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My old pals, grief and loss

by Sarah Ruane

Following on from the article I wrote about my old pal fear, (Ruane, 2020: 18-19), I realised over the last few months that another couple of my pals -grief and loss - also seemed to be around a lot for people.

Grief and loss were things that I got to know from a very young age. They seemed to be always there, for as far back as I can remember. Of course, all of those experiences are what shaped me and made me the person and therapist I am today – most of them I wouldn’t change, even if I could. I understand now that grief and loss have been two of my greatest teachers.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not to downplay any of these life experiences. None of this is easy – at times, it has been the exact opposite of easy. Life can be very painful, even cruel. Yet I feel this topic is so important at the moment, as the whole world seems to be in a process of grieving. Covid-19 continues to serve us up lots of grief and loss. It’s a total rollercoaster and it is affecting each and every one of us in different ways. The world is forever changed, partly for the worse and hopefully, mainly for the better. But one thing is for sure: we are forever changed and that in itself is a type of loss. A loss of what was, a loss of our old normal - a loss of what we thought our futures would look like.

When we are in the eye of a storm, we can feel scared and vulnerable, or angry and frustrated. It can be a very stressful and anxiety-provoking place to be. But if we can come back to our cores, quieten our minds, come back to our hearts, and try to offer some love and kindness to ourselves and the world around us, then we might have some hope of creating a space where healing can occur.

That might all sound very simplistic and naïve to some of you, but it’s far from it. It’s probably one of the most profound and difficult things for us to do as human beings - simply because we have all been hurt in some shape or form. We all have our defences up, to a greater or lesser degree. You don’t get through life without some war wounds. So, bearing all of that in mind, it can be incredibly hard to open ourselves up again. Opening up to ourselves and to each other can feel counterintuitive and yet, to heal, it’s the very thing we need to do.

Some of you might say: what’s she talking about, going around loving ourselves and each other? What does that even mean? Well, what I mean is self-care: being mindful of how we speak to ourselves, how we treat ourselves, the time we give ourselves, simple acts of kindness. It doesn’t necessarily mean a passive state. Sometimes it might mean driving on, and putting your back into something, to get it over the line. Sometimes we do need to push forward and be productive, but even within that, you can still offer some kindness to yourself. In Buddhist psychology, they talk about not adding the second arrow. This means that life can be difficult enough, so we really don’t need to add a second arrow by continuing to hurt ourselves more. For these reasons, I feel being open and vulnerable takes huge courage and strength.

I recently completed a course with Tara Brach and as part of that, she taught us RAIN, which is an acronym for Recognise, Allow, Investigate with compassion and Nurture. So, through patience and compassion, being able to gently hold that hurting part of yourself, allowing it... the act of allowing is a very powerful act. Breathing into it, being with it, not trying to change it, lovingly speaking to it, witnessing it and gently investigating and nurturing it. Through this sacred process, you can feel yourself transform from the inside out. Micro little shifts and changes that can be easily overlooked, but over time and before you know it, they all can add up to some life changing shifts.

My six-year-old son recently described the movie, The Grinch to me. He said, ‘Mammy, the Grinch got his heart hurt when he was small, and it made his heart shrink. But he let the love in, so now his heart can go back to normal size.’ I thought, wow, out of the mouths of babes. No need for any psychotherapy training there!

So, it can be done. Gently, we can dissolve those barriers inside ourselves and across the world. There is so much goodness in the world – so my wish for all of us, for 2021, is to open our hearts, try and find our joy, find our flow. Find the things that make your heart sing. One of the positives that came from 2020 for me was rekindling my love of the outdoors and starting sea swimming. Nature has such grounding and healing powers and it is all there just waiting for us.

As I was writing this piece, Rumi’s poem, “The Guest House” (Helminski, 2005: 228) kept coming into my mind. So I’d like to include a paragraph from it here:

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

Here is to 2021 and having the courage to honour all the different parts of us, even when they are painful and difficult to sit with.

Sarah Ruane qualified in 2006 with a Professional Diploma in Counselling and Psychotherapy from The Liberties College. She then went on to complete a Certificate in Gestalt Psychotherapy and a Postgraduate Diploma in Bodywork Psychotherapy. She has trained extensively in mindfulness and meditation. For 14 years, she has been honoured to hold a compassionate space to assist clients in reaching their highest potential.

Helminski, K. (Ed.) (2005). The Rumi Collection: An Anthology of Translations of Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi. Shambhala.

Ruane, S. (2020). My old pal fear. Inside Out 92. 18-19. 

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