Dealing with grief and pain

            If you want to be happy, you have to let yourself be sad.  Nobody gets a free pass.  The deepest joys in life come from our attachments—usually to other people—and life will take those other people from us at some point.  Grief is an essential feeling, the natural emotional response to loss. There are other kinds of pain that seem inevitable; physical pain that as we age becomes debilitating, the mental anguish that comes with stress and with disappointment, the sympathetic pain we feel for our loved ones.  The awful truth is that when we’re happy, we have a lot to lose.  But we don’t have to let grief or pain immobilize us, send us into a depression, or ruin our lives forever.

            Grief takes time, but it works if we let it happen.  Humans are marvelously adaptable, and we have a natural healing process.  At first, the loss is the biggest thing in our lives, but with the passage of time other experiences gradually push it into the background.  Time is essential, but in today’s world there is tremendous pressure to get on with things.  Our friends want us to be over it long before we’re ready.  Our job certainly expects us to be fully attentive again.  But be patient; grief and pain won’t kill you, but trying to stuff those feelings may make things a lot worse.

            Some of the newer antidepressants can make us too happy, unable to experience sadness. People in this state find that they can't get anything done. Ironically, pain is the great motivator--we must be able to want things to be different than they are.

            We have to learn the skill of mindfully sitting with pain.  As with other feelings, we have to learn to experience them without feeling overpowered by them—but this is different, more difficult, because it can hurt so much you fear you can’t stand it.  This is where meditation practice really helps; as in meditation, we can see our feelings as raindrops falling on a tranquil pool—they splash, they make ripples, but that’s all.  They don’t harm or destroy the pool; in fact, they add to it, as all our experiences, even pain, add to our lives.


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