Monday, November 2, 2015

Grief Advice from a Zen Buddhist Nun

My husband recently got me a book by the people who make Prevention magazine.  I think the title is Prevention Happiness Now because that's what the inside page says.  I think he got it at the grocery store.  It says on the front of it "Display until December 19, 2015," so as of this writing, it would probably still be available somewhere.  I tried to find it for sale online, to put up a link, but couldn't find any.
Anyway, it's a pretty good book overall.  I liked a lot of it.  It had one chapter in it that was about a woman who lost the love of her life 14 years ago and then became a Zen Buddhist nun.  Her name is Sister Dang Nghiem, M.D.
Some things she had to say in this chapter were pretty good.  She said:
Breathing heals; time doesn't.
"It's a myth to say that time can heal.  Time cannot heal.  Breathing and mindfulness can.  [Long after a traumatic event happens to you,] a sight, a sound, a smell, a taste, a touch can trigger the complete stress response as though it's happening all over again.  What saved me was the mindfulness of breathing.  Sometimes I would lie down to breathe and put my hands on my belly to slow it down and anchor my body.  Through breathing, you learn to slow the stress response, the fight-flight-or-freeze response.  If you can do that when going through a very intense experience, the next time you recall that trauma, you will do so with more peace, mindfulness, and clarity."
You can cultivate joy even when you're hurting.
"It's been 14 years since John died.  I still miss him every day, but I have learned to cultivate joy and peace in each breath, even though I feel that pain.  You have to do them both at the same time.  It's like a garden:  You have to take care of the weeds, but you also have to plant flowers.  If you only weed, you'll be exhausted and lose hope.  And if you plant enough flowers, eventually there will be less room for all the weeds."
You can keep the dead alive.
"When a person dies and you lose all your joy, then it is like you are making sure that person is as dead as possible.  But you can learn to call on the spirit of that person for help and learn to see him or her around you.  When I see a purple flower, I remember that John loved purple flowers, and I smile.  That flower, in that moment, becomes him."
Her words helped me a lot.  I know that I've been guilty of losing most of my joy, since my sister died and we lost other very important people.  But I also have felt that presence of the loved ones and have even asked them for help.  I remember when my husband was having his heart surgery and I was so frightened and I prayed to all of our dear departed loved ones and told them that if they see Dean coming toward them (coming toward the light) to please tell him to go back, come back and fight to stay alive, come back to me because I need him so much.  I don't think he experienced any of that during his surgery, but I had to say it to them, just in case - make him come back to me.
I also have felt the presence of loved ones in ways I've mentioned before - in signs, in inspiration, etc.  I guess I have to work on feeling that even more, and also cultivating more joy in general.  I have been trying, but many days it's very hard, as some of you might really, really understand if you've experienced a major loss (or several, like we have).
I just hope these words (from the book) help you as they are helping me right now.
May love and peace be with you,