We all face loss.
It’s one of the most universal of human experiences.
How we react to these losses is what is important in determining how the rest of our lives will go. We all need to learn how bear grief and heal naturally, organically over time — not with any pressure or skipping to the drumbeat of other people.
And, in addition to bearing our losses and healing from them, we can learn and grow from them.
FREE PRACTICE / MEDITATION
Guided Practice: Accepting a Loss
This guided practice is from the Grief and Loss online course
Being Well Podcast Episodes
On today’s episode we’re joined by one of the world’s leading researchers on grief, Dr. Mary-Frances O’Connor. We explore why grief is such a unique and intense emotion, how grief works in the brain, the problems with generalized models like the “five stages of grief,” and how we can learn to live with loss.
Today we focus on what you can do, in your mind and in your life, to support yourself during difficult times and relate to the challenging emotions – fear, grief, anxiety, anger, helplessness, and so on – that naturally arise during these times.
In this conversation from the Life After COVID Summit, Dr. Joanne Cacciatore joins Forrest to help us put the past in perspective, and relate in healthier and more whole ways to the many things we’ve lost over the past year.
There are some emotions that are so deeply tied to the human experience that it’s impossible to avoid them. One of these is grief, which we have yet to discuss in detail on the podcast. On this episode we’re changing that, and have the pleasure of welcoming Dr. Joanne Cacciatore to the podcast.
Frequently Asked Questions
Psychologist and Author Dr. Rick Hanson answers questions about
Grief and Loss
Will you share some insight on how to deal with grief?
It seems that there are several points to balance:
- Grief has its own organic rhythm, its own waves. We just need to ride them with mindfulness and self-compassion. Over and over. There is no schedule to the end of the waves. After a while they do fade, though. Always.
- Allowing the falling apart can help. Knowing that all eddies disperse, eventually. Knowing that everything has shadows – many terrible things have happened in the past and will happen in the future; not to justify these or be complacent about them, but to regard and feel them with equanimous wisdom. As the 3rd Zen Patriarch wrote: enlightenment is having no anxiety about imperfection.
- Self-compassion is so important.
- Sometimes we just cannot bear the grief, like sometimes we just cannot keep carrying a heavy load. We have to set it down for a while. And instead take a walk in a lovely place, eat some good cookies, take a bubble bath, cuddle with a friend, watch a comedy, pet the cat, read a book, something, anything helpful besides the overwhelming grief. And being a friend to oneself to give oneself these respites and chances for rejuvenation, restoration, replenishment, is vital.
- We need to open to receiving while releasing. To the natural, non-aversive, non-grasping process of receiving fullness – love, gratitude, awe, profundity, the numinous – while experiencing loss (itself a kind of release, a letting go) and all the other losses that come with it.
- Especially important is receiving the love, kindness, compassion, inclusion and friendliness of others.
What are some things that can help when grieving a profound loss?
This is a truly personal experience, so anything I might say is offered modestly.
For me there are three basic ways, and one less basic way, to engage the mind usefully:
- Be with what’s there.
- Decrease what is “negative” (painful or harmful).
- Increase what is “positive” (enjoyable and beneficial).
- Step out of the whole business altogether and into the transcendental.
In other words, let be, let go, let in, let free.
When something very challenging happens, often all we can do is ride out the storm, being with our feelings, experiencing them, letting them flow, while also knowing that what is moving through the mind is part of a vast process with many causes. At some point it feels appropriate to shift more into letting go, trying to release those negative feelings. After that it can become possible to let in, which often resources us enough to go back to a deeper layer of letting be. And all the while, if it’s meaningful, there can be an underlying sense of the transcendental in which mind and matter happen and appear.
I might add that being loving in ways large and small during grieving is like a balm to one’s own heart.
I recently lost my partner, and every time I come across a reference to loving relationships in your book a deep sense of loss stops me in my tracks. How can I move forward, and keep getting value from your work?
- Keep doing your already fruitful practices of taking in the good in general.
- Knowing that you have had a challenge (putting it mildly) to your needs for “connection” (as given in my model in Hardwiring Happiness), look in general for opportunities to internalize experiences of feeling included, seen, appreciated, liked, and loved, without specific reference to your partner.
- Skip over passages in books, or sections of the Foundations of Well-Being program (or similar things) that just retrigger your sense of loss and add little or no value to you. Take it easy on yourself for months and even years to come in this regard.
- Then when the wound of the loss is not so raw and tender, and it is alright for you, you could take in the good of experiences of feeling loved that are more like those you experienced with the person you lost (obviously not replacing them in any way; experiences such as the felt memory of their caring for you, or a loving non-romantic closeness with a partner, or even perhaps when the time comes the feeling that a person you respect is attracted to you). You could also use the Link step of HEAL to hold in awareness at the same time both feelings of being loved today and your sense of grief.
Can you comment on a healthy grieving process?
First, I am truly sorry to hear about your loss. Being separated during this quarantine time makes if all the worse.
I’ve lost my parents and I’ve lost relationships with people who were important to me, all of it beyond my control. Loss is real as you well know, weighty and real. I can’t speak for others, but for me what feels healthy and in some ways healing is to feel all of it, especially as it washes through, and to be aware of large and small (mainly small) things that are also true and good and helpful, and fundamentally, to draw on wisdom, to recognize the passing nature of all things and the enduring allness that everything occurs in: the everlasting sea in which waves arise and pass away while all the while their nature is water.