Unattended sorrow is unresolved grief that has never been given a chance to heal. This lovely, spiritual book from one of the nation's most trusted grief counselors offers a series of techniques to help heal this pain so readers can lead full and joyful lives. The book not only guides those who have experienced a fresh loss to face the hurt before it settles in, but it also addresses the devastating impact of tragedies past, when people become "stuck" years after childhood abuse, teen rape, early divorce, or loss of a loved one.
why we should be sweet with ourselves and others: "we are not alone in our feelings of sorrow. we are part of a worldwide community of loss. if sequestered pain made a sound the atmosphere would be humming all the time"
A gem. Grief, writes Stephen Levine, is "an innate response to loss in a world where everything is impermanent." The longer we live, the more we will grieve; Levine acknowledges this on every page, and applies, for every wound, a balm of mercy. "How merciless we can be with ourselves," he says, and then he invites us to understand the minutae of grief ... our countless, often mindless reactions; so many of them our "need for denial just to feel sane." He offers a loving "Yes" to every nuance, to every form of despair and deadening we might fall into; he invites us to soften the tattered peripheries of ourselves -- to apply one dab of compassion at a time.
I dip into this book often; I find myself nodding at the same phrases again and again, as if listening to a beloved sage who never veers from his course of kindness. In our grieving, "we are learning to live with the consequences of love." Healing is "not the absence of pain but the increased ability to meet it with mercy instead of loathing ... Healing is replacing our merciless reactions with a merciful response. Without mercy, we don't have a chance."
Grief carves out a cave in the core of us -- in our belly that can become "fossilized with a long resistance to life and to loss." Levine's approach is so gentle, so tender -- and therein lies its profound effectiveness. As we learn to "soften around the sensations," we "find our own compass" that will guide us to pad around our existential edges, to enquire into their presence, to explore ways of touching them without being scalded. We tend to treat our rock-hard striations of pain as if our lives depend on them ... and they've held us upright, yes ... but at a terrible cost to our humanity. We're barely breathing; barely being.
What is this mercy he speaks of? It is a warmth buried deep, a heart aching to express its full reach of love. If our history of agonies is a glacier, the heart is always "a rivulet running toward what Buddhist monks call the Ocean of Compassion." This Ocean is deeper than all loss ... in its depth resides the heart that longs to be free: "It sings of nothing else."
This book is a guide to our emotional freedom. All forms of pain are honoured ... all are held and cradled in the paradoxical void of life lived and love lost ... the void that we come to realize is a place of rest, a bed of luminous warmth where all absence is also purest presence.
"Mercy breaks all the rules" ... and softens every edge. It is our best medicine ... and resides within us, awaiting our choice to enact it, one breath, one thought, one touch at a time.
This book was almost too raw for me. It is rich, dense writing and very very hard to face the statements being made here. But the reality is, his observations are true and real. It's hard to see your tortured self so clinically laid out in print. And accept the recommendations being made. I want to talk with this author and understand where he is coming from. Some place as painful and dark and depressing as me, I am certain. This isn't the best book on grief I read. But it leaps out as one of brutal honesty and compassion.
A deeply moving, emotional book about loss and recovery. There was so much here that it took me some time to read this. I would read only a small section at a time and allow it to sink in before proceeding. It is very intense and there was so much that spoke to my heart and soul. I liked the author's suggestions for days devoted to different practices to speed healing - a day of walking, a day of loving kindness, a day of silence, a day of forgiveness, a day of singing, a day of compassion, a day as if it were our last.
It was six years this past December that I lost my 16 year old daughter to cancer. I have, I think, to the extent possible healed from that loss; and yet I still grieve for her. I don't know if I ever won't think of her and grieve for what might have been. This past December, her best friend graduated from the local college and I celebrate her accomplishment. But there was still a piece of my heart that said my girl should have been there, too. I know when these girls get married and have children I will celebrate that as well, but with just a bit of longing for what might have been. But for all of this, I think that her loss has made me a more compassionate person, more willing to open myself up to new experiences, more exuberant. I cannot turn my back on life - Catie fought too hard to live hers. So I honor her by pouring more into this life.
Quotes I want to remember:
- Mercy breaks all the rules.
- And sitting quietly we notice how very alive we are, that death passes, but love and gratitude remain.
- "At one point, at the worst of it, I went up to the top of a mountain and just screamed at the universe. And something snapped. Coming down from there I had the most beautiful walk. There was radiant sunshine; leaves were luminous, translucent. God was everywhere. "And on the way down I met an angel in the form of a woman and as she passed me on the trail she touched my hand and said, 'Hold your heart softly.' "I didn't know who she was, but at that moment I knew what I had to do. For so long I was so sad and angry, waiting to find myself. "At that moment there arose an insight that has often sustained me since the days got long and I was more lost than found. It doesn't sound like much when I put it into words, but when it causes my heart to tremble, it means everything. It was, 'God is never absent, only we are.'
