Finding Joy After Loss
Healing strategies for dealing with loss and grief
Posted April 2, 2013
I wanted to share the following guest post with you. Jen Johnson is a mindfulness teacher and psychotherapist and works with people dealing with stress, grief/loss, anxiety, depression, chronic illness, ADHD, and loss or accident related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Jen writes:
Whether loss comes expectedly with aging or long-term illness, or unexpectedly as the result of an accident, sudden illness, catastrophic event, or suicide, it has the power to disrupt our lives or leave us feeling numb or hopeless. A number of years ago, I experienced a succession of significant losses that left me feeling numb and unprepared to navigate the grief. Determined to rediscover a sense of aliveness, I explored various paths to healing that helped open my heart to joy and aliveness again. Following are some of the things I found most useful:
Practice Mindfulness Meditation. Mindfulness is awareness of the present moment with acceptance and without judgment. The tendency of the mind is to judge our experience as pleasant/unpleasant, good/bad, and then we attempt to avoid or numb out the experiences that we judge as unpleasant, such as grief. We can’t selectively numb our pain without also numbing positive emotions, like joy. See if you can allow the feelings of grief to be and simply notice them with compassion. When we can open our hearts to our suffering, we can begin to thaw the emotional numbness, which makes room for us to begin to open to greater joy.
Practice Mindful Self-Care. Eat healthily, get adequate sleep, and exercise your body. Get out into nature, breathe fresh air, and take in the beauty of the natural world with your senses. Try cultivating a mindful/gentle yoga practice. Schedule time for being instead of always doing.
Write About the Loss. Writing can be therapeutic. Try writing about what happened and how you feel about it for 20 minutes. If it feels right, try repeating the practice four times this week, but if it feels overwhelming, then stop and do something different that feels soothing, like drinking a cup of warm tea, taking a warm bath, going for a walk, or listening to soothing music, and try the writing again later if you feel up to it. Studies show that although this practice may bring up unpleasant feelings of sadness in the short-term, it can have positive long-term effects on your health and wellbeing.
Engage in Creative Expression. In addition to writing about your loss, or if you can’t find words to talk about your feelings, try painting, drawing, making photographs, making collage, knitting, or other forms of creativity that express your feelings.
Savor simple pleasures. Take time to experience something pleasurable with your senses, like looking at a beautiful flower or inhaling its fragrance, noticing the brilliant blue sky, listening to morning birdsong, enjoying something beautiful in nature, or listening to music. If it feels like you can’t find pleasure in these sorts of everyday things, try something simple, like enjoying the feel of cold water in your mouth or warm water on your skin in the shower or bath. Take a few moments to savor the experience and notice how you feel in your body, heart, and mind. Then recall the experience several times throughout the day.
Make Meaning from the Loss. Try to find some meaning in the loss by identifying ways that it has helped you to grow or become more resilient to stress or loss. When you have moved from the depths of grief and are well on your way toward healing, explore how you can work with your own experience of loss to facilitate healing in others, in the environment, or in the world in general.
Practice Joy. In addition to being present with the grief, it’s equally important to practice opening to joy. Make time to do things that you love, and give yourself permission to feel good again.
Live Well. Loss reminds us that life is short. Use times of loss as an opportunity to reassess your own life, and begin to ask yourself questions about whether you are living a life filled with joy, doing what you love, and making meaning in your life. Begin to live intentionally, consciously choosing how you live your life. View this as a chance to gradually make some changes that allow you to live mindfully and live well.
Life inevitably entails experiencing loss, but loss doesn’t have to result in hopelessness. If we take the time to develop a spiritual path that prepares us to cultivate the heart to be present to whatever arises, we can begin to develop a sense of internal refuge that prepares us to meet whatever life brings our way. When we learn to balance being present with our grief with opening to joy, we find hope. We may even find that opening our hearts to our grief and joy results in experiencing more of a sense of aliveness and joy than we were able to access prior to the loss!
Jen Johnson, MS, LPC, CRC offers mindfulness training and counseling to people internationally by phone and Skype. Her website is http://www.everydaymindful.com. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
Eric Maisel, Ph.D., is the author of more than 40 books including Making Your Creative Mark (New World Library, 2013) and the forthcoming Why Smart People Hurt (Conari Press, 2013). Widely regarded as America’s foremost creativity coach, Dr. Maisel founded natural psychology and leads workshops nationally and internationally. You can learn more about Dr. Maisel’s books, services, trainings, and workshops at http://www.ericmaisel.com. You can learn more about natural psychology at http://www.naturalpsychology.net. Dr. Maisel can be reached at email@example.com.