Mindfulness and grief contain the seeds of transformation. Grief forces you to change by assigning you unexpected roles – removing the physical, emotional, and material resources you once had – and changing your assumptive world into an unfamiliar landscape. Mindfulness allows you to make the most of this new territory by introducing you to the self you are in the process of becoming through your senses. As you reacquaint yourself with your spirit by slowing down and turning your focus inward, you will hear the whispered wisdom of your true self that has long been forgotten and can now be remembered.
Heather Stang, Mindfulness & Grief
What Is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention to the present moment without worrying about the past or obsessing about the future. We do this by getting curious about our senses – sight, smell, sound, taste, sensations – and by taking a step away from the “story” we are telling ourselves about what is happening. In other words, we learn to give ourselves a break. This isn’t about denying reality, but rather opening our mind and heart to the full scope or our lives, and tempering each moment with compassion for ourselves and others. Mindfulness can help you navigate grief on all levels:
- First, it can help you keep your body in balance and avoid illness caused by grief related stress.
- Second, it can calm your mind and help you feel more in control of your life after loss.
- Third, it will help you get to know yourself better. Many people experience a deeper connection with their own inner wisdom, cultivate compassion, and report not sweating the small stuff so much once they start a mindfulness practice.
Mindfulness Meditation & Grief
The reality is we spend most of our lives on autopilot, whether we are grieving or not. How many times have you caught yourself daydreaming? Many of us experience this when we get behind the wheel of a car. We put the keys in the ignition, back out of the drive, and without knowing it go into a trance. Somehow we safely arrive at our destination, even though in our mind we were grocery shopping, fantasizing about our next meal or replaying a conversation we had earlier in the day. It happens to all of us.
We don’t just get lost in our thoughts when we are driving. It happens more often than we even realize. According to UCLA, the average person has 70,000 thoughts a day. But how many of those thoughts are unique or new? If you are like most of us, it may feel like you have the same two or three thoughts 20,000 times!
Rumination – or the repetition of thought – is quite common when you are grieving. It may feel like you are stuck in a vortex of sadness, and escape seems impossible. Mindfulness offers the way out. It offers you the opportunity to press the pause button, and widen the scope of your awareness. Rather than staying stuck, you learn to take a step back and make a conscious choice rather than react.
If separating yourself from your thoughts seems impossible, I am here to tell you that it is easier than you think. I get to see this happen time and time again with my clients – and with myself. It all starts with present moment awareness. We start by focusing on our breath, or by connecting with our sense experience -including site, sound, taste, and touch. Thoughts are also included in this list of sensory phenomenon, but we observe our thoughts rather than indulge them.
Something amazing happens when we drop all efforts to control the situation, and instead simply focus on what is happening right now. The tension in our body starts to melt. Our emotions become more regulated. The possibility that we don’t have to live with suffering arises. We feel more in control, while paradoxically releasing control. I recommend that you try it for yourself.
The fact is grief is an intense form of stress. It comes with emotional, psychological and behavioral side effects that most people find disruptive. Grief is a natural reaction to loss – mindfulness is the natural path that will deliver you safely to the other side.
Does this sound like something you would like to add to your life? If so, you can start today. You don’t need any fancy equipment or previous experience with yoga, meditation or exercise. All you need is yourself.