We hear a lot these days about mindfulness. Mindfulness is a form of meditation. Mindfulness is a process of bringing your attention to your internal experiences in the present moment, being fully present and aware of what you are doing — not about what is happening around you. The term “mindfulness” is a translation of the term “sati” — meaning awareness or mindfulness — which is a significant element of some Buddhist traditions. It is widely accepted that regular practice of mindfulness contributes to greater well-being.
After a traumatic loss, we want to stay close to our grief. We want to be in the thick of it, consumed by it. It is necessary to allow ourselves to accept exactly where we are in the process. Mindfulness allows us to be present with our grief, to really acknowledge it. Grief ebbs and flows, mindfulness allows us to move with it — in the truth of it. We can eventually begin to accept and integrate it by making small changes in our daily life experiences, noticing and accepting our grief for what it really is.
One of my favorite resources comes from Dr. Ronald Alexendar, author of the widely acclaimed book Wise Mind, Open Mind: Finding Purpose and Meaning in Times of Crisis, Loss, and Change. In his book, he lays out the following mindful strategies to recover from traumatic loss:
- Reach out for Support: Do not try to bear your trauma alone. Ask for assistance from your friends, spiritual leaders, support groups and professionals.
- Sit Quietly and Reflect: No matter the severity of your trauma, sit quietly and ask yourself, “Historically have I experienced other challenges in my life and how did I navigate through them?” Now use these past experiences to tap into your internal courage and strength and explore if you can implement the same strategies again.
- Trust Your Inner Resources: Once you realize that you survived other traumas before now, trust in yourself to know that you can get through your present challenge.
- Learn to Keep Yourself Centered through the Unbearable Feelings of Grief: When the waves of sadness and helplessness wash over you initially, feel the emotion and its depth but then start to breathe through the grief with slow deep breaths. This will help you to stay grounded and bring you back to the present.
- Start Imagining a New Life: Even though you are experiencing immense grief, start to imagine and invent in your mind’s eye a new future for yourself.
- Practice Mindfulness: While doing grounding practices such as meditation, yoga, or even walks in nature, remember that your loss is cyclical like the seasons. Even when we are in the depths of winter, we know that eventually it will become more manageable with the advent of summer. Learn to tolerate and pace yourself through the most severe times.
Some of my favorite resources on mindfulness and grief are:
- grief-healing-support.com by Kate Kaszonyi. Kate is a psychotherapist trained Gestalt therapy. She has a simple, holistic approach to incorporating a mindfulness practice into you the grieving process.
- Another favorite is Susan A. Berger and her book “The Five Ways We Grieve. She offers a unique perspective on how we grieve by developing five types of grievers. These include:
- Nomads have not yet resolved their grief and do not often understand how their loss has affected their lives
- Memorialists, who are committed to preserving the memory of their loved ones by creating concrete memorials and rituals to honor them
- Normalizers, who are committed to re-creating a sense of family and community
- Activists, who focus on helping other people who are dealing with the same disease or issues that caused their loved one’s death
- Seekers, who adopt religious, philosophical, or spiritual beliefs to create meaning in their lives
- Here is some of the mindfulness advice offered in her book.
- Cry when you need to
- Participate in sacred ceremonies, rituals and blessing related to your loss
- Return to positive emotional memories and let go of any residual guilt, shame, or fear
- Mindfully pray, contemplate, and meditate on both content and process of your grief
- Be as creative as you can be in pursuing joy and healing
- Do deep, slow, calm breathing often – and on each breath, connect with the healing of your loving heart
- Recognize and accept the sacredness of this whole process
- Remember that all your suffering is dedicated to the merit and value of the person you lost
- Remain focused on being involved in life, more and more over time
- Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach offer online courses through their website soundstrue.com
Additional resources include Heather Stang’s Mindfulness and Grief Book. Heather has a Master’s in Thanatology and is an expert in mindfulness and grief. You can visit her website at www.mindfulnessandgrief.com.