“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”
~ His Holiness the Dalai Lama
Offer Yourself Great Kindness
No one can say or hear this enough: The weeks, months, and years after a loss that shakes your bones are a time to offer yourself great kindness. It’s the best gift you can give yourself. And as it turns out, it’s the best gift you can give those you love and all living beings.
How is this possible? What does it mean to be kind to yourself, to take your own side, to befriend yourself? Think about how you would reach out and be with a friend who has just suffered a loss. You would probably show up and just be there with your friend and listen to her story of all that happened. You might bring over dinners, offer to shop, ask how you might help, show her all the compassion you can muster.
Now consider what it might mean to offer these qualities of kindness to yourself who is also hurting, also shocked, also feeling alone, hopeless, and unmoored.
Start Where You’re Standing
What if you reminded yourself to start where you are—not in some idealized place—but exactly where you’re standing? Is your house a mess? Have you stopped going to the gym? Are you eating cold pizza for supper? Are you ignoring invitations from friends? Drinking or numbing yourself with other addictions? Mired in feelings of guilt or anger? With kindness, allow yourself to start here.
If you’re someone with restless energy, who stays busy, likes to feel indispensable, runs from one obligation to the next, and buttons up your emotions, perhaps you could ease your schedule and give yourself a precious gift of time: ten minutes to sit and listen to a beautiful piece of music; an evening to be alone with your discomfort and grief; or an hour for a massage.
Ask the Inner Critic to Back Off
Maybe you harbor a harsh inner critic, perhaps a committee of judges who shame you for crying too much, grieving too long, not grieving enough, or not getting it right. Almost certainly, these voices have completely unrealistic expectations for you. Pause to notice these overbearing voices.
Can you ask them to back off and give you the space to feel your emotions and be with your grief? Can you stop calling yourself a failure, a fraud, a rock, or a wimp, and offer yourself empathy and compassion? Try and drop the label and just be with the felt experience of grief in your body.
Embrace Your Impatience
Can you embrace your vulnerability, your irritability, your impatience, and even your resistance as deeply human responses to separation and loss? Can you see how being open and tender with yourself allows you to better understand and connect with others—those who hurt and those who haven’t yet experienced pain and hardship?
If you look deeply and sit with pain and suffering, can you feel how sorrow is part of the human condition? Can you give yourself permission to take your place at the table of human beings, joining all of us who share this precious planet spinning in space?
Can you see how kindness—which includes being kind to yourself, seeing yourself as a part of a larger community of people who each bear their own sorrow—is a path through grief to a life you might not be able to imagine yet? Can you acknowledge yourself for ways you are taking care of yourself, for surviving, for the small steps you are able to take, for moments of joy or comfort amid tears?
Practice Loving Kindness
Metta, which comes from Buddhist and Hindu traditions, calls us to the essential quality of being kind. It’s a rich practice that offers a way of befriending ourselves and all living beings. We introduce the basics here and explore Metta in more detail in the section called Deepening Practices.
To begin, sit and silently repeat a series of blessings, first offering loving-kindness to yourself.
May I be deeply peaceful.
May I be happy and healthy.
May I live with ease.
Next, offer these same blessings to someone who gladdens your heart, someone to whom you can easily extend good wishes. Then, widen the circle and extend these wishes to someone about whom you feel neutral (neither friendly nor hostile), and finally to a person you find difficult. As you bring each person to mind, sit quietly and offer these blessings.
May you be deeply peaceful.
May you be happy and healthy.
May you live with ease.
Conclude by offering Metta to all living beings. Some people begin locally, by extending blessings to everyone in their building, in their neighborhood or in their town. Then, they imagine extending blessings to everyone in their state, country, and finally across the globe.
May all beings be deeply peaceful.
May all beings be happy and healthy.
May all beings live with ease.
You may want to choose a series of Metta blessings that speak directly to your experience of grief. For example:
May I be open to all the difficult and painful emotions and sensations of grief.
May I forgive myself for mistakes I’ve made or words not said.
May I offer myself compassion.
If these blessings don’t resonate with you, choose your own phrases and modify them as you practice.
Meditation for Kindness
Sit quietly for a few moments and focus on the flow of your breath, in and out. Say slowly, to yourself, the following phrases:
May I start right here.
May I offer myself kindness and compassion.
May I accept myself as I am.
Last Suggestions on Offering Yourself Kindness Today
Take a few minutes and reflect on ways of offering yourself kindness today.
- If you’re someone who’s always busy, take a few minutes and do something relaxing, such as reading a poem or listening to a piece of music you love.
- If you harbor an inner critic who shames you for not grieving right, try responding to one of its accusations: “I’m doing the best I can,” or “Over time, things will get easier.” Or choose another positive statement that helps you feel supported.
* * *
Excerpted from Opening to Grief: Finding Your Way from Loss to Peace, by Claire B. Willis and Marnie Crawford Samuelson (Dharma Spring, 2020). Reprinted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser. All rights reserved. For more information, please visit: OpeningtoGrief.com or Claire’s YouTube channel, Questions People Ask, for short videos and meditations.