Loving, Losing, and Learning To Let Go

Photo: Africa Studio/Shutterstock
Photo: Africa Studio/Shutterstock
As someone who is prone to extreme anxiety and muscle tension, it’s no surprise that I have been carrying a great deal of tension in my body since my husband’s passing. Body scan meditations have been incredibly helpful because they allow me to notice where I am holding tension.

Still, I am facing some strong feelings of resistance. Despite the rational part of my brain knowing it is not possible, a big part of my mind is still fighting for my husband to be alive. It is only during body scans that I can feel my resistance in the form of muscle tension and feel a bit of a release as the practice progresses.

After ten months, you would think the letting go would get easier. In a way, I suppose it has. In yet another way, I know I’m not ready to let go at all.

2015-06-06 10.29.48This month, in particular, will be a tough one. My wedding anniversary is coming up in just a couple days. My husband’s birthday is next week. Without him, these celebratory moments become piercing moments of devastation.

It’s strange how confusing it all is, how difficult to know someone is gone and yet to want them back so badly. It defies all logic, and yet it is human nature. We become attached to people and, when we lose them, it’s as if we’ve lost a part of ourselves.

Knowing that letting go is such an important part of the practice is difficult to embrace. But I know I can’t keep hanging on to the desire for my husband to still be alive. It’s not healthy, and it prevents me from living the rest of my own life.

So, I try to move forward in the best way I know how, by meditating and practicing yoga and continuing to notice the ever-evolving stages of grief. Perhaps one day I will truly accept that my husband is gone, but right now–I just need to make it through this month.

Wishing love and bunniness for all, despite my heavy heart.

For more about grieving:

  • Allowing Room for Healing from Grief
  • Running On Om Podcast
  • Resources:

  • Body Scan Meditation from Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program
  • Running On Om Podcast

    Just in case you missed the announcement on Facebook last week, I thought I’d post the interview I did with Julia Hanlon for the Running On Om podcast.

    If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, anxiety, or grief, I hope this podcast can provide a little bit of hope. We also talk a lot about the origins of Bunny Buddhism, so if you’re interested in learning more about how Bunny Buddhism came to be, this might answer your questions.

    Please let me know what you think!

    ROO Podcast Image

    ROO Podcast #130: Krista Lester on How Bunnies and Buddhism Saved Her…

    Posted by Running On Om on Friday, May 22, 2015

    Allowing Room for Healing from Grief

    Today is the first day since my husband’s suicide that I experienced the witness in my meditation. For the past eight months, I have experienced only an ongoing struggle with anger, tears, and racing thoughts that were intractable to say the least.

    Photo: Tonny de Lasson/Shutterstock
    Photo: Tonny de Lasson/Shutterstock
    If I were an enlightened being whose practice had taken me to a level where I no longer held any attachments, perhaps it would have taken less time to reach this stage. But I am not an enlightened being. I am an ordinary person dealing with ordinary life and grieving the loss of someone I loved in the best way I know how.

    To this point, I have tried mostly to be compassionate with myself and to allow room for the grieving process. This meant letting some overwhelming feelings exist in their extreme form for a while. The best I could do was refrain from feeding any additional energy into them.

    At long last, the extreme feelings have settled into more manageable moments of thought. Now, when thoughts arise about incredibly painful aspects of my husband’s death, I can breathe with the pain and let go of the storyline. I feel myself becoming closer to forgiveness for both him and myself, though I know it will still take time.

    While I’m not sure today’s experience is quite cause for celebration, I would say I think it is a sign of healing. I know the experience of losing my husband will color the rest of my life, but it doesn’t have to dictate the rest of my life. I will take this small sign of health as a signal that I am heading in the right direction and as motivation to keep on hopping.

    For more about grieving:

  • Grieving Mindfully with Mindfulness Mutt
  • How to Deal with Intense Emotions in Meditation: 3 Simple Steps
  • Recommended Reading:

    “We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”
    – Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times

    How to Deal with Intense Emotions in Meditation: 3 Simple Steps

    As many of you know from a previous post, I lost my husband to suicide last August. If you have noticed me being a bit less frequent in my bunny photo posts since then, this is why. I am still very much grieving.

    Photo: Witsanu Keephimai/Shutterstock
    Photo: Witsanu Keephimai/Shutterstock

    Meditation has helped me enormously—I have no doubt—in dealing with this devastating loss. What I find strange, though, is that memories of my husband don’t come up every time I sit. I would think there would be so many emotions and so many memories to sort through that they would come up in every meditation session.

    Why don’t they?

