widening the circle of compassion grief

Widening The Circle of Compassion: Start With Your Grieving Heart

By Heather Stang, MA, C-IAYT

Posted: August 18, 2023

Compassion begins within. In the landscape of grief, your heart needs care first. Tend to it with kindness, and watch how it opens up to the world.

In a previous post, we explored the Six Paramitas for creating peace during grief. Today, we'll take another step on this journey with Pema Chödrön's insights from When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times, specifically the chapter called "Widening The Circle of Compassion." As you probably know, compassion can be elusive, especially when grief clouds our vision. Yet, cultivating it is a profound way to heal. The key is to begin with yourself.

Self-Compassion: The Starting Point

When grief strikes, it's natural to look outside for comfort. But often, it's within ourselves that the most potent healing can be found. Compassion starts with giving yourself space to feel, free from judgment.

  1. Sit with What You Feel: Don't shy away from emotions. Embrace them. Feel them. You might be surprised at what surfaces when you allow yourself this freedom.
  2. Respond with Kindness: Be gentle with yourself. Offer yourself the kindness and understanding that you might extend to a dear friend.
  3. Recognize Your Needs: Grieving requires care and tenderness. What do you need right now? Listen to your inner voice.

Widening the Compassion Circle

Once your heart feels safe and tended to, it naturally opens up. You'll find it easier to connect with others, of course some more than others. It is often said that grief rewrites your address book. 

  1. Grieving Family and Friends: Grief is a shared experience. Extend the compassion you've cultivated within to those nearest to you.
  2. Chosen Family: It is often said that grief rewrites your address book. Many of us rebuild our contact list with the people that understand us best, which may not be immediate family and long term friends.
  3. Your Grief Community: Connect with those who understand your journey. Share, listen, and grow together.
  4. Strangers and the World: Your heart's capacity for love is boundless. Reach out to the world, one compassionate act at a time. You never know what another human is struggling with, even if they look put together on the outside. 

Self-compassion Does Not Mean Perfection

The path of compassion is neither straight nor easy. But it starts with you. It widens from there. In grief, this is not just a comfort; it's a transformative force. Your lens becomes clear, and your heart opens up.

This is not always easy when you are grieving, so think of it as a process not an accomplishment. Give yourself praise when you catch yourself being kind, whether to yourself or others. If you find yourself stuck in criticism, you can use one of my favorite mantras, "this is hard, and I am doing my best."

Grief Book Club

If you haven't yet, consider reading our first blog on the Six Paramitas that is also inspired by When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times. Both these concepts weave together in a way that can profoundly support you in grief.

And remember, if you need companionship on this journey, our grief support community at Awaken is here for you. We support each other in embracing these ideas and living fully after loss.

Heather Stang, MA, C-IAYT

About the author

Heather Stang, M.A. is the author of Living with Grief and the guided journal, From Grief To Peace. She is the creator of the Mindfulness & Grief System that is featured in the Handbook of Grief Therapies (2023) and is the founder of Awaken, a mindfulness-based online grief support group. Heather also hosts the Mindfulness & Grief Podcast, and offers mindfulness-based grief support online through her organization, the Mindfulness & Grief Institute. She holds a Masters degree in Thanatology (Death, Dying, and Bereavement) from Hood College in Maryland, and is a certified Yoga Therapist. She currently lives in Falling Waters, WV.

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