I had the opportunity to work with the practices of mindfulness meditation after my beloved cat and soul companion Lily died. After experiencing Lily’s death, I had a fleeting urge to go unconscious – sleep, eat, drink wine, whatever. As a grief counselor and mindfulness meditation instructor, I of course knew that wasn’t the way to go, and the urge passed. Instead, I took a walk, using the opportunity to ground myself. Breathing in, I felt my feet touch the earth, breathing out, I felt peace and spaciousness mixed with my grief. Then I recalled the story of the Buddha and the grieving mother, who learned that everyone is touched by death and grief. I looked up into the blue sky and saw a flock of birds flying in formation. I was opened into a sense of wonder and heartfelt compassion. Again, I touched my grief and allowed myself to cry deeply, feeling my heart breaking. I was reminded by Stephen Levine’s phrase: “Tragedy holds the seeds of grace.”

The Zen master Ezra Bayda gives helpful instructions for using mindfulness meditation practices to work with the overwhelming feelings of grief and distress. He calls the steps of this practice: (1) awakening aspiration; (2) awakening curiosity; (3) awakening humor; and (4) awakening loving-kindness. After my walk, I came home and decided to practice with Ezra Bayda’s instructions on practicing with distress.

Awakening aspiration: From my walking practice outside, I already knew that my distress is my path. Indeed, it is totally in keeping with my career path as a grief and loss therapist. My personal grief is an opportunity to deepen my own spiritual and therapy practices (which are of course inextricably intertwined). I know that when I allow myself to wallow in my grief and see it as the enemy, it is because my view has narrowed, focusing only on myself. I aspire to befriend my grief as a step in developing compassion for others who are suffering and grieving.

Awakening curiosity: I ask “what is this?” and feel my grief in my body. My heart feels like it will break. I am in my direct experience, with nothing added. It feels totally alive, raw and real. Feeling my pain rather than running away from it is my path to healing and wholeness.

Awakening humor: Humor allows us to gain a broader perspective and not take our loss personally. It is easy to wallow in self-pity, asking “why me?” However, that narrow ego perspective solidifies our feelings, making them claustrophobic and unworkable. Instead of asking “why me?", I was able to broaden my perspective with a new spontaneously created mantra: “Yes, everyone.” Everyone experiences the pain of grief, loss and life's changes.

Awakening loving-kindness: With my awakened humor and broader perspective, I was able to breathe in pain and heartbreak, and breathe out spaciousness and compassion for myself and all who are suffering. Loving-kindness starts with ourselves.. Treating myself with the loving-kindness I deserve, I am able to authentically feel what I am feeling. I was able to use my breath as a nurturing gift of aliveness and loving-kindness, and allowed myself to feel the deep pain of my loss is a gift to myself and what Bayda calls “an opening to the universal pain of being human.”

Author's Bio: 

Beth Patterson is a psychotherapist in Denver, specializing in grief, loss and life transitions and depression, anxiety and trauma. She is a certified mindfulness meditation instructor and fully trained to practice EMDR.