Grief and an open heart

May 9, 2010

Some of us react to loss by “shutting down”. We don’t feel we can bear the pain of grief, or we don’t want to risk loving and losing someone again. Rachel, whose comment is quoted below, feels her heart has been “shut for business” since she broke up with her ex four years ago. When she experienced an emotional release in the Opening the Heart meditation, however, she felt hope that she’ll eventually be able to move on and find someone new.

“I felt a significant release with tears when trying this meditation. I split with an ex over four years ago… I haven’t been able to move on at all romantically as I haven’t been able to let go of this past relationship. My heart shut for business to anyone else. I’m really hoping this meditation will eventually help me move on and find love again.”

Rachel has every reason to be hopeful now that she’s been able to start grieving the loss of her ex. If we can grieve a loss fully, feeling the pain all the way through, it leaves us with an open heart that can make new connections. It’s said that the only way through grief is straight into the heart of it. You have to fall into it completely. An open heart is one that can grieve. We can’t really feel love and joy if our hearts are closed to feeling pain. Grief is a natural process that allows us to let go of one relationship and let in another.

Life is full of losses, large and small. Large losses, like losing a  loved one, a job, moving, or falling ill, cause us to grieve. But so do smaller losses, losses that we might not even recognize as something to grieve. This really struck me yesterday as I was inhaling the wonderful fragrance of the jasmine flowers gracing my patio. Spring is my favorite season, and the return of the jasmine nourishes my being and brings me joy. But yesterday I noticed that almost all of the buds had already bloomed, and most of the lovely little flowers were on the decline. Lots of spent blossoms were at my feet. I felt as if I wanted to hold on to the jasmine forever, to never let it go. At some point I noticed a tight feeling in my heart. I felt that holding on feeling so clearly and sensed it as a tightening up against life. I felt I needed to let go and when I did, I felt grief. It was a surrender to the inevitability of loss that is part of the fabric of life. In that surrender I felt my heart relax and open. Though I felt sad, in that moment I felt fully alive. I was open to whatever might come next.

My sense is that we can’t let go and be truly open without feeling the pain of loss. What has your experience with this been?

Opening the Heart Guided Meditation

January 5, 2010

Many of us long to have a more open heart, to be able to give and receive more freely. We want to experience more love more easily, but it can be so difficult at times. The heart chakra is the gateway to loving connection with others. At the same time, it contains pain from past hurts. This meditation gives you the opportunity to relax into whatever the heart may hold, allowing held emotions to resolve and the loving energy in the heart to be felt.

The meditation takes you through a number of steps. First you relax. Then you connect with your heart, simply being present to whatever you experience. This is followed by visualization to help you expand the energy of the heart and connect with others. As always, be creative with the visualization and use it a way that works for you.

I’ve had many requests for a meditation for compassion and forgiveness. I do think these will come about, but hopefully this meditation will speak to these themes as well. Both compassion and forgiveness require the ability to be present to pain, our own as well as that of others. Both require an open heart.

I hope the meditation serves you well, and would love to hear about your experiences with it. (Listen to it here.)

Meditation and Being Fully Alive

July 11, 2009

More and more it’s the “little things” that make my day — the taste of a plum from our tree, the sight of a hummingbird on the orange trumpet vine — even the feeling of a spoon as I dry it after washing. Sounds odd maybe, but the smooth texture of the spoon, the warmth, the weight of it in my hand are all somehow satisfying. So is the experience of my body breathing, and the growing richness of my emotional life. As someone who once upon a time was very much “in my head”, the increasing awareness of my body brings great satisfaction. I’ve come to enjoy how my body feels as it moves and the rich variety of physical sensations present in any moment. Things like the feeling of the water when I shower and then the towel on my skin, the warmth of the sun, a cool breeze — bring so much richness and satisfaction.

Being alive is fulfilling in and of itself when we open more to what is happening in the “present moment”. But opening to the present moment isn’t just about “smelling the roses”, it’s also about the willingness to feel pain. In our culture, we try to avoid feeling pain. Whether the pain is physical or emotional, we’ll do anything to not feel it, from popping pills to distracting ourselves by keeping busy. And yet, when we repress or avoid feeling something, we restrict the flow of life energy. Our awareness becomes restricted and our capacity to feel is dulled. We can’t be fully alive without experiencing it all — pleasure and pain, joy and sorrow. The same meditative path that has allowed me to derive so much satisfaction from the small pleasures of life has required that I also feel pain more acutely.

How does meditation create such a shift in experience? How can it help us feel more fully alive? Meditation involves what we do with our attention. So often our attention is caught up in thoughts, so that we miss the experiences coming through our senses. Most meditation styles encourage letting go of thoughts and shifting the attention to the breath or the body or to simply experiencing the ongoing succession of experiences that occur from moment to moment. Thus we develop the habit of letting go of thoughts and paying attention to the sensation of breathing, bodily sensations, emotions, sensory input.

Meditation also involves letting go of the attempt to manipulate our experience. We let go of resistance to what is and stop trying to change what we think and feel.

Just a few minutes ago I was making the bed. My mind was caught up in writing this blog post and then there was a shift. My attention came back to the bed making. No longer caught up in thoughts, I was seeing the color of the sheets, feeling their texture in my hands, hearing the rustling sound as I pulled the pillowcase over the pillow. Thanks to writing this post, I noticed the satisfaction inherent in this simple experience. Meditation can also encourage us to accept the ever-changing flow of emotions. As I made the bed, there were a number of feelings present. Not resisting certain feelings or trying to make myself feel otherwise left my attention undivided. This too contributed to being fully present to the experience of making the bed. Meditation can free our attention from preoccupation with thoughts of past and future or of how we think things should be. The attention, left free, naturally experiences what is happening moment to moment.

The motivation to meditate may be the immediate relaxation and relief it provides, but there’s a lot more going on. Regular meditation can make a radical change in how we experience our lives. What changes have you noticed from meditation? Do you appreciate the little things more? Do you feel more fully alive?

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