Mindfulness and Grief
Whatever resists, persists. Mindful grieving can offer a pathway to healing, but what is mindfulness and how does it relate to grief? Learn the benefits and risks of applying mindfulness techniques to grief for an informed decision about its use.
Mindfulness is Everywhere
Whether you are searching online for self-help articles, scouring the academic journals or browsing glossy magazines, mindfulness is everywhere. A keyword search of mindfulness and grief returns pages of results. But what is mindfulness and how does it relate to grief?
What is mindfulness?
In the simplest form, mindfulness is based on an ancient Buddhist practice of increasing awareness of the present moment by using techniques such as meditation, breathing and yoga. It helps to focus our attention, as well as observe our thoughts and feelings, without judgment.
Instead of being overwhelmed by thoughts, feelings and body sensations, we are better able to manage them. Some of the mindfulness health benefits include relief of stress and anxiety, lowered blood pressure, reduction of chronic pain and improved sleep.(HelpGuide.org)
Mindful grieving applies the techniques and principles of mindfulness to the experience of grief. Instead of being consumed by grief, or frantically trying to avoid it, mindful grieving tells us that there is an ebb and flow to the pain. Some days we may be overwhelmed and on other days, loving memories will make us smile. We come to realize that there is a hard edge and a soft edge to the pain of grief.*
Even though we feel that the hard edge of grief will never end, mindful practices such as mediation and yoga teach us that life is ever-changing. When we realize that the only constant in life is change, we become aware of the small changes in ourselves and dare to hope that the soft edge of healing is possible.
This healing does not occur by moving on from the loss, but by moving forward with our lives, keeping the memories of our loved ones intact. Mindful grieving informs us that while suffering passes, love remains.
With a clear understanding of its purpose, mindful grieving can be a powerful tool for healing.
*The original concept of hard edge / soft edge refers to physical pain and comes from the book Mindfulness for Health by Vidyamala Burch and Danny Penman, pages 107-108. I have adapted it to the changing nature of grief.
The Benefits and Risks of Mindful Grieving
The Benefits of Mindful Grieving
Losses that are accepted are still painful, but the emotional fallout no longer hinders your ability to function. Feeling the pain of loss takes less energy than running from it and mindfulness helps you regain emotional balance. The best way out is through it.
You never get over a significant loss, but you can learn to live with it by applying six mindful strategies: Reach out for support, sit quietly and reflect, trust your inner resources, learn to stay centered, imagine a new future and practice mindfulness techniques such as yoga or meditation on a regular basis. Mindful grieving taps into your inner courage and allows you to move forward with your life.
The Risks of Mindful Grieving
Mindfulness practice has some potentially serious pitfalls. By treating mindful meditation like a “spiritual smoothie,” instead of an intense and complex practice, we run the risk of confronting meditation’s dark sides such as forming false memories and avoiding difficult decisions.
Written by a ten-year mindfulness practitioner. Mindfulness meditation is one of many tools, practices and strategies to promote wellness, awareness and calm, but it is important to have a few others in your toolbox and learn when, and when not, to practice them. Practicing mindfulness when you are not mentally ready can create even more difficulties in your life. It is important to understand the risks and not overstate the benefits.
Whatever Resists, Persists
When we talk of mindfully letting go of thoughts and feelings, it is not avoidance or ignoring the facts. Mindfulness makes us more aware of thoughts and feelings that consume us. Mindful practices help us find the ways to address and heal them.
For me, the practice of mindful grieving can be summed up in a few short sentences: Whatever resists, persists. Do not turn away from grief. Turn towards it. Or to quote from the lyrics of Alanis Morissette, “The only way out is through it.”
A Word of Caution
Bringing painful thoughts and feelings to the surface with mindful techniques can leave you raw and even more wounded, unable to work through the trauma on your own. You may need the support of a mental health professional to benefit from mindfulness while grieving. If you start mindful practices and find yourself feeling worse instead of better, please stop and seek expert advice.
With Guided Meditations to Calm Your Mind and Restore Your Spirit by Heather Stang
Inspired by contemporary grief research and ancient mindfulness techniques.The author provides a valuable voice in holistic grief healing.
Pet Loss and Mindful Grieving
From Psychology Today
The intent of this research is not to discourage mindfulness-based meditation programs. Instead, the purpose is to generate findings on both the positive and negative effects so that providers and people who practice mindful meditation can make informed decisions about its use.
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