    Today, I think I found my answer. I am now at a point where the emotions aren’t hitting me at every single moment of every day. They hit me when I am over-stressed or over-tired and they hit me when something unexpectedly triggers a specific memory. When I cued up a guided 30-minute body scan meditation today, it unexpectedly triggered a specific memory.

    At one point, the meditation began focusing on the chest and the heart and the lungs and these precious systems that support life. As soon as I thought about these systems, my mind was taken to the hospital, where I had watched for 90 minutes as 20 or more doctors gathered around my husband’s bed in the ICU and tried to restore his pulse and breathing.

    Of course, tears came. I briefly panicked and awaited the full-body sobs. I thought for a moment that the whole meditation process was a wasted effort. But this kind of thing has happened to me so many times now that I have learned how to deal with it. The approach is always the same:

    • Acknowledge the memory and the emotion;
    • Try not to fight it and just let it be;
    • Gently return to the meditation, when you are ready.

    For me, this meant seeing that hospital scene for a moment and reminding myself I was no longer there. The full-body sobs came and went, briefly, as soon as I allowed myself to feel. And then the task became gently turning my thoughts back to my breathing and the guided meditation.

    As I write this, it sounds so easy. It sounds like I expect that every intense emotion can be handled in one sitting with three simple steps. But the fact is, it is not at all easy. It is incredibly difficult. I have been doing this over and over and over again since August. And I only know it is worth the trouble when I reflect on where I used to be.

    When I read that post from September, I realize how far I have come. The fact that intense emotions don’t come up in every sitting is the result of working through the grieving process in the best way I can. I am fortunate to have made some progress.

    To be fair, I think it is also important to note that I have had some fantastic professional help throughout this entire process. I would encourage anyone dealing with intense emotions to find a reputable therapist and to keep looking until you find one you trust. Meditation can help with intense emotions, but sometimes we all need a little more help. And there is absolutely no shame in asking.

    Today’s meditation was one of the guided meditations included in the Insight Timer App. I am a fan of this app and often use it just for the timer and chimes, but today I used Elisha Goldstein’s 30-minute body scan meditation.

    Elisha Goldstein’s 30-minute body scan meditation is also available online at ElishaGoldstein.com.

    Image: Witsanu Keephimai/Shutterstock.

    Searching for the Bunniness within the Pain

    With special thanks to Del C. for the perfect photo to match how I’m feeling lately, here is a moment of bunniness featuring Apples the English Angora bun.

    Apples the bunny, Photo courtesy of Del C.
    Apples the bunny, Photo courtesy of Del C.

    Please note: If you do not wish to read anything that may trigger negative emotions, please stop reading now.

    From time to time, despite our beliefs and all the structures we have put in place to help us find our strength, life presents us with a challenge that tests us to our limits and even beyond them.

    While the photo of Apples speaks to me, the truth is that the message is quite a bit more difficult. As you may have guessed from my previous post, I have been dealing with some big personal stuff. For a few weeks, I have been hiding in my metaphorical basket, trying to find the courage to emerge and face the world.


    A few weeks ago, my husband and I took a lovely week-long vacation to Maine. Two days after our return, my husband texted me to say he was coming home from work. When he still wasn’t home two hours later, I started to panic. My sister and I called every authority we could imagine. Four hours after his text, the police called to tell me my husband was in an ambulance on his way to a nearby hospital.

    He had intentionally taken a massive overdose of his prescription medications for depression and anxiety. He was unconscious when they found him, and despite the best efforts of doctors at a world-class hospital, he never regained consciousness. He lost all brain function and his organs began to fail one by one. I sat with him in the ICU for four days, and I was holding his hand when his heart stopped.

    He was 33 years old. We were together for 14 of those years. Now, I am left to pick up the pieces of the life we built together. Somehow, I am supposed to move on.

    I try to remind myself of all the teachings on attachment and letting go, but I am at a loss for what I am going to do without him. When I meditate, my breathing gets lost behind all the tears. Attempts at mindfulness turn immediately to memories of the best and the worst moments of our lives together.

    I miss him so much. I loved him more than he knew. I want nothing more than to hold him just one more time. But I can’t. I am having more than a little trouble finding the bunniness within the pain right now. But I know that is what I have to do, and I will continue to try.


    My Bunny Mind Feels Dull

    When I first tried meditation, it was relatively easy to continue practicing on a daily basis because of the sheer novelty. I had boundless curiosity about my own mind and how the thoughts spasmodically jumped around from one topic to the next.

    It was bizarre…and endlessly fascinating.

