In the choppy waters of grief, mindfulness offers a life raft.
The emotions of grieving are heavy to bear, coming without warning, tossing you into uncharted territory. You may find yourself angrily ranting at the world one minute and crying in the grocery store the next. You may feel like there’s no rhyme or reason to what you are feeling, at any given moment. Mindfulness helps you acknowledge what’s happening to you, moment by moment, to give some shape to the chaos. Mindfulness is about bringing gentleness to those intense feelings washing over you. Mindfulness is being present without judging, without thinking you have to hide your pain or hold it all together just so you can say “I’m fine” when people ask.
What actually is Mindfulness?
Jon Kabot Zin, a well known mindfulness leader defines mindfulness as being “the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment”.
In everyday language, being mindful is being focused and aware of the moment you are in, rather than being distracted and being a million miles away. Mindfulness is about acknowledging whatever emotion you are feeling, and accepting it as being what’s here, without thinking what’s happening in the moment is wrong, or shouldn’t be…
The action of being mindful involves paying attention to the breath that’s flowing within you, the air around you, the sights and sounds that are moving in each moment.
Mindfulness can be practiced at any moment. Mindfulness is different from meditation where people tend to sit in stillness. Mindfulness is putting your attention on what you are doing and feeling in the moment and allowing it as part of your experience, without judging, changing or criticizing it.
What has mindfulness to do with grief?
You might be wondering what’s the connection between mindfulness and grief. You might be thinking “Who wants to sit in their loss and pain and just ‘be in it’?” “Isn’t mindfulness about being still and listening to oneself? Well, all I want to do is escape this horror and stop dwelling on what I’ve lost”.
In times of intense grief following the loss of a loved one your mind tends to run a mile a minute with millions of thoughts of “What if…” or “If only I’d …” that bring up loads of regrets and despair. Mindfulness, on the other hand, can calm racing thoughts about the past and bring your attention into what’s here, now.
Mindfulness is about noticing without judging. This key principle of mindfulness brings a gentleness and acceptance to grief. Many people consider grief to be a problem that they have to get over quickly. Others think grief is to be felt only one way, and if their feelings are outside the norm, people think they are doing it wrong. Living with mindfulness helps you accept whatever emotions you feel, at whatever time, without judging.
Mindfulness helps with worries about the future
Losing a loved one often gets you thinking about the future and how life will be without your loved one in it. For example, losing a parent when you are young can have you worrying about how you will get established in your career without your parent’s advice and guidance. Mindfulness can also help you bring your thoughts back to the present when you find yourself caught in worries about what the future holds. Mindfulness helps you be in the present moment, acknowledging what feelings are there, inviting you to stay grounded and not worry about what hasn’t happened yet.
The how to’s of mindfulness
Doing mindfulness is as simple as using your five senses to notice what’s happening in the environment around you, in any given moment. Noticing what you see, hear, taste, touch and smell with curiosity and without criticism is mindfulness.
Taking a second to feel the breath flowing within you is mindfulness.
Focusing on the emotions you are feeling and naming them, allowing them to be there, without trying to change them is mindfulness.
Being aware of the sensations within your body, the aches and pains, the spots of stiffness is being mindful.
Noticing what thoughts are flowing through your mind and being open to them, without arguing with them or reacting to them is mindfulness.
Mindfulness offers a container for the overwhelming floods of grief, giving you space to feel, think and feel in your own way, with gentleness and kindness.
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