On Saturday April 10, 2021, the topic for Teachers’ Corner was “Grief.”
For seated meditation, we started with a 10-minute guided meditation on “Encountering Grief” by Roshi Joan Halifax followed by 20 minutes of silent sitting. After meditation, Belinda shared her recent experience with grief when she lost her cat, and then she read excerpts from Rev. Domyo Burk’s podcast teaching on “Grief in Buddhism Part 1: Buddhist Teachings on Grief and the Danger of Spiritual Bypassing,” followed by the group listening to the full podcast teaching of Rev. Domyo Burk’s “Grief in Buddhism Part 2: Some Buddhist Practices Helpful for Facing and Integrating Grief.”
While we often would much prefer to “get over” our grief because it is so painful, Rev. Domyo Burk told us that it’s easy to suppress or bypass this emotion, which may leave us stuck in one of the early stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, or depression), or unable to face reality or live with a fully open heart. She describes grief as: “love in the face of loss” – and asked if we really want to stop loving in order to stop feeling grief?
Unfortunately, some Buddhist teachings may seem to suggest it’s better if we don’t feel grief, or that grief is simply delusional or invalid. However, the ability to stop feeling an emotion is not at all the same thing as having reached one’s peace with what is behind that emotion. She shared how Buddhism has evolved and there are some practices that could help us access that grief deep inside of us, so that we can become more familiar with it, overcome our fear of drowning in it, and feel a connection to all beings and therefore feel grief at the loss of any part of creation. Ultimately, as she quoted Rinzai teacher, Yamada Koun, who said: “if you cannot weep with a person who is crying, there is no kensho (the awakening to true self-nature).” These practices include: mindfulness of grief, rituals, letting go of attachments that are stories generated in our mind besides the “rather clean and straightforward pain of grief,” and potentially even seeing grief as the fifth Brahmavihara.
The group sharing that followed was a deeply supportive session, where everyone felt safe to openly share their personal experiences with grief – from losing a husband or father-in-law, to losing pets, to an ongoing and anticipated loss of a mother suffering from severe dementia. A quote from the teacher’s lecture particularly resonated with everyone: “our love continues, the loss remains.” We shared how it is important to give ourselves permission and time to grieve in whatever ways we need to, and how we should seek support and not feel we are burdening others. We discussed how we might “make use” of grief as a lifelong practice, and perhaps our deep experiences with grief can one day allow us to better understand and help others who are grieving as well.
All recordings we shared during our session are posted below.
From the Teachers: Grief
DOWNLOAD AUDIO TRANSCRIPT
DOWNLOAD AUDIO TRANSCRIPT
* Rev. Domyo Burk is founder and guiding teacher at Bright Way Zen in Portland, OR. She was ordained as a novice Zen monk in 2001, and spent five years (2001-2006) living in a residential Zen community (Dharma Rain Zen Center) doing full-time formal Zen practice. She received Dharma Transmission from Rev. Gyokuko Carlson in 2010, and currently devotes full time to Bright Way Zen, which she founded in 2011, as well as sharing the Dharma in other formats, such as through the Zen Studies Podcast that she launched in 2017.
Encountering Grief — Guided meditation by Roshi Joan Halifax **
** Roshi Joan Halifax, Ph.D. is a Buddhist teacher, Zen priest, anthropologist, and pioneer in the field of end-of-life care. She is Founder, Abbot, and Head Teacher of Upaya Institute and Zen Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She studied for a decade with Zen Teacher Seung Sahn and was a teacher in the Kwan Um Zen School. She received the Lamp Transmission from Thich Nhat Hanh and was given Inka by Roshi Bernie Glassman.