- Though it may now seem impossible at times, grief does have a beginning, middle, and something like an end, which is actually more of a new beginning, another level of relating to that departed loved one. It isn't that the relationship ends; it's just the hardest edge of suffering that subsides. In the beginning of the grief process, we might feel that the person is "a million miles away." They seem irretrievable, but eventually they reenter our heart at another level, and most often we feel a sense of warmth and closeness. We become inseparable from that person. At first, fear and sorrow drown the mind, Thoughts of all that has departed, memories of what was, and fantasies of what might have been weigh down our thoughts. But eventually that separation seems to melt into the essential connection that joined us in the first place. There is a sense of unbreakable unity. Love is never lost.
- In the wake of the loss of a loved one, there may be an involuntary cramping of the mind that perhaps only the heart can release with a profound and loving "good-bye," a good-bye that remembers that the origin of the phrase is "God be with you." Words that sear the lips but relieve the heart. A "sending off" that is at first sour on the tongue but gradually becomes sweet. At first so dominated by loss, at last so connected by love. A farewell that allows the continuation of life on the terms given. It is not a putting of that person out of the heart but rather inviting them to settle within, beyond the compulsive grasping of the mind. To let them be as they are, as they must.
- Send a healing loving kindness through your body, filling it as if it were the body of the world itself. Now, send mercy to all those people who are working with this same grief, this same sense of loss, at this same moment. Embrace the community of sorrow with loving kindness so that it is not just your grief but the grief of all those who too are bent by loss.
- It isn't sadness or anger or guilt that limits our access to the heart; it's our negative attachment to these emotions, our intense wish for them to be otherwise, our dark dance with them. (My emphasis - I love that phrase - it is so true!)
- When we take one step after another, though at times we might fear becoming lost, we will eventually find our way home.
- Sometimes the burden is just too heavy to pick up all at once. We have to look at the pieces one at a time before we attempt to form a coherent world picture. Sometimes we have to deconstruct it into the discreet particles that have coalesced into this great mass. Sometimes all we can handle, in fact all that needs to be comprehended to be free, is "just this much."
- …we need to be mountaineers of ourselves to reach the peak of what life may have to offer. It is here in the shadow of our psychological and spiritual potential that some who fear going higher may stay at the base camp, where they hope to be more comfortable and believe they are safer; but those who climb gain a perspective that stays with them for a lifetime. In fact, once we've seen above the lowlands, we are never quite lost again and our view of life is forever offered a more spacious option.
- Live this day in generosity and grace, pressing to your heart what is most precious.
- We are reincarnated from day to day. We receive a fresh start with each awakening.
This was my favorite book of 2007. I picked it up while looking for background about a film I was working on that deals with grief and loss. EVERYONE who has experienced loss (umm, that would be you and me) and is looking for a way to work through it should read it. Levine's writing is beautiful, too.
Only read half this book, but the first part was strikingly relevant to my life. "What does unattended sorrow look like? It is like a low-grade fever; it troubles our sleep and drains away our days; it scatters intuition and creates an underlying anxiety; it sours the eye and the ear and leaves a distaste in the mouth; it's the vague uncertainty that permeates every thought before every action; it's the heart working as hard as it can."
I appreciated the confirmation and affirmation that 'small' sorrows add up, and affect us significantly. But somehow, never finished. Perhaps I will someday....
Love this book. It came to me at a time when I really needed to learn this "Buddhist type" detachment. The information is explained in such a clear and thoughtful way - I think Levine is totally inspired.
I technically didn't finish this yet. But I will in the next hour.
I had to come on here and leave a 5 star review though, which I had already knew was going to happen probably by the time I hit Chapter 10.
But Chapter 34 just broke me wide open. I'm at this crux of middle age, and now I must channel the "we love what is instead of what might be" much sooner than later, or my suffering will continue.
In many ways my subconscious knew so many of the things professed in this book already; how aggression, anger, fear, and a myriad of other emotions stem directly from sadness. But the depth in which this book describes it, and the multitude of viewpoints it offers, just works to reaffirm it's realities within you through and through.
I'm writing this now with tears streaming down my face, wishing that these awakenings were available to be at an earlier age, and feeling waves of regret and remorse building within me. This book will give me the information and awareness I need to move forward with a much more accurate assessment of my own internal compass as well as many others.
Can not recommend this book enough, it is truly universal and would truly benefit every single person who sets their eyes on it.
