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Holding Heartache and Hope

Holding Heartache and Hope

I’m offering a very simple practice for holding both heartache and hope, or any of the paradoxes common in these still challenging times. Grief and gratitude. Sorrow and serenity. 

It’s a variation of The ABC’s of Working with Difficult Emotions that I offered nearly a year ago at the beginning of the pandemic shutdown. Applied to any mental/emotional state or thought patterns that might still be driving you crazy.

A is becoming Aware of whatever we’re experiencing in the moment. Outrage and fear when I watch the evening news. Acknowledging both the outrage and the fear; both are true in the moment. Allowing the experience and my reactions to the experience to be there, even if only for a moment, long enough to be able to work with them skillfully. Accepting that this is what’s happening; especially accepting that this is how I’m reacting to what’s happening.  (This mindful awareness does take practice.) Because my own reactions are what I can work with and shift.

B is to be with whatever we’re experiencing in the moment – shaking the fist at the television, yelling at the kids, wanting to run away and hide for three days.  Not running away or pushing away or pretending or denying.  Being with. Yes, this takes even more practice, and it is how we can work with Shit Happens; Shift Happens, Too.

C is to seek compassionate connection to help bear the unbearable.  Whether that’s the self-compassion of our Wiser Self or the compassionate companioning of our inner compassionate friend or the calming, soothing effect of sharing our woes with someone who cares and can be a compassionate presence. With compassion and connection, we come to an inner calm, and that’s what allows us to re-group, re-think, re-engage.

You can do this practice as a written exercise or as a conversation with a trusted friend.

1.  When you’re ready, let yourself remember a recent moment, just one moment, when you felt safe in your body, safe in your being.  Either a moment in solitude, when you were by yourself, or a moment when you were companioned by another person.

Begin to practice A, B, C.  Be aware of your sensations in your body as you remember this moment.  Allow any thoughts that arise to be there; accept any emotions that arise with this memory.

Be with your experience exactly as it is in this moment of remembering.  Befriend anything that seems difficult or vulnerable.

Bring compassion to yourself or any part of yourself that needs some kindness, some gentle acceptance in this moment.  

2. Let yourself remember another moment, a single moment of being patient; a moment of enduring that got you through. Again, either a moment you experienced on your own or a moment you shared with another. 

Again practicing with A, B, C.

Being aware of, allowing, accepting the moment as you remember it. Being aware of, allowing, accepting any reactions you have in the moment now as you remember it.

Be with and befriend your experience, whatever inner thoughts or self-talk accompany this memory.  And bring compassion to your experience if any of those thoughts are problematic or difficult in some way.

3. Now let yourself remember a moment that was difficult. That was worrisome or challenging in some way. Whether you were by yourself or with another person in that moment.

And practice the A, B, C.

Be aware of all the elements of your experience, then or as you remember it now.  Body sensations, feelings, multiple feelings, thoughts, ideas, judgement, beliefs. Allowing them all to be there; accepting them all just as they are happening.

Being with the experience and being with yourself in having the experience.  Befriending yourself and your reactions to your experience.  Bringing compassion to any part of you that needs compassion, kindness, acceptance for having this experience.

4. Let yourself remember a moment, a small moment of courage or strength, again either a moment you faced an anxious or difficult moment on your own, or safely companioned with another person. 

Practice the A, B, C.

Be aware of all the elements of your experience, then or as you remember it now.  Body sensations, feelings, multiple feelings, thoughts, ideas, judgement, beliefs. Allowing them all to be there; accepting them all just as they are happening.

Being with the experience and being with yourself in having the experience.  Befriending yourself and your reactions to your experience.  Bringing compassion to any part of you that needs compassion, kindness, acceptance for having this experience.

5. Let yourself remember of moment of feeling gratitude, for yourself, some choice or behavior of your own, or gratitude for another person. 

And practice the A, B, C.

Be aware of all the elements of your experience, then or as you remember it now.  Body sensations, feelings, multiple feelings, thoughts, ideas, judgement, beliefs. Allowing them all to be there; accepting them all just as they are happening.

Being with the experience and being with yourself in having the experience.  Befriending yourself and your reactions to your experience.  Bringing compassion to any part of you that needs compassion, kindness, acceptance for having this experience.

6. Take a moment to reflect on your experience of the entire exercise, by yourself or sharing with a partner. Notice any insights you have about yourself, your practice, your resilience. You might take a moment to write down any notes that you want to remember from this exercise.

Note: you can do this exercise with any number of states or behaviors you wish to work with. A moment of grief, and moment of joy, a moment of belligerence, a moment of loneliness, a moment of hope. ABC is what allows us to have our experiences of the moment fully, and re-engage with our troubled turbulent world with more wisdom and courage.

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