Life can be a huge bitch. It knocks the wind out of us and saps our energy and leaves us in the mud. And it does not give one damn. We end up feeling betrayed by something that owes us nothing.
Life can also be wonderful. Sometimes our hearts feel like they might burst from the sheer beauty. Life is a vast, mysterious, magical journey we get to be a part of for a little bit.
So when the rug’s pulled out from under us, when shit hits the fan, when we are left curled in a ball on the bathroom floor, how do we re-engage with the goodness of life? How do we move forward with our battle scars and open wounds and still laugh?
I suffered a tremendous loss a month ago. I am nowhere near healed. But I am moving forward and figuring out how to feel joy again. This is what I’ve learned so far:
Acknowledge the severity of grief.
Whether you’ve lost a loved one, a job, a pet, a friend, your sense of purpose or security, and so on, it’s important to recognize the tremendous impact of grief. Grief causes intense physical and mental pain. Dealing with this pain every day leaves you exhausted. Acknowledge this. Understand that you need lots of rest and self-care. You are fragile. You move slower. That’s okay.
Take care of yourself. Eat good food. Don’t get hungover. It’s much harder to handle the discomfort of a crappy diet or too much alcohol when it’s coupled with the pain of grief. Sleep a lot — your body needs it. Grief wrecks havoc on you physically and emotionally. Know this and be honest and careful with yourself.
I made my husband read the Spoon Theory by Christine Miserandino. Now I can tell say to him, “I’m low on spoons,” and he understands that I need to go curl up on the couch. I don’t have to feel guilty or exert energy I don’t have to explain, and he doesn’t feel as helpless or uncertain.
Make some sacred time each day.
Every morning — okay, most mornings. Not the ones where I’ve stayed up too late reading articles or had too much wine or watched too much television. MOST mornings I wake up early and heat up water. While the water’s heating I scroll through Instagram and like a few pictures and usually post something. I know this is generally frowned upon in the “ideal” morning routines, but social media helps me feel connected and inspired.
I make my morning elixir: hot water with a tablespoon of organic apple cider vinegar, a teaspoon of raw honey, and a dash of turmeric. I drink this while writing in my journal. I write three things I am grateful for, making sure to use complete sentences that state the key word: I am grateful for the handwritten note I received from a friend. I am grateful to have yoga to look forward to today. I am grateful that my husband and dog are sleeping safely and peacefully in the other room.
Then I light a candle and meditate. The candle isn’t necessary, the meditation is. Which leads to…
Meditate every single day.
I’ve learned it’s okay to skip any part of my sacred routine EXCEPT the meditation. My day is significantly better when I meditate. Peace and strength come easier.
The hardest part about meditation is learning what works for you. It seems counter-intuitive that we have to learn to sit in silence, but that’s the reality for most people. There is no one “right way” to meditate; it’s whatever stills your thoughts.
I set my cell phone timer for 15–20 minutes. Then I start with breathing techniques. I do nadi shodhana, where I breath in through one nostril, hold both closed, and then out through the other. I repeat this for a few minutes, stimulating the solar and lunar channels of my body. Then I go into three-part-breathing, filling first my stomach, then my rib cage, then my chest, and exhaling it out along my spine. This one I find especially soothing. Then I stop controlling my breathing and just focus on it. In and out, in and out.
I have a hard time staying focused so I generally use a mantra. So Hum and Sat Nam are two of my favorites. So Hum means “I am all that is” and Sat Nam is calling upon the internal truth. I inhale on So and exhale on Hum, and the rhythm quiets my mind and keeps me in the moment. You can also try Om Shanti (infinite peace) or something that’s relevant to what you want to manifest (example: inhale Love and exhale Kindness). Eventually, warmth and light will fill you up and radiate out.
We all know the proven benefits of exercise — reducing our risks of disease, decreasing stress, boosting our mood, giving us “better” bodies. I’ve found exercise to be a tremendous relief from the physical and mental pain of grief.
Exercise distracts me from my thoughts. The music and the exertion required pulls me out of my turbulent mind and into the moment. Exercise brings me back in touch with my body. Listening to my heart beat, struggling to pull air into my lungs, feeling my muscles ache and my blood flow remind me that I’m solid and alive. Exercise leaves me feeling exhilarated and strong and I carry those feelings with me for the rest of the day.
Talk or write it out.
Thought and feelings that stay within tend to become convoluted. For me, sharing about my pain gives me clarity and shifts my perspective. It gives me release.
Talk to friends — they want to hear. Be vulnerable — no one is judging (and if they are, they suck and you should find someone else to talk to). Journal — it’s both enlightening and cathartic.
Talking and journaling enable you to take ownership of your situation. These acts can help you become the author of your life — maybe you don’t get to create the story, but you can tell it how you want.
Seeing a therapist is a really good idea. They create a space for you to work through your shit. Good therapists offer an expert perspective and guide you to realizations. They also have deep experience in handling people’s problems. You don’t feel bad dumping on them since they’re getting paid to listen to you. You can use Psychology Today to find a therapist near you that takes your insurance and specializes in the areas you need.
Know that the waves will come and they will go.
And they will leave you gasping and clawing your way back to the surface. But after the waves come, the ocean will be calm for a bit. You can laugh and love and grocery shop. Another wave will come, and you cannot fight it. Let the wave hit you. Let it pull you under. Cry and scream and pound pillows while you wait for it to pass. Because it will pass — your body shuts it down eventually because it wants to survive. You want to survive, and you will.
Sometimes triggers bring the waves or sometimes they come when things just start to feel too normal. Stressors like travel, work, difficult events and people, and deviations from routines can bring the waves. Let your loved ones know if one is coming on. Let them know if they need to hold you or to leave you alone. People want to help you more than anything, they just don’t always know how.
Find mantras or sayings you can repeat to yourself throughout the day, or return to when you need guidance and perspective.
Here are a few of mine:
And I’ll believe in grace and choice (Mumford and Sons). I say this one to myself multiple times a day. It has become my mantra for how I process and handle things. Grace — knowing that love and beauty always come. Choice — choosing who I want to be, what I want to think, and how I will move forward.
The world breaks everyone, and afterwards, some are strong at the broken places. (Ernest Hemingway)
In the moments that we oppose and fixate we become a separate self at war. In the moments that we lean in some and open and find some space but stay in contact, we re-enter the flow. And that’s the meaning of grace. Grace is when we are not opposing the flow. We are actually in a dance that’s filled with presence and heart. (Tara Brach, Dance with Pain)
Grief can be the garden of compassion. If you keep your heart open through everything, your pain can become your greatest ally in your life’s search for love and wisdom. (Rumi)