In our classes, when we turn toward difficult emotions, we often say, “This is where the rubber meets the road.” In other words: This is where it gets tough, but also, this is why we’re doing this practice.
I have five parents: two in-laws, two birth, one step. In the fall of 2021, my mother-in-law died of pancreatic cancer; my father-in-law died ten days later. In spring 2022, my own father died. A few months after that, my stepmom fell and hit her head so hard she temporarily lost memory and speech. Then in 2023, my mom got hit by a car in a crosswalk, shattering her hip and femur.
I had the honor of caring for all these dear ones, tending to them during their final months and days, or helping them on the road to healing. I also had the challenge of moving through a whole host of difficult emotions like grief, anger, depression, fear, anxiety, frustration, overwhelm, and loneliness, to name a few.
I’m sharing a few takeaways in the hopes that when the tough stuff comes, you might find some comfort here.
I keep reminding myself: This is a practice of sitting WITH. Not of changing or fixing anything, not of inviting calm or peace of mind or no-thoughts or no-feelings. It’s just sitting with whatever’s here, including grief, loss, anger, exhaustion, frustration, fear . . . the whole catastrophe. Over and over again I’ve found that if I can let go of NOT wanting whatever I’m feeling and just FEEL it, allow it, it will work its way through and something else will arise.
Let It Flow
After my dad died, the initial sadness was intense. As it eased, my grief would sneak up on me when I least expected it. I remember a time in spin cycling class. It’s a high energy environment with colorful lights, loud music, and a room full of hard-working humans. One minute I was pedaling away, grinning and bopping to the music; the next minute I was sobbing all over the handlebars. My first thought was, This is too much. I gotta get outta here! followed quickly by I must stop crying! But I decided to stay and let myself feel the sadness. (Everyone was focused on their own workout; I was happily invisible.) I was surprised to notice that the sadness moved through pretty quickly, giving way to gratitude for my dad’s life, and then for my own healthy strong body, and then a moment of joy at being alive. I felt relieved, too. Cleaner. It was amazing to watch the feelings flow through. It surprised me!
Rest In Impermanence
Vipassana teacher Kamala Masters often invites students to “rest in impermanence”. This reminds me of a saying about spring weather in the PNW: If you don’t like it, don’t worry – it’ll change in fifteen minutes! This is true for the weather of our minds as well. So especially when things are tough, it can help to remember that it won’t always be like this. This rings true in both large and small ways. For example, after my mom’s accident, I tried to remember both that she would eventually heal AND to savor moments of joy, ease, and connection as they arose. It was a difficult time, for sure, but there were pockets of pleasure, connection, and meaning scattered throughout.
Rest Into Recordings
Usually I practice in silence, but when life feels difficult, I turn to recordings of guided practice. I’m often able to settle better with the help of a gentle teacher. It feels deeply kind to offer myself this simple support. You can enjoy our offerings here.
Try Practicing with Others Online
When we’re grieving (or exhausted or deeply stressed or caretaking or . . . ), it can feel risky and overwhelming to head out into the world. Practicing with others online can offer the support of community while allowing us a little extra space for tears or silence or lying down – whatever we need in the moment.
Back to Basics
When difficult emotions overwhelm, it helps when I remember I can narrow my practice to the most basic. Feel the breath moving. Label it: In, Out. Or perhaps counting the breath. I remember Executive Director Tim Burnett telling me in early COVID days that the only practice he could manage was counting the breath. Up to 10, back down, over and over. Keeping it simple can be very supportive.
Don’t forget loving kindness! You might choose a guided practice with a favorite teacher. Let yourself bask in the warm feelings. Or make LK your primary practice. I spent a difficult year saying “I love you” to myself throughout my morning sits. It helped!
Rubber + Road = Singing Hymns
This is why we practice: so it’s available to us in times of trouble. I was so grateful to have my practice already in place when these life-altering losses appeared. Honestly, I don’t know how people navigate this stuff without it.
I remember a radio story about a woman who broke her leg skiing. She was way out in the wilderness. While her husband went for help, she lay down in the snow and sang hymns.
When search and rescue finally arrived, she sang hymns as they carried her out over bumpy miles, loaded her into the ambulance, drove to a distant ER — all the way into surgery. Singing did not take any effort: Those hymns were in her bones from years of singing them every Sunday.
I want my practice to be that accessible, that present – especially in times of trouble. So every day I sing my silent hymn to breath, to body, to this holy moment.
Glad to be here with you.