When you are reeling from a significant loss, coping with difficult emotions may seem like an impossible task. It is natural to want to turn away from or suppress painful feelings. But as you probably know, the stronger the emotion, the harder it will persist.
As a grief professional, sadness is a common emotion for me to meet. As a bereaved person myself, I know how familiar these difficult emotions can become. Mindfulness can help us cope with difficult emotions without denying the reality of our pain.
Last week I attended a funeral for an old friend who died too young. As I sat in the balcony, scanning the faces of people who loved him - and seeing so many of my friends in pain - I felt a tidal wave of sadness well up in my heart. For a moment, I felt like I could drown.
I closed my eyes and tried to focus on my next exhale, but the crescendo of emotion building up inside drowned out the whisper of my breath. “What’s happening in my body right now?” I asked. "What am I believing to be true?"
My felt sense of sadness was a gray oblong shape resting just below my heart in my lower ribs. I got curious. "How big is this? What is it made of? What is its shape?" This type of inquiry can help us drop the story and connect with direct experience.
Sadness in this moment, I discovered, felt like a cold metal shell, protecting a soft and warm center. It felt both vulnerable and safe at the same time. Suddenly, these words came to me:
Make a pillow for your sadness - so it can lie down and you can watch it sleep.
At that point, all my resistance to the difficult emotion melted away. I felt my body relax as the cold metal seemed to soften. The tidal wave turned into a pool. And somehow, by paying attention to my body, I felt more connected to everyone else in the room.
Guided Meditation for Coping With Difficult Emotions
Even when you feel as if the whirlpool of suffering is inescapable, the practice of mindfulness can help you reduce - and often eliminate - your suffering. Here is a guided meditation for coping with grief’s difficult emotions using the techniques I outline above. May it bring you peace.