Witnessing Grief

Witnessing Grief

When moments of sadness or anger rise up in me, I want to run away and crawl inside my shell like a turtle not letting anyone see my pain.

I developed this reaction as a teenager. Boys crying was a sign of weakness in the Southern Texas world of my youth.

I used to think it was easier to avoid pain and hurt, or attack others, or be cynical. Now I realize that I was just holding the pain inside of me letting it boil as I built a wall around my heart.

As an adult, I’ve embraced something different. Instead of running away from the sadness, I try to lean into it and allow others to witness my vulnerability.

When my grief is witnessed, all the masks and layers I use as protection wash away. I am seen as I am, and at times that can appear like a hurt child seeking love.

Even though it can be an exhausting experience, I feel tears helping to purify and cleanse my soul. I walk away feeling lighter and more open.

In this vulnerability I feel empowered by allowing others to witness it.

Before I created Grief Yoga, being with someone in grief was challenging to me. As an empath, taking on their pain could get overwhelming for me. I wanted to fix the problem or help them see the positive side in the darkness.

I have learned that holding compassionate space as others experience these vulnerable feelings is one of the most sacred things in life.

In holding that space of grief, instead of wanting them to change or stop or be different, my place is to accept them just as they are and hold that space with love.

As an empath, I have to remind myself not to take on the pain of others and to be aware of what’s happening and acknowledge it is their pain – not mine. I have enough pain to hold onto. I remind myself to not take on their pain but to just hold the sacred space and breathe.

As I breathe, developing a healthy space of detachment is helpful. Detachment doesn’t mean I don’t care. It’s more focused on taking care of myself first and not feeling like I need to save the other person.

It’s hard for two wounded people to try to heal. It’s best if one person can hold the light for the person who is surrounded in darkness.

As I teach Grief Yoga, I remind students that when someone is crying beside you, to please not touch them. It can shift their energy of moving the sadness through. I know that hugging someone or touching someone to let them know they’re not alone is an organic thing we want to do. But it can also come from a place where you feel uncomfortable in the sadness and want to fix them.

I encourage students to be present and hear the grief in others. As you witness it, don’t abandon yourself. Connect back to your body and breath.

Inquire within, “How is this making me feel?” “Where does sadness live in my mind and body?” “Can I place a hand on myself and hold myself with compassion and love right here as I witness another person’s pain?”

Below are some tips and tools to help witness grief in others and yourself with compassionate presence.

  1. Don’t Run Away – When feeling overwhelmed, feel where you’re touching the earth and take a deep breath. As you get present, inquire where the grief lives within your body and place your hand on that space and just hold it with grace. Stay present to what is and let it wash over you.
  2. Acknowledge the Pain – When witnessing someone in pain, recognize you don’t have to fix them. See if you can hold the space with compassion while not taking on their pain. Know that your presence can be even more powerful without words or touch. Acknowledge their pain and let them know they don’t have to hide or rush through the grief.
  3. Share from the Heart – During the intense emotion of grief that comes through, inquire within where the love is present. There’s no need to look for a silver lining, but instead perhaps share a memory or story.  Let them share and help them to know you are there to listen.

It takes immense courage to truly be seen when you feel wounded inside. To allow yourself to be witnessed when your heart is vulnerable and hurt. And to witness the tears and hurt flow as you hold space with another. Recognize in that moment that you are an openhearted warrior. I call this Heart Courage.