Mindful Exploration When Sad
Train first, then bus, and then again train, heading for a town south in Norway. I was concentrating on the conference I should attend. The start of the day had been as usual, meaning waking up early, having a shower, a meditation, and the usual preparations for the day. I was totally unprepared for the sudden sorrow that hit me.
The bus crossed a bridge over a gap in the fjord below. On this bridge my sister died in a car accident some ten years ago. Her death revealed that she had more troubles than anyone knew of, and that she must have felt terribly lonely with her burden. She left three young children who loved their mother.
I have crossed this bridge many times after the accident, and while I always give her a sad thought, I usually let it be with that. Death is part of life, her children have been taken good care of by their father, and the life creates a distance to whatever happens, even to the death of a loved one.
This crossing was different. I felt a sudden deep sorrow, as if she should have died only days ago. The strong emotions came as out of nothing. I suddenly remembered her smiles, her always encouraging words, her laughing eyes, her jokes, her vitality, her hug when I met her. Regardless her own problems, she always was engaged in others well-beeing. And I missed her so much. The grief was not really overwhelming, but it was strong, and first when I again had to change to a new train it did fade away.
Everyone shall experience losses, sorrows and grief. If we turn to Buddha, that is one of the four noble truths. And in such a context there is nothing special with my story, or with my loss. There had to be more to this than my memories alone. Outside the windows the winter landscape flickered by. I watched, but did not see, sitting buried in my own thoughts. Something had fired up my emotional mind, my Amygdala, making the memories of my sister so vivid as if she was on the bus with me. And when I managed to shake the strongest emotions off my mind, I identified the unknown factor.
Two days earlier my sister’s father-in-law had passed away after years with failing health. I received the message, and I felt sympathy for my ex brother-in-law, and of course for my niece and nephews. And I until the moment on the bus, I believed I dealt with the situation there and then, wondering only if I could arrange to go to the funeral or not. And as far as I know, his death was not in my conscious mind when I crossed the bridge. Instead the loss of my sister became stronger, seemingly for no special reason.
I believe I became conscious of connections up until then buried into my subconscious mind, expressed not in rational thoughts, but in an emotional reaction. Feelings are messengers not to neglect, even in those situations where they lack immediate explanations.
This time I think I found a rationale behind the feelings that hit me. At least I found an explanation that settled my wondering mind. And the explanation, whether right or wrong, popped up in my conscious mind with the help of what I believe was a mindful exploration of something that I in the beginning did not understand.
If I had not been used to take a mindful approach, stimulating a Zen-attitude, accepting the sorrow and sadness, but also exploring what this could be all about, would I in that case continued to be be a captive of my feelings? Would I have been preoccupied with the thoughts of my loss still? Was it a Zen-attitude that enabled me so fast to move out of my immense sadness, and move back into a more balanced mind? I do not know. But I am rather sure that mindfulness, facing reality, is better than trying to escape from feelings and situations we do not like. The alternative, I think, can end up in a life on the run.