Experiencing grief and loss causes pain. This pain is chameleon-like: on any given day it's many colors may include fear and anxiety; loneliness and sadness; numbness and 'stuckness'; or anger and avoidance. It is fickle and unpredictable and can occupy one's thoughts with no notice. It is not a respecter of persons and it is non-discriminating: all people who grieve losses come to know this pain. It is one's unwelcome companion upon grief's journey.
There are no quick fixes to the pain of loss, but there are ways of coming to understand in order to better cope with it. By doing so, some of its suffering may be avoided. It is important to understand that emotional pain generates momentum: once we feel that pang of sadness or loneliness, our mind takes it and runs with it. The voice of our inner dialogue could sound something like this: "Will this sadness ever go away? What if the rest of my life is like this? I don't think I could survive it. What will happen to me?" The more we resist the original moment of sadness, the more we hurt...the more we suffer. A wonderfully helpful equation is this: Pain + Resistance = Suffering. Tara Brach offers its companion: Pain + Presence = Freedom. I want to suggest to you a five step process of becoming more present to yourself when you are in emotional pain, which will help you move beyond its most potent sting and find comfort faster.
- STOP. When you first notice the pain, stop and breathe. Acknowledge it. Ask yourself where you feeling the pain (Is it in your head? Your stomach? Your heart?) Don't run from it.
- TOUCH. Touch that place gently with your hand. Hold it there. Feel with warmth of your hand upon the pain. Allow this touch to remind you that though you may hurt now, you will be okay. Be especially gentle with yourself in this moment.
- LISTEN. As you hold the pain, ask yourself what it might be telling you. Let it teach you.
- BE STILL. Allow yourself to be still. Attend to yourself from that still space. Continue to listen. Do I just need to feel sad right now? Do I need more rest? Am I thirsty? Would wrapping myself in a quilt bring me comfort?
- ACT. After reflecting in the quiet and being present with the pain, try to find an action or two which might bring you comfort or relief. Do I need to phone a friend? Write in my journal? Pet the cat? Take a brisk walk? Just cry?
Just by entering into this process you will have broken both the momentum of the pain as well as its power to keep an extended hold on you which can only cause extended suffering. The good news is that with practice, emotional pain will yield to comfort more rapidly.