Vipassana’s power in overcoming grief
What is the relation between practicing Vipassana and grief relief? Here is what I learned personally: Vipassana, same as other meditation traditions, has one thing to offer: The power to understand “self” and “whole”. And this is so powerful in helping you overcome your grief of losing a loved one.
Vipassana means “seeing things as they really are”. It’s also called “insight meditation“. It is one of India’s most ancient techniques of meditation. Vipassana uses the techniques of mindful breathing. But also, it enables contemplation of the impermanence of all things. “It is self-realization through self-observation”. (Akanksa, Capstone collection).
How I started meditation
A late Autumn of 2008, on the street back to my home, a rainy day, I saw a small book on the pavement. I took it up. It read “Living in the present moment” by Thich Nhat Hanh. That book got on my bookshelf. But it stayed there for years, I never read it.
The book was ready for me, but I wasn’t to receive it. I wasn’t until that morning of 2012 when my mother died. It became my first path to mindfulness, and later on, Vipassana meditation.
Today, I believe that we only meet, somebody, something, or anything when we are ready. If you are reading these lines, perhaps they are for you.
Let me share with you 3 things I learned from Vipassana and grief. How it helped me overcome the grief of losing my beloved one. But also live the rest of my life more meaningful, and happier. I hope they help you too.
1. Pain and joy are one
My early suffering
I’m writing this sharing eight and a half years after I have lost my most beloved one – my mother. Until that grey morning of January 2012, the word “death” hadn’t had any special meaning to me. If not “Yes, everybody lives and dies, what is as normal as that?”.
The day I lost her and during 2 or 3 years that followed, I never heard the word “death” but profoundly being touched. A word, as simple as many others, just suddenly had all another significance. It was full of sadness, grief, and incomprehension. The whole veil started to be torn.
Observing my pain and joy
Learning Vipassana meditation, I learn to firstly observe this extreme suffering. During days of sitting silently, I learn about myself, my feelings, my grief. Embrace it was easier when I let it show through.
This observation of mental formations also made me realize other feelings I had. I also had joy, inspirations, and consolation, when I observe a tree, a flower, or a dewdrop. The suffering, and joy of our plant, animal, and human ancestors are in each cell of our body. We are one with them. We don’ have separate joy, nor sadness. Only deep happiness we feel, when we learn how to touch the true nature of existence.
My joy is like spring, so warm it makes flowers bloom in all walks of life. My pain is like a river of tears, so full it fills the four oceans. Please call me by my true names, so I can hear all my cries and laughs at once, so I can see that my joy and pain are one.Thich Nhat Hanh
Today I learn to embrace my pain and my joy. I remember a poem by Thich Nhat Hanh: “Call me by my true names, so I can see that my joy and pain are one.”
2. With Vipassana, I learned everything was impermanent
“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”
A big question
At an early age, I was a pure communist materialist. I was taught so, in Vietnam, in my community, in the 1980s. So strange it might seem, I never raised any question. What question did you need to raise, when you were immersed in a fairy-tale happy childhood? But the day my mother passed away, an all big question hovered my mind.
Where is she? I never stopped asking. Then I started reading all books about life after death. I tried to imagine her journey. There was not one day I didn’t dream of her. During several months, her face and body gradually changed in my dreams, day by day.
Her pale and yellow face, her small shrunk body ravaged by cancer disappeared little by little. Less yellow, a bit with more living energy each day. Until one day, it was not anymore the image of an ill person. She became my mother, more than ever beautiful, and full of life, in my dreams.
Impermanence of things
Today, after almost a decade, and many years practicing Vipassana meditation, I know she has never arrived, nor left me. She has been always there, manifested under innumerable beings.
I have learned about the impermanence of things. Like Thich Nhat Hanh said, “When you lose a loved one, you suffer. But if you know how to look deeply, you have a chance to realize that his or her nature is truly the nature of no birth, no death”.
The practice meditation does not only offer us the possibility to observe and embrace our grief, but also a profound look into the nature of things.
When I breathe in mindfully, I know that the oxygen from the treas around my house enter my body, and becomes part of my cells. When I eat mindfully, I know that each cell of the plants and fruits also becomes part of myself. And one day I become part of them. Nothing appears, nor disappears.
Do not say that I’ll depart tomorrow, because even today I still arrive. Look deeply: I arrive in every second to be a bud on a spring branch. To be a tiny bird, with wings still fragile, learning to sing in my new nest.Thich Nhat Hanh
That was how Vipassana and grief of losing my beloved one changed my world view. They helped me feel more grounded in this ever-changing river of life.
3. Vipassana delivers grief when you become a detached observer
With Vipassana meditation, we become a detached observer. Firstly, we observe our “self”. Our mental formations, our feelings. This understanding of “self” brings a bigger understanding: that of the “whole”. And we observe ourselves, without being impacted by it, whether it’s our joy or sorrows.
This way, we know too, that nothing belongs to us, but all. My mother never belonged to me. She is the manifestation of all that is. Like I am.
One day, doing a silent walking meditation, I suddenly understood this. I felt my mother in each and every cell of my body, in each and every tree around me, in the wind that caressed my face. I knew she was walking with me. My grief has gone forever, replaced with profound joy.
“Anyone who has lost something they thought was theirs forever finally comes to realize that nothing really belongs to them.”
― Paulo Coelho
Vipassana and grief – We can relieve our pain
When we lose a beloved one, we are full of grief. Our world might turn upside down. We don’t know upon which to lean and to relieve this profound suffering.
With Vipassana meditation, we learn that impermanence is the nature of all things. That we are part of all, and our joy and sufferings are one. We become a detached observer, knowing that we are part of all. Nothing comes and nothing goes.
That is how practicing Vipassana can help deliver our grief of losing a beloved one. And that our beloved one is still manifested in innumerable beings, right now, with us.