Updated: May 22
Along the path of healing that leads into the heart, one is often called upon to examine grief. Grief is the binding alloy of the armoring about the heart. Like a fire touched, the mind recoils at losing what it holds most dear. As the mind contracts about its grief, the spaciousness of the heart often seems very distant.
We all grieve. Outwardly or inwardly. Overtly or covertly. It may manifest in our lives and personalities as anger, violence, sadness, guilt, self-doubt, frustration, anxiety, depression or despair. These different emotional states are the armoring that grief puts us in touch with.
Stephen Levine – poet and wisdom teacher, leads us into an exploration of grief. The lessons he shares through prose and poetry are among the jewels in my treasure trove that I hold most dear.
Today, I am drawn back to the wisdom in the poet’s beautiful and penetrating words because the world is in such a deep state of grief, and in need of healing. The following ideas are from the book Healing into Life and Death, a book of wisdom, poetry and guided meditations. This book is like a trusted friend who has seen me through the death of both of my parents, and multiple smaller griefs accumulated as a nurse, and yoga teacher and (I hope) a vehicle of love and compassion in this broken world.
We expect our grief to be something special. In fact, our grief is as old as our self-image, so familiar in fact that we often do not recognize it when it affects us. It has been there all our lives, but it is only with the impact of unmistakable loss that we acknowledge it for the very first time. The acknowledgement of this long-held suffering is the first state of healing into grief. We can no longer deny the reality of the long-submerged and, as in any healing the first step is acceptance. We cannot let go of anything we do not accept. Investigation deepens our letting go. The fear which has always guarded these heavy emotions from exploration now becomes an object of examination and acts as a guide into new territory. Fear becomes an ally which whispers that we are coming to our edge, to unplumbed depth, to the space in which all growth occurs. We discover that we have never learned how to allow ourselves to be overwhelmed, how to let go of control, how to go beyond the pain we have become so accustomed to. It is at this stage of recognition, of acknowledgement, and the slow acceptance of the condition that we find ourselves in that tenderness is most necessary. It is a tenderness that simply allows us to feel what we feel, the compassion with which we allow the process to unfold as it may. Go slowly and with great gentleness into the dark night of the mind that’s been confronted with loss, with all the losses that each loss puts us in touch with. Entering our grief directly, we see clearly, perhaps as in no other process, our capacity to heal the past. Grief has the potential to allow us to see how cramped we have always been. In acknowledging the pain, we can open past our long-held resistance to the unpleasant, to life itself. We can dissolve old partiality in a great wholeness, able to let old pains be, to let them go, without clinging or suppression. It clears the way for life to reenter – a willingness, a non-condemning that allows the healing to go so deep. It means meeting “just this much” with mercy and awareness, recognizing that we don’t need to change anything but rather to add mercy and awareness to this moment so that what is, can be, as it is.
There are points in our physical body where emotions are seen and felt. The grief point, which can be a tool for connecting the mind to the heart through the portal of the body, is one of those. It can be used as a point of access or reference to the physical experience of grief.
There is a point on the chest, on the sternum, roughly between the nipples about two or three inches above where the rib cage comes together. It is the focal point for this process. Investigate the breast bone to find this point of sensitivity. It is a place where we hold much grief. It may be extremely sensitive. For many when they find it, it will be unmistakable. Once you discover the grief point place your thumb onto it. As you push into the point with your thumb, you may feel something pushing back. Obviously, there is the sternum, the bone plate, but there is also something subtler received – a desire to push away feelings. All the moments of hiding, of protecting ourselves from life, add layer upon layer over the heart of the matter. Thousands of such moments accumulating to become thick as armor. A density of self-protection and an unwillingness to directly enter and emerge from the pain so long suppressed, which pushes back as you push into it. A resistance to life. A resistance to birth. A resistance to healing that asserts itself like a shield against the light. Living in the shadows, instead of entering directly the suchness of “just this much.” The resistance of a lifetime pushing back against the thumb probing the grief point, opening the way to the heart along the pathway of sensations created. Push in. Stimulate that point. Feel the pushing back, but do not create more pain. This is not an exercise in endurance. It is an exercise in opening. A simple pressure exerted in that very sensitive area connects the mind/body with the heart center.
Once you have found and explored the grief point, I invite you to place your hands in Anjali mudra (palms together) and place the base of your thumbs firmly into the breast bone at the grief point. Allow your breath to slow and deepen. Breathing in to the count of five, and out to the count of five. Take a few moments to focus on the image below of Kuan Yin, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, The Mother of Mercy. And then slowly read the poem that follows out loud, to yourself or to your meditation partner.
Don’t be embarrassed by your sorrow.
Let it sink into your heart and be swaddled in mercy.
Loving-kindness flows through the grief point directly into the heart.
The body fills with warmth.
Buddha said, “You could look the whole world over and never find anyone more deserving of love than yourself.”
Mercy changes the game.
Our sorrow believes we deserve to suffer. Have mercy on this stranger in you. Let this stranger be reborn in a merciful consciousness.
How often might we consider death before we permit ourselves the life of the heart.
Let her loving kindness open the fist around your heart.
The Mother of Mercy prays to free us from our image of the perfection to which so much suffering clings.
When in the shadowy mind we imagine ourselves imperfectly, praying to be freed by enlightenment, she refines our prayers.
Putting her arms around us she bids us put our head on her shoulder whispering, don’t you know with all your fear and anger all you are fit for is love.
May all beings be free of suffering. May all beings be at peace.
From Becoming Kuan Yin by Stephen Levine