The pain of loss is excruciating. Whether you have lost a loved one, a job, or a community, it feels like someone has taken a hammer to your heart and shattered it into a million sharp pieces. You feel like you are bleeding from the inside out and you just can't stop the hurting. This type of pain is unbearable; and while you are still living, you no longer feel alive. You want it to go away, have it end, but you feel helpless in the clutches of your loss. There's no way to go back in time to make it all better, to say what could have been said or change what could have been changed. You are left alone, raw and naked with your bleeding wound and wanting so much to heal as fast as possible. But the healing takes too long and the suffering is too much for a human heart to bear.
When the pain of loss drives you to your knees and reduces you to a pile of tears, there is something you can do to turn the notch down on the suffering. What I am going to suggest is radically different and something everyone who has suffered loss can do. And I mean everyone. Here it is in a nutshell. DO NOTHING. Yes, do nothing. Your physical, mental and emotional selves need time to heal. When grieving, your body slows down so you can enter into the wound, feel it fully, experience the hurt and let it heal in its own time. Going full blast into motion distracts from the healing and doesn't lessen the pain. Yes, we are told to read self-help books, to volunteer, to talk to friends, to get busy and to journal. All of these are excellent methods of healing. But before we take on all the to-dos of healing, we must take a time out to feel what we feel and experience this fully and completely. As Buddhist teacher Pema Chodran says, "The only way out of the pain is through the pain." You must enter into the experience in order to come out renewed and whole (although you are always whole even in the midst of suffering).
I am not suggesting you wallow in sorrow; rather, allow yourself time to feel, to experience, to mend; and then take healing actions on a more active level. From my own personal experience with loss, one of the most healing steps to take while being in the present moment is the Buddhist practice of metta. It is the practice of loving kindness, for yourself, for the one you have lost and for all beings in the world. It goes like this.
First send loving kindness to yourself by saying the following (of course you can fill in your own words that spring from your heart):
May I feel peace,
May I feel love,
May I feel the Divine Presence within.
Next send out loving kindness to the person you have lost. Maybe this person intentionally left you or you have lost the loved one because of death. Say the following:
May (person's name) feel peace,
May (person's name) feel love,
May (person's name) feel the Divine Presence within.
Then, send out loving kindness to all of humanity because there are many beings on Earth who are suffering from loss just like you are. Say:
May all beings feel peace,
May all beings feel love,
May all beings feel the Divine Presence within.
Sending loving kindness to someone who has hurt you and to all sentient beings is a sweet healing balm that fills your entire being with the peace that hope brings. Your heart fills with love, and love is the only thing that heals all wounds. Do this for a while and then add other healing actions to your day (such as meditation, getting out in nature, journaling, serving creation, etc.). But do so slowly and carefully because to rush the process or deny it will only be a bandage over your wound instead of deep healing.
If you are currently suffering from such a loss, please keep a ray of hope in your heart because you will heal. The Divine Presence is always within you and never leaves you. God casts warmth and peace on the brokenhearted and is ever present even in your darkest hour. Make the most of the dark night of the soul by growing and expanding your heart. A heart that's been cracked open is more receptive to giving and receiving love in a beautiful and tender way.
After all, we are here not to avoid pain but to open our hearts and express God's love to others. Embrace love fully and remember what Abe Lincoln said, "We can complain because rose bushes have thorns or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses." Let's rejoice that even though the thorns of love may prick and make you bleed, the sweetness of the rose is what will heal.
Peace to all.
Dr. Barbara Gulbranson is one of the nation's leading spiritual teachers, author, spiritual coach, ordained minister and director of the Suicide Prevention Center, a program of United Health Services.