    I will never forget the first time I heard the phone ring while I was meditating. The urge to answer the phone was so intense I had to make an enormous effort to refrain from jumping up and answering it. The sensations in that moment were nearly overpowering, but I learned to stay put and subsequent phone calls were easier and easier to resist.

    Mr. Bunny SnackingFor quite some time—years even—meditation was the only thing I wanted to do. Even though I knew I had become attached to the practice, I craved my alone time. When I got it, I marveled at how difficult some thoughts were to accept and let go and how easy others were.

    It almost turned into a form of entertainment.

    Over time, the thoughts became less frantic and intense. I learned to accept and let go of little triggers and even some big ones. I no longer felt imprisoned by my own mind. I had tasted freedom from intense emotions. And, despite an awareness that I was clinging, I kept meditating because I wanted to see just how much more I could learn.

    Five years later, my experience of meditation is much, much different.

    When I sit to meditate these days, I set my timer, focus on my breathing and notice very little. Thoughts still come and go, but they are comparatively mundane—tiny fragments of memories or anticipations that don’t carry much weight.

    I face what seems to be a gaping pit of mental dullness.

    I know this development is common. Dullness is one of the five hindrances in Buddhism, and there are various methods suggested as an antidote to the dullness. I am working on having greater alertness and awareness during my meditation.

    But sometimes I believe it is necessary simply to notice the dullness.


    Photo: “Mr. Bunny Snacking” by Kelly Cookson is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    Bunny Buddhism Meets Elephant Journal

    Sometimes a bunny quote is enough. Sometimes it is not.

    A number of Buddhist meditation practices have influenced Bunny Buddhism over the years. Today, I would like to share with you an article I recently wrote for elephant journal called “Tonglen: 4 Steps to Finding Compassion for Strangers.”

    Why read the article? Because, as every bunny knows, it’s hard to find compassion in confined spaces.

    2014-05-30 22.57.02

    Why Buddhism?

    One of the first questions that comes my way whenever someone hears about the Bunny Buddhism book is, “Why Buddhism?” Of the many reasons I could give, one jumps out at me more than the others. Quite simply, Buddhism appeals to me because it acknowledges that suffering exists.

    When I first decided to learn about Buddhism, I did what many people do nowadays when they want to learn about something: I googled it and landed on Wikipedia. Before long, I came to the section on the Four Noble Truths. As soon I read that the first of the Four Noble Truths is the truth of suffering, I felt a great sense of relief.

    For many, many years, I had been trying to beat depression, anxiety, and chronic myofascial pain into submission with just about every solution I could imagine. When the last wave of depression crashed down on me, I realized my methods had completely failed and I needed to try something new. I was finally ready to give meditation an honest try. And very soon, my entire world changed. At last, I could see how I was contributing to my own despair and I could begin to avoid my more destructive habits.

    The other Noble Truths were much more challenging for me to embrace. I did not believe there was a way to end suffering. To be honest, I’m still not sure I do. But I am coming to understand that this “end” of suffering is not so much a promise that I will one day find lasting happiness so much as it is a guide to some practical ways to reduce unnecessary suffering, a way to let go of all those thoughts that do nothing but add to what is already quite painful.

    So, why Buddhism? It’s because I suffer. It’s because we all suffer, and we can all make changes in our lives to reduce that suffering. Buddhism may be part of that process. But let’s not forget that religion isn’t for everyone. One of my all-time favorite quotes from His Holiness the Dalai Lama is, “Don’t try to use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist; use it to be a better whatever-you-already-are.”

    In the end, it doesn’t matter whether someone identifies with Buddhism. Everyone can identify with pain and loss. Everyone can understand resistance to change and irrational fear and bad habits we can’t seem to break. And so, in deference to the fact that not everyone wants to embrace an entirely new religion, I chose to share some aspects of Buddhism with others using a bunny as my mouthpiece. The truth of the message is the same, just softer…and a bit more cuddly.

    2014-04-02 07.28.11

    About the Book

    When I learned that some of my humble Bunny Buddhism tweets were going to become a book, I was overjoyed. It was a strange feeling and one I didn’t know how to handle. I had struggled with crippling depression and anxiety for most of my life, and yet here I was, wanting to sing and dance and shout from mountaintops that something wonderful had happened to – of all people – ME. But then, as it often does, the unexpected occurred.

    I had a crisis of conscience.

    In the ensuing months, my meditation practice turned to unrelenting thoughts and feelings of unworthiness. Who am I to be sharing wisdom with the world? I don’t deserve this book. I’m no Buddhist guru. I’m not any kind of an authority. I’m just a person who decided to take a few minutes out of each day to bring a little light into my life.

