Being a mindfulness practitioner, I notice little separation between the values and principles of my life and work, the personal and professional are very much interwoven. And, in life or work, mindfulness and compassion practices can help us get in touch with our own vulnerability, as we are encouraged to recognise, explore, and take care of how we are feeling. Over the last couple of months, I have been sharing my own processing of trauma, loss, and grief and how mindfulness and compassion practices can help when faced with a death or loss as an inevitable part of our human experience. Accepting what life presents us with isn’t always easy. Grief takes its time, and no matter the circumstance, it is not to be rushed. Over the Summer, I lost a loved one in sudden and traumatic circumstances and, as I have only recently begun to recognise some version of myself again, I write this from a place of anticipatory grief, as another much-loved family elder is slowly and peacefully passing away.
I feel a pang of sadness and self-pity writing this, and in these moments the mighty little practice of self-compassion comes to mind. The self-compassion break allows us to pause and feel our uncomfortable emotions or sensations in the body and ease them a little as we move through the three steps of the practice, for example, (1) we acknowledge that we are suffering, that it’s a difficult time. (2) we remember that everyone we know experiences loss and grief at some time in their lives, we are not alone. (3) we place a hand on our heart, saying a phrase gently to ourselves, like, “may I be kind to myself and others at this difficult time”. This practice by Kristin Neff can be so useful when struggling with a plethora of raw, sore, mixed, hard to bear emotions, feelings, and physical sensations.
Both loved ones epitomised grace, dignity, and acceptance in dying. And while my own reactions have often been far from grace, dignity or acceptance, a feeling of privilege and humility remains. What a privilege it is to sit with someone on their last phase of this life journey as we know it, especially when someone has lived a long and full life. Bringing awareness to the process is something I find really helps me, and simply being with the feelings, without distraction or denial of sadness, pain, fear, mistrust or even shame at any less than skilful reactions. We learn much about ourselves and how we live by how we approach death and dying.
Mindfulness helps us to face our feelings by gently paying attention to how we’re feeling, no matter if it hurts. Typically, R.A.I.N. is a meditation practice to help us deal with difficult times and difficult emotions by turning towards, not away from them. The R in this acronym stands for Recognise, A stands for Allow, I for investigate and N is for Nurture. While I haven’t been guiding any meditation over the last few months, I have been listening wholeheartedly to a range of guided meditations and podcasts like R.A.I.N. and holding space for my own feelings, allowing my grief, and journaling, all of which I find healing and nurturing. I listen to Tara Brach, who freely offers meditations and talks on a wide range of topics, including grieving.
‘The Practice of R.A.I.N’ by Tara Brach is a nice, gentle practice to start with for any area of challenge you are experiencing, but if you are grieving a loss, you could also try listening to her ten-minute podcast ‘R.A.I.N. and Grieving’ where Tara reads a poem by John O’Donohue and guides a short R.A.I.N. meditation on grief, for either a loss that has already happened or a grief you are anticipating. Maybe these practices will help you, as they have me, when the inevitable challenges of life and loss arrive at the door. As the poet Rumi encourages, “Don’t turn away, keep your gaze on the bandaged place that’s where the light enters you”.
Drop-in compassion-based mindfulness sessions will resume later in the Autumn at Myross Wood in Leap (CECAS.ie) on Tuesday mornings at 10am. I also look forward to collaborating with CECAS on another Re-connect and Re-engage programme again this Autumn, deepening our connection to ourselves, nature, and community. Please get in touch for more details. Phone: 087 2700572 email: firstname.lastname@example.org or facebook page (Mindhaven)