Dealing with Grief Mindfully : How to Step into Surrender
Sierra Vandervort // May 02, 2021
Sometimes it feels like your stomach falls through the floor.
There’s a hollow ache in your chest. Your throat closes as tears sting your eyes. It feels like a piece of you is missing. You feel lonely, afraid, and uncertain. Forgive me if I sound dramatic – but that’s how grief feels to me.
Last week, my partner Steven and I had to put down our dog Izzy after she developed lung cancer. It was a dreadful, looming thing – and I don’t think we ever could’ve been “prepared” for it. After she was gone, Steven, our other dog Dee and I ached for her. The four of us had been inseparable for 5 years – quite literally living on top of one another as we traveled the country in our converted van. Suddenly we were missing someone – and she wasn’t coming back.
My mind filled the surrounding empty spaces with her ghosts. But then I’d look over and be reminded of reality all over again – because it felt like she could’ve been right there.
I know there are lots of grieving hearts around the world. I’m also aware that the death of a pet isn’t the end of the world. There are innumerable heart-breaking moments to life – and we’re all connected through them. While my experience is my own, I wanted to open myself as a hopeful dialogue & reassurance that we’re not alone. So, here are some concepts that have helped me over these past few days.
Dealing with Grief Mindfully
First of all, you have to step into a place of vulnerability and surrender when dealing with grief. It’s a common spiritual principle that nothing is ever really solved or resolute. Things will continuously fall apart, then fall back together again, and so on. And the longer we resist that reality, the longer we hold ourselves in suffering – because we’re cut off from what truly is. If we ever want to feel ok, we have to leave room for all emotions to happen: grief and joy, misery and relief.
In Vajrayana Buddhism, we’re introduced to the notion of working with energy in all situations, and seeing whatever arises as inseparable from “the awakened state.” If the present moment is a doorway to connecting with God, Goddess, and all that is – then that means we should lean into our moments of grief just like we lean into moments of bliss or happiness. So, the first step to dealing with grief mindfully is to stop resisting your pain and instead step into the tender center of it.
When we try to resist and protect ourselves from pain it can be like armor around the heart, armor that doesn’t allow anything in or out. It might feel better to retreat and numb ourselves from pain in this way, but it’s a disservice to ourselves and the collective.
Grief, death, loss, and change are inescapable parts of human existence. Recoiling from them just puts you further away from reality and the ability to adapt and eventually heal. Buddhist nun and author Pema Chödrön says in her book When Things Fall Apart, “we use these situations either to wake ourselves up or put ourselves to sleep.”
My second insight is based on something called the bodhichitta, which translates to “awakened heart” in Sanskrit. The awakened heart is the heart that sees no distinction between itself and the whole. The awakened heart knows that it is infinite, and therefore not confined.
I thought of bodhichitta a few days after Izzy’s death, as Steven was mopping her blood spots off the floor and I sat in the corner crying. The cancer had caused a growth on her low belly that would leave droplets of blood everywhere she went. Steven likened it to The Tell-Tale Heart – a haunting reality that we both desperately wanted to ignore. So why on earth was I crying over them?? It seemed so silly to want to hold on to them. Obviously, those weren’t good memories, but somewhere in my mind, I believed that without the hair in the corners & the stains on the floor it would be like she was never even there.
But I knew that wasn’t true. Her photo still smiled at us from the corner of the room, and I still had all the memories of what it was like to live alongside her. But the grieving, misguided piece of my heart believed those physical objects were the only lingering connection I had to her. It believed that we “lost” her since she wasn’t there physically anymore. But the bodhichitta resides in that space where we’re all eternally connected. It knows that the love we all had for each other is stronger than physical boundaries. And instead of grieving what is lost, I can celebrate what an amazing journey we took together, and how honored I was to be her Mama for a bit.
Find the Meaning
I’ve read that instead of trying to see the “good” in situations like these, it’s more helpful to listen for the meaning behind them. Izzy taught us so much in her life – why would death be any different? In her death, Izzy taught me about honor, loyalty, and dedication to that which you love. And although it still feels a bit sad & traitorous to be moving forward without her, I know we’re not really without her.
Izzy has always been a guardian and a guide for us, and she always will be.
With the love & light of the world,
Hey there 👋 I’m Sierra – welcome to my website!
I’m a writer, mindfulness coach, and community builder located in the here and now.
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thank you for this, its given me a glimmer of understanding in this mess.
Oh, Caelyn I’m so glad! You’re never alone sis Xx