By: John Rettger
Dear Dr. Rettger,
I am 54 and ending my second marriage. I want to find a new relationship eventually, but now I don't trust myself or my instincts about people. I seem to pick people--husbands and friends--that only take from our relationship and are not willing to be there for me when I need support.
I thank you for writing in and asking such a powerful question that I think gives voice to deeply human concerns that we all are in some way living with. As I see them, they are concerns of love, self-acceptance, compassion, and trust, as well as belongingness and community. I am going to address these concerns while embracing your question within a framework of mindful grieving. The process of mindful grief came up for me when thinking about your question because you are ending a marriage. I will do my best to offer you some clear steps to take utilizing the tools of meditation and mindfulness during this difficult time.
Let's enter our discussion of mindful grieving and letting go. As human beings it is our nature to form relationships and attachments. We all want to find and have a relationship that will last forever. We must, however, recognize that part of our human condition is loss. One of the most challenging forms of loss is that of a romantic partner. Because of the healthy formation of attachment, there are a lot of different emotions that surround loss, and therefore we must go through a healing process of grief or bereavement.
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It is absolutely essential to give yourself sacred space and permission to grieve the fullness of your loss. One has to also realize that loss is multifaceted. This means that there is the loss of the actual person, and there is also the loss of all of the imagined possibilities. Grief is also a process that does not have clear endpoint either. In some cases elements of grief will always remain present, and that is not a bad thing. It also is not really possible to put a specific timetable on the grief process. Unfortunately our mainstream culture does not always recognize the complexity of grief and provide the needed supports for healing. Sometimes there is a desire to simply "muscle through it" or "get over it" without the deeper psychological work occurring. As a psychologist, I warn against any whisking away of emotions. Instead, I invite you to treat this grieving process as sacred. I encourage you to recognize this is a time for you to reconnect to yourself, to define what your own values are, and when ready to reestablish your being in the world in a way that is authentically aligned with those values. All of the above now being said, let's dive deeper into the process of mindful grieving.
Grieving with mindfulness involves "mourning and letting go of the past without expectation, fear, censure, blame, shame, control, and so forth," as defined by the Jungian, transpersonal and spiritually-oriented psychotherapist, David Richo, Ph.D. It is wise in your circumstance to acknowledge the existence of the full range of feelings that you are having. Even though I cannot be aware of all of the emotions that you are having right now, I hear in your question that you believe you are not able to choose healthy relationships, establish boundaries and also perhaps you have a fear of never being able to find a solid partner. I want to assure you that I believe we all have had similar emotions during times of loss and transition. I know I have. This recognition, that you are not alone in this kind of suffering, is a key element of building cultivating self-compassion. It is the realization that countless others, at this very moment, are also grappling with loss and deeply longing for authentic relationship. This realization by itself may not provide much hope however. This is where the path of meditation and yoga can prove useful, both intellectually and also experientially.