the story, the images, the feelings come naturally. Hold them gently. Take your time. Let the feelings come layer by layer, a little at a time.
Keep breathing softly, compassionately. Let whatever feelings are there, pain and tears, anger and love, fear and sorrow, come as they will. Touch them gently. Let them unravel out of your body and mind. Make space for any images that arise. Allow the whole story. Breathe and hold it all with tenderness and compassion. Kindness for it all, for you and for others. The grief we carry is part of the grief of the world. Hold it gently. Let it be honoured. You do not have to keep it in anymore. You can let it go into the heart of compassion; you can weep. After a couple of minutes, take a deep breath once again and will yourself to come back right where you are – in other words, continue with your day and don’t dwell on what you’ve experienced during the short pause and intimacy with your grief. It is important to do this “coming back”.
Releasing the grief we carry
Releasing the grief we carry can be a long, tear-filled process. Yet it follows the natural intelligence of the body and heart. Trust it, trust the unfolding.
Along with meditation, some of your grief will want to be written in pages or poems. Some will need to be cried out, to be sung, to be danced. Let the timeless wisdom within you carry you through grief and awaken a tender, open heart.
Grief comes in waves
Keep in mind that grief doesn’t just dissolve. You will notice how grief arises in waves and gradually, with growing compassion, there comes more space around it. Let it take its time. The heart opens in its own season, and little by little, gaps of new life—breaks in the rain clouds—appear. The body relaxes and freer breaths appear. This is a natural cycle you can trust: how life—and the heart—renews itself. Like the spring after winter, it always does.