This book. I first pulled it off my shelf on the anniversary of my sister's death. It was time. Little did I know that it would touch on every aspect of pain in my many years of life. It is gentle in its approach to the pain, without judgment. It encourages finding, seeing, and accepting the losses great and small, to live a life worth living. I was two or three chapters deep and was already recommending this book to everyone I met. If you have ever had pain, read the book. Then spend the rest of your life trying to apply its principles. It will take that long, but it will be worth it. I have no doubt.
The long- range impact of unresolved sorrow flows along a hidden spectrum...The work throughout this book does not purport to stop grief from arising, but only to help process the grief in whatever way it manifests..." (from the Introduction)
As an ordained minister, I was a skeptic regarding some of the practices of this book. I had been taught and in turn shared with others e aspects of grief, how it manifests, how it physically, emotionally and spiritually cripples us. However, it has taken many years and much therapy to start to deal with my own "unattended sorrow". Its as if this deep sorrow, this anger, this mistrust we feel may be all we have left.
So what will replace it? Dr. Levine and his wife were confronted with this time and again throughout their practice. This book, published in 2005, tries to help us move beyond and deal with these losses...deal with, not completely lose...possibly transforming them into known entities within our past and less triggering than they were when they hadn't been embraced.
Through journaling, art and other therapies, Levine has become a man well known for his compassion and teaching this method to others has help him confront his personal sorrows. It is not an easy fix, but the manifestation of compassion, what many call empathy because we have been through it, is a blessed relief.
This is a book that those in the helping profession need to invest in. It is a hard paradigm to live, and will take time but the self-care exercises will in turn help the helper to help.
This book is unique among books on grief that I have read. It is full of profound insights about the role of grief in self-growth; Unattended Sorrow helped me make sense of grief in new ways. Levine's writing is fantastic; in fact, since I borrowed my copy from the library I want to purchase a copy so I can highlight favorite passages and quotes.
Levine's discussion of "unattended sorrow" is insightful - how we accumulate many losses over a lifetime, and how to gently approach them with love and soft belly breath in order to release them. Speaking of soft belly breath, I love how action-oriented this book is. It contains ideas for gentle ways to approach your grief by paying attention to body and breath. There are healing meditations and recommended days of healing. I highly recommend this book.
I agree, in part, with Tara's review...a little too "Jonathan Livingston Seagull" for me. I don't need to know what grief feels like. I already do. I read this for some help in trying to get past it and for advice on healing. I came away empty. I guess there was some validation of sorts, like a doctor giving you a diagnosis of something that you knew you already had.
A beautiful book to help you through a tough and emotional process. I enjoyed it very much and feel like I'll want to drag it off my shelf a time or two to reread parts as I get through this 1st year without my mother.
I found this book irritatingly too long. He repeats the same exercises throughout the book. Its far too wordy, and feels like its never ending. I get the mindfulness of it, but being mindful during grief is a lot to ask, and i was unable to really get into it because of that.
Quote --"Memories may always be bittersweet, but we may also find peace flickering at the edges of what once caused us agitation. Healing, the, becomes not the absence of pain but the increased ability to meet it with mercy instead of loathing."
I primarily used this book as a daily dharma reading, and it's suited quite nicely to that. There's so much distilled wisdom in these pages that I know I'll keep this book in the pile of those I refer to regularly.
Unattended Sorrow, Recovering from Loss and Reviving the Heart, by Stephen Levine, is an invaluable resource for anyone attempting to cope and move toward a kind-of reconciliation following devastating loss. An accumulation of unresolved grief and sorrow is perhaps more a piece of the human condition than we usually admit or recognize. Stephen Levine compassionately and wisely unfolds ways to move toward our despair, in order to find mercy and kindness for the grieving heart, rather than fleeing, disguising, and pretending while our shoulders and belly become increasingly rigid with this heavy burden of grief. To lift your spirits and interject the bright light of hope, I recommend Stephen Levine's, Unattended Sorrow. Gwendolyn Broadmore, author, Life Came to a Standstill
Book starts as a journey through grief that resonated with me, but then in the last 60% goes into a bunch of mystical twists and turn. The author sounds like they wasted their life in meditation if after 40 years they are still in looking for the same healing they purport to be the answer to all of life's questions. I know they needed filler to turn what could have been a pamphlet into a book, but the fluff definitely diminished the authoritative experience the author presented in the beginning. "Heart breath" and "soft belly" are just some of the idiotic themes in the last half of the book.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
I believe he mentioned that this started out as a pamphlet that he expanded into a book. I think it should have stayed a pamphlet. He repeats himself a lot while also using too many words to describe them. There are a couple of suggested things to do and ways of thinking to work on "recovering" and "reviving", but mostly it's just describing grief and loss and pain and then rephrasing those descriptions ad nauseam.
Sorrow after sorrow w/o working through and healing...
Quotes: "we are not alone in our feelings of sorrow. we are part of a worldwide community of loss. if s"we are learning to live with the consequences of love."
