A few months after Peter died, I attended an open meditation class in a large auditorium which proved to be a complete disaster. I wrote about it in a blog which described my abysmal foray into the world of meditation, complete with sobbing, used wet tissues, puffy red eyes, and a firm resolve that I was not ready to use meditation in my grief work. Now that some time has passed, a friend clued me into an app called Headspace, so I downloaded it and decided to experiment with meditation in the privacy of my home.
I had been wanting to try mediation as a tool again for a while. My lovely niece Elizabeth Burrows has a fabulous studio in Manhattan called MNDFL, which I visited and the concept seemed intriguing to me. She encouraged me to try meditation, a practice she felt could offer additional support for grief. She also cautioned that the effects of meditation are cumulative and consistency is key so it might take a while until I can calm my sorrows and let my breathing take hold. With grief many of us hold onto unresolved issues with our loved ones. With Peter, nothing was left unsaid. I didn't need to ask for forgiveness or say goodbye. I just needed to find a way to resolve my deep yearning for him. I needed to empty out my backpack full of pain and was hoping that meditation was a start to finding some sort of analgesic.
The App is very user friendly. It sets reminders on your calendar. It is certainly soothing to have a sexy Brit talking you through 10 minutes of breathing a day. Headspace begins with a video of blue sky at the beginning of the series. The concept seems quite noble. They emphasize a strong appreciation for blue sky. They continue "sure, our view of the sky will be obscured by the clouds, but the clouds are temporary, fleeting, impermanent." Ok, to sum up (always a reference from The Princess Bride): If I am to believe the concept of blue skies returning with confidence, I have to believe that my grief is impermanent and that I will once again part the clouds and find those skies of azure.
Mindfulness is at the core of Buddhist philosophy and it is deeply connected to impermanence. If I were to value permanence, I would allow myself to look at the future obsessively or dwell in the past. That is NOT a good thing for a griever. If I accept impermanence, perhaps I can allow myself to live in the present moment, knowing that nothing lasts forever. Mindfulness reminds us that grief is impermanent. No, it won't go away completely. How could it? But if I can be mindful maybe my grief will change shape and form and become more manageable in my new life. If I tell myself that my grief is not permanent, Perhaps I can find small changes and victories that make me smile.
There is a tale of the Buddha that says he helped a woman who was trapped in her grief for her lost child by asking her to collect a handful of mustard seeds, one from each home and family who had not experienced a death. The woman was unable to collect a single seed as each and every family had a loss of its own. The lesson was intended to teach her the reality of death but more importantly, show how we are not alone in life. I like the philosophy that I am comforted by others, that my grief is not permanent, and that blue skies will return.
Despite all these plusses to meditation, I found that I was playing the Trivia Crack app to avoid hitting the Headspace button. Certainly challenging my brain seemed a good excuse to put off relaxing it, right? But I did forge ahead with my new Headspace app and I even signed up for a year. I had a momentary meltdown the other day when unknown British dude asked me to "discover the underlying sadness in my body." Ya' think I have a touch of sadness in my body? But I continue each day, ok sometimes every few days, with my 10 minutes of Headspace, breathing and sobbing my way towards emptying my backpack of pain.
• MNDFL did a 30-Day Meditation Challenge for Beginners with Refinery29 which you can access here. http://www.refinery29.com/2016/08/118362/meditation-30-day-challenge
• I have found that knitting is therapeutic and has a pleasant comforting effect, particularly if I am watching suspenseful television. I am not an advanced knitter but I like the repetitive nature of the exercise as a calming technique.
• Deborah S. Derman, Ph. D has come up with a coloring book called Colors of Loss and Healing: An Adult Coloring Book for Getting Through Tough Times that other grievers find extremely consoling. I also enjoy reading the essays in Healing After Loss: Daily Meditations for Working Through Grief by Martha Whitmore Hickman.
A few groaners for the road:
"Meditation -- You have the right to remain silent."
"Don't just do something, sit there."
"Life is hard. It's breathe, breathe, breathe, all the time."