I have been thinking a lot about the emotion of grief of late. In Chinese medicine, grief corresponds to the Lung. I find it intriguing and not coincidental that the world, with so much untended grief, is being hit with a pandemic that primarily affects the lung. We have inherited collective, untended grief and a society that regards grief as an unnecessary emotion, or at least a negative one. In my meditation practice, I have been working with and allowing space for grief – personal, collective and inherited grief. Grief comes to me in waves, very much like ocean waves, only not as predictable. I feel the upwelling of grief overcome me and at once I am consumed by it. And then, rhythmically, the swelling passes and I can sit in gratitude that my grieving connects me to others and fills me with compassion. In the moments between the waves, my heart is calm, open, connected, raw and vulnerable. This is what is means to be human and to love.
Roshi Joan Halifax, Ph.D., is a Buddhist teacher, Zen priest, anthropologist, and pioneer in the field of end-of-life care. She is Founder, Abbot, and Head Teacher of Upaya Institute and Zen Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Roshi Joan says “grief can be seen as a natural human process giving rise to one’s basic humanity, yet it can also be a potential trap, a no-exit, a source of chronic suffering.” She defines grief as “love with no place to go.” She speaks to the importance of deep internal stillness in which we are able to glimpse the truth of impermanence and change in each moment; this stillness allows for insight that liberates us from the futility of the kind of grief that traps us and prevents our humanity from emerging. This understanding is particularly apt because we recently experienced a collective pause (with many of us going inward and experiencing more stillness and/or agitation than we would have allowed ourselves prior to the pandemic), during which we also allowed ourselves to feel into collective grief and pain.
In a 2017 interview with Krista Tippett, Roshi Joan offered the following practice for working with loss and grief:
“I would like to invite you to put down whatever might be in your hand and to find a position that’s comfortable and also that supports you. And listen to my words, and if they are resonant for you, if they are helpful, really let them enter into your experience. And bring your attention to the breath for just a moment. And let the breath sweep your mind, and notice whether it’s a deep breath or shallow. And recall for a moment now a loss or losses that have really touched you, or the anticipation of loss. And now I’ll offer some simple phrases:
May I be open to the pain of grief. (Notice whatever comes up, not rejecting it, not clinging to it.)
May I find the inner resources to really be present for my sorrow.
May I accept my sadness, knowing that I am not my sadness.
May I and all beings learn from and transform sorrow.”
Monday. Bronze sunlight
on the worn gray rug
in the dining room where Viva sits
playing her recorder. Pain-ripened sunlight
I nearly wrote, like the huge
my friend brought yesterday
from her garden, to add to our salad:
meaning what comes
in its time to its own
end, then breaks
off easily, needing no more
of some medieval dance
spill gracefully from the stream
of Viva’s breath. Something
that had been stopped
is beginning to move: a leaf
driven against rock
by a current
frees itself, finds its way again
through moving water. The angle of
is low, but still it fills
this space we’re in. What interrupts
is sometimes an abundance. My
which grew large through summer
feels to me this morning
as though if I touched it
where the thick dark stem
is joined to the root, it would release
whole, it would be something I could