“In Asian languages, the word for mind and the word for heart are same. So if you’re not hearing mindfulness in some deep way as heartfulness, you’re not really understanding it. Compassion and kindness towards oneself are intrinsically woven into it. You could think of mindfulness as wise and affectionate attention.”
Jon Kabat-Zinn, Time Magazine
Mindfulness And Grief: An Unlikely Pair
At first glance, mindfulness and grief may seem like an unlikely pair. Mindfulness conjures up images of lotus blossoms, feelings of peace, calm, and serenity.
Grief, on the other hand, feels more like a bottomless pit of despair. We feel pulled under, ripped away from our life as we knew it, and wondering how on earth we will survive. Some days, we may not even want to go on at all.
If we mistakenly view mindfulness as the art of cultivating a positive, upbeat, and serene mindset, then the answer is no. It will backfire. You can’t pretend your way out of grief.
But positivity isn’t what mindfulness is really about. It isn’t just present moment awareness, either. Mindfulness is about seeing clearly. What is true in this moment? And then tending to that truth in a kind and compassionate way.
Leaning Into The Pain Of Loss, Remembering the Love
Let’s say that you are feeling really, really angry. Mindfully tending to your grief means that instead of feeling bad about being angry, or trying to change how you feel, you simply allow anger to be present without reacting to anger itself.
You simply turn your attention to the part of you that is hurting, and offer yourself some care. We can be so hard on ourselves when we are grieving. Mindfulness gives us permission to be kind.
Mindfulness also invites you to notice the pieces of the story that you are adding on – the fantasies, analysis, and interpretations – and then let those drop away so you can see more clearly.
We can also lean into love. Remember the person you love, and explore the connection that continues.
As Jon Kabat-Zinn advises, we can pay “wise and affectionate attention” to all aspects of grief, though the practice of mindful awareness.
Mindfulness and Grief-Work
A student at my meditation center has been practicing mindfulness for four decades, much longer than I. He recently shared this wisdom: “I find the only way to deal with the pain [of loss] is to go through it.”
It may sound scary, but I have witnessed first hand how mindfulness can help with the pain of grief. The key is to use mindfulness wisely, and only when you are ready.
There is naturally a need for right timing. In the early days of grief, leaning into the pain of loss is unthinkable. Many of us feel numb in the early days and weeks. The overwhelming pain can be so great that we just need a break.
This is when focusing meditation practices are most helpful. They let our mind land on just one thing, and can very quickly turn our stress switch off while reducing physical tension and mental anxiety.
But when you are ready to engage in your grief-work, mindfulness for grief will be waiting. And it will be one of your greatest allies as you walk this life-long path.