I learned so much from her during our time together, so I shouldn’t have been surprised that I would continue learning from her even after she passed. And what I witnessed, more clearly than ever, is that our mind, as well-meaning as it is, often can’t be trusted. And, in fact, contributes to our suffering.
In the days leading up to what I feared was the end, I was completely lost in my sadness and feeling every possible emotion. When I went to bed on the day that she passed, as the tears fell, I felt a shift happen. I realized that I could get lost in the pain of losing her in physical form, or I could focus on the love and joy that we shared. I realized that nothing “bad” had happened. She had a beautiful life and a beautiful passing. I realized that by focusing on the love instead of the loss, it would allow me to connect with her in even deeper ways.
In that moment, I committed to grieving in a way that honored the love and good times we had. I thought of others who are still hurting years after losing someone. And I knew that I wanted to feel happiness when I thought of her because that is what she brought into my life. I decided that I would not resist any part of the experience and dropped the expectations around how I “should” feel and act.
Over the next few days, I started watching my thinking. My mind tried to tell me that the pain would be too much to bear – that I should avoid it. Because of the work I do as a Coach, I knew that if I listened to that thought and avoided what I was feeling it would reinforce in the brain that it is a helpful reaction.
That part of your mind is like a machine – it doesn’t reason or see the bigger picture in what is in your best interests. It knows what it has been conditioned to know, what it has had programmed into it. But it doesn’t know what it takes to heal. It just knows what band-aid to stick on to stop the bleeding.
I was shocked by the messages that came from my mind in the weeks following her passing. At one point I noticed how clean my house was and how much space there was when I removed her beds, etc. I then watched as my mind jumped in to shame me with thoughts like, “you don’t care, you don’t miss her, you’re glad she’s gone!” I watched as my mind told me all kinds of stories – going in different directions, contradicting itself, encouraging “clinging + grasping”, and trying to dictate how I felt.
When I felt sad, lost, and lonely, I let myself feel it, embracing it fully. And when I felt at peace, strong, and optimistic, I let myself feel that too. Even though my mind once again tried to shame me for it. When I had the thought that I was excited to create a new normal, my mind yelled, “Excited?! You didn’t love her! What’s wrong with you?”
It made me see why people struggle and suffer so much when it comes to loss or having to let someone or something go. Your mind is trying to make sense of the dramatic change, so it comes up with all kinds of stories.
Letting go is so difficult for the mind. It is attached to what is familiar, to the safety and security of what it knows – what is familiar and the routine that goes along with it. It doesn’t know that the situation is beyond your control and that you can’t change it. So, it seems to try to make sense of it all by making up stories, throwing out all kinds of unhelpful suggestions, encouraging you to dwell on it, and making predictions about how you’ll feel in the future (“I’ll never get over this. My heart is broken.”)
With practice, you can more easily accept whatever situation you find yourself in, including those of loss. The concept of radical acceptance has been so helpful to me over the years. At times when things are feeling so far out of our control, our natural human tendency is to resist.
Our mind will tell us a million stories about why it’s not fair, that it’s terrible, that it shouldn’t be happening, that you can’t handle it, that you’ll never be okay again, and on and on. If we get caught up in that swirling thought-spiral, we are going to suffer twice. We will suffer in the situation that is happening, moment-to-moment, and we will suffer again as our mind replays what is going on, focusing on it, and trying to understand or figure it out.
One of the biggest insights I've reached is that it doesn’t have to be sad, beyond the moments of time when sadness is truly the emotion that is coming up. When we listen to the stories our mind tells us that it is “tragic”, “not fair”, “wrong”, etc. we block our healing. When we resist what is, we’re setting ourselves up to suffer. What I saw was that it’s not actually the situation that causes us to feel as though our heart is broken, but our reaction to it. We close our hearts to avoid the emotional pain we are feeling – and that is what hurts.
We could be in the exact same situation and if we keep our heart open, focusing on the love we share, allowing the emotions to be there, that pain passes. It’s only when we resist and close up that the pain remains in place. And then our life becomes all about avoiding that pain.
So, we keep our heart closed as a way to protect ourselves and not feel discomfort. But that means that our heart is closed to ALL emotions. We can’t selectively choose what we let in and what we keep out. When we’re blocking out emotional pain, we’re also blocking out love, joy, excitement, enthusiasm, hope, and passion.
We are so adaptable – when we allow ourselves to be. When our mind doesn’t interfere, telling us all kinds of stories, and encouraging us to avoid any unpleasant, uncomfortable feelings by distracting, numbing, denying, or suppressing. Because the part of your brain that is sending the signals is like a computer – it’s not the rational, logical, conscious part of your mind that knows what’s good for you. It’s primary objective is your safety and it may think you can’t handle those painful emotions. But you can. You’re meant to. It’s when we resist that the painful emotions stick around and keep bothering and upsetting us.
When we resist the urge to avoid and instead, practice allowing whatever it is that we’re experiencing to be there, we make room for healing. We cry, we grieve, we miss and we long for – and it’s all okay. It is when we get caught up in a story of “unfair, wrong, unacceptable or unbearable” that it interferes with the grieving process.
This is practicing a deep level of awareness and acceptance. We cannot change what is; we cannot wish for something different, or cling to what was. Your mind will tell you that you can’t do it. Maybe it will even shame you, like mine did – telling you that any time you feel a positive emotion you are doing something wrong, bad, or heartless; that any joy or laughter was somehow a betrayal; that you must not have loved as deeply as you thought if you’re willing to move on “so easily”.
Stay open to the love you shared, stay open to feeling your full range of emotions and allowing them to pass. Cherish the memories, be grateful for the time you shared, and take the love forward with you. Make self-compassion and self-nurturing your default setting. And don’t fall into the mind trap of thinking something is “wrong” or “missing”. Keep your heart open. Relax + Release – again and again.
I’ll leave you with lyrics from a song that I heard on the day that I let Jaz go. “Just let me hurt a little longer. I'm in a war with no armor. Need to cry an ocean before I’m stronger. Used to think that being brave just meant moving on. Now I sink into the pain until it’s all gone.”
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Learn more about Bobbi Beuree, Halifax-based Coach + Facilitator
Bobbi Beuree, Certified CAN Coach + Facilitator is located in Halifax, NS, and provides interactive 1:1 coaching services, as well as corporate workshops.