Healing is "not the absence of pain but the increased ability to meet it with mercy instead of loathing ... Healing is replacing our merciless reactions with a merciful response. Without mercy, we don't have a chance.
"equestered pain made a sound the atmosphere would be humming all the time"
"Mercy breaks all the rules"
And sitting quietly we notice how very alive we are, that death passes, but love and gratitude remain.
At one point, at the worst of it, I went up to the top of a mountain and just screamed at the universe. And something snapped. Coming down from there I had the most beautiful walk. There was radiant sunshine; leaves were luminous, translucent. God was everywhere.
"And on the way down I met an angel in the form of a woman and as she passed me on the trail she touched my hand and said, 'Hold your heart softly.'
"I didn't know who she was, but at that moment I knew what I had to do. For so long I was so sad and angry, waiting to find myself.
"At that moment there arose an insight that has often sustained me since the days got long and I was more lost than found. It doesn't sound like much when I put it into words, but when it causes my heart to tremble, it means everything. It was, 'God is never absent, only we are.'
In the wake of the loss of a loved one, there may be an involuntary cramping of the mind that perhaps only the heart can release with a profound and loving "good-bye," a good-bye that remembers that the origin of the phrase is "God be with you." Words that sear the lips but relieve the heart. A "sending off" that is at first sour on the tongue but gradually becomes sweet. At first so dominated by loss, at last so connected by love. A farewell that allows the continuation of life on the terms given. It is not a putting of that person out of the heart but rather inviting them to settle within, beyond the compulsive grasping of the mind. To let them be as they are, as they must. When we take one step after another, though at times we might fear becoming lost, we will eventually find our way home.
"What does unattended sorrow look like? It is like a low-grade fever; it troubles our sleep and drains away our days; it scatters intuition and creates an underlying anxiety; it sours the eye and the ear and leaves a distaste in the mouth; it's the vague uncertainty that permeates every thought before every action; it's the heart working as hard as it can."
40 fairly brief chapters offer trustworthy advice on what it looks like to slow down long enough to deal with sorrow, repeatedly emphasizing the importance of doing so. Some of the ideas may not be your particular cup of tea, but you'll find enough wisdom in these pages to become better at attending to your grief, and thus, walking alongside others as they do as well.
This book is life changing, it hurts, it’s hard, it’s real and it reveals what we may not be aware of what we need. This book has helped me heal from things, I never knew I needed healing from. Please don’t hesitate to allow yourself to be free from pain. Read this book for you and allow yourself to cry and grow. You deserve this.
I only read half of this book and It helped me at a difficult time in my life, but it started to become muddled and I was not getting anything out of it after a while. I will come back to this if I think I need to later.
This is one of the better books I’ve read about dealing with grief and being kind with ourselves. Life is not easy and then adding grief on top of life can make things even more stressful but there is always a way through it if we can be patient with ourselves.
Another hit out of the park for Stephen Levine. I really appreciate his writing style--profound concepts and practices condensed into their essences. There are rarely any superfluous words and even if a concept is repeated, it is tied-back succinctly to its earlier reference.
I've picked up, read and skimmed through a few books on grief over the past few months. The title of this one caught my eye in the library, as my current grieving process is so mixed in with grief that I haven't really come to full terms with.
This book is so much more than many of the others I've poked through. Brutally honest and yet compassionate, the author explores the many reasons for grief, such as the death of a loved one, the effects of a major illness, the loss of one's way of life, etc.
The author and his wife observed: "For those unable to make peace with their pain, there was a gradual diminishment of their life force. It became obvious that it was not just the most recent griefs that underlay their intermittent depression and dysfunction but the imprint of losses long past -- yet still painfully present."
The author does not provide a magical cure to get over grieving. He, instead, suggests various techniques that can aid in one learning to be kinder, more forgiving, more compassionate, with oneself. He suggests meditative techniques that have given others a greater sense of peace. He suggests "A Day of Silence", A Day of Walking", "A Day of Forgiveness", "A Day of Singing", and many others, to help move through the process of grief.
The author addresses one of the issues I have faced throughout the years. So many of the people who have encircled my life, believe the concept "that we are the sole creator of our reality, and thus create our own suffering." In a sadly, twisted way, this reinforces the idea that we deserve any and all the bad things that can happen to us. That philosophy has always bothered me for so many reasons. The author states a different philosophy that can open us up to a different way of living. "We do no create our reality; we effect our reality. Indeed, we are not responsible for our pain; we are responsible to our pain." This makes so much more sense. Pain and suffering will always enter our lives. There is no way around that. It's how we either embrace with kindness or deny and fight it will effect how we ultimately live out our lives.
I am hoping to find a copy of this book to purchase, as I would love to return to this again and again.