    Now, here we are a few weeks away from the book release date, and it occurs to me that I don’t have to be a guru. As the bunny says, “I am not the only bunny who suffers.” And that’s just it. That’s what I have to offer. I am in it with you. I struggle. I hurt. I panic. I cry. I fall and get back up again, even when I would rather remain in a heap on the floor. It’s hard but I do it, and I don’t do it alone. So, I hope you will hop with me through this next stage of the Bunny Buddhism journey. Let me offer you some words of bunny wisdom because we all need a little bit of light in each day.

    Order your copy of Bunny Buddhism: Hopping Along the Path to Enlightenment now:
    Barnes & Noble

    To donate a portion of your order to the House Rabbit Society or another charity of your choice, please consider ordering through Amazon Smile.

    With gratitude, love and bunniness.

    Cover Image

    This is why I meditate

    Since Bunny Buddhism began a few years ago, a 140-character sentiment on Twitter has been sufficient. Why change now?  Well, because it strikes me that there is a part of @BunnyBuddhism that might not be apparent from Twitter. Bunny Buddhism is not the creation of some happy-go-lucky individual who always knows the right thing to say and do. It is not the creation of someone who naturally knows how to be happy and life-affirming. On the contrary, I created Bunny Buddhism as a lifeline because I know my thoughts will spiral into rampant negativity and gloom if I leave them unchecked. It is only when I take some time to meditate and try to reframe my thoughts in a positive way that I can come up with a way to approach life that feels almost right for me.

    And there is absolutely no denying that it is a lengthy and difficult process.

    Here’s an example of what I mean. Just as I was about to go to sleep last night, I heard a sudden noise that filled me with panic. I froze for a moment, not sure whether the sound came from inside or outside, and then I heard a woman outside screaming for help. I ran to the window and looked into total blackness. I heard her scream again, tried to figure out where she was, ran for my phone, and yelled to my husband, “Someone is screaming for help!” I wanted to call 911, but I had no idea what to tell them. The voice was just far enough away that I had no idea where the woman was. So I ran back to the window and yelled, “Where are you?” And then I heard other voices speaking more calmly. Moments later, I heard sirens, and I saw rescue vehicles stop at a house about 50 yards away and across a 30-foot drop that stands between my property and the next. I breathed a sigh of relief that the professionals had arrived to tend to the scene despite my inability to process coherent thoughts through my panic.

    I sat listening at the window for at least half an hour, staring at the flashing lights, wanting to help, wondering if I would be getting in the way, knowing there was not really anything I could do, and rebuking myself for not jumping into action sooner. I tried to convince myself the situation was being handled, but I knew there was no chance I was going to be able to fall asleep. My husband decided to go see what was going on. He came back to tell me rescue personnel had just cut a man out of his car after he had wrecked it into a massive concrete divider in the street. I was shocked. I have heard car crashes, and this did not sound like one. There was no screeching of tires, no crunching metal, no breaking glass – just the sound of something big sliding or falling and then someone screaming. It turns out the driver never hit the breaks and ran right into a divider, which knocked down a massive concrete planter that then skidded across the street.

    Car accidents always send me into panic. I spent half of last night wallowing in “what ifs” and “I should haves” and the other half trying to figure out what could have happened for the driver to lose control like that. When it was time to get out of bed this morning, I had a massive headache, so I decided to do some yoga. Halfway through my yoga, I started crying, presumably releasing stress from what had happened the night before. The tears came and went and didn’t last long, and I immediately felt a little bit better.

    Following yoga, I decided to meditate, so I turned on Ajahn Thanansanti’s “Mind Like Sky” guided meditation (available at http://www.dharmaseed.org/teacher/12/). I knew when the meditation was nearing its end, and I sat noticing my mind anticipating the chimes that were about the come. But, as I awaited chimes, I heard church bells. I have heard these church bells many times over the past few years. Usually, I hear the bells and think, “It must be noon.” Today, I really heard them and thought, “Music has come into my day.”

    THIS is why I meditate.

    If I hadn’t done my yoga and meditation today, I would have gone into the rest of my week with unresolved tension and negativity about last night’s unfortunate car accident. Now, I know I have allowed myself to really feel for the driver of that car, release my anxiety about how I responded to the incident, and experience a musical moment that will inspire me for the rest of the week.

    While there may not be any bunnies here, this is precisely the kind of experience that leads to each new Bunny Buddhism quote, and I believe it is important to recognize that each quote is just one small part of an ongoing journey.

    With love and bunniness….