We recently had to say goodbye to our beloved dog Bailey. Those of you who are pet owners will understand when I say that Bailey was truly a member of our family. It was an incredibly sad time in our household and also a time of great learning and growth for all of us as we were once again reminded of the power of dealing with our feelings in a way that allows them to move through us.
As we all know, life brings with it both happy and sad times. It is common nature to want to cling to the happy times and do everything in our power to avoid the sad times. But, what I have learned from both research and personal experience is that while it may seem counterintuitive, rather than run from our uncomfortable emotions we need to embrace them with open arms.
What I mean by this is that instead of trying to push the sadness away we need to learn how to lean into it because as the saying goes, what we resist persists. On our final day with Bailey, our family leaned into our pain. We sat with Bailey for hours. We held her and loved her and we felt our sadness – deeply.
After saying goodbye, we decided that it would help us if we were to treat our sadness like our adored dog – we imagined the sadness as a sweet and loving puppy and we sat with it and simply allowed it to be.
We even offered ourselves a loving kindness meditation – may I be well, may I be free from suffering, may I be filled with peace. Research has shown that this practice helps to actively cultivate positive emotional states towards ourselves and others and not just in the short term. There is overwhelming research that a simple loving kindness meditation puts people on “trajectories of growth,” enhancing their long-term emotional states. You don’t have to be a regular meditator to practice this. Just visualize the person you are sending the good wishes to, whether it be yourself or another, and repeat the above phrase or one like it several times.
In a sense, we treated ourselves and our painful feelings the way we would a cut on our body. We would never ignore a cut because then it could become worse and even possibly get infected. When one of us is hurt, we treat the cut with gentle, loving care. We wash it, put some soothing cream on it and bandage it up. If one of my kids gets hurt I often kiss the cut to “make it feel better.”
Our emotional wounds need to be treated like our physical wounds. When feelings such as sadness bubble up they are not asking to be denied or shoved down. They are asking to be acknowledged. And when we lean into the feeling rather than resisting it – when we nurture it rather than ignoring it – the feelings are able to move through us and our emotional wounds heal much more quickly just like a well tended to cut.
So, to my sweet, sweet Bailey and to all of you who are struggling with any painful feelings right now I say: May you be well, may you be free from suffering, may you be filled with peace.