The untimely death of a colleague, followed by that of a student a few days later, have been the source of profound suffering in my school district this week. This has led me to ponder the connection, if any, between grief and mindfulness.
Mindfulness for me has always been associated with acceptance; acceptance of what was, is, and will be, without judgement. This seems a simple enough principle to follow but how does one practice mindfulness when the unacceptable happens? Can mindfulness actually help during times of extreme grief? I’ve concluded that it can.
The first and foremost act of mindfulness should be acceptance, NOT of the situation or loss, but of the grief itself. Mindfulness is not the shutting down of thoughts or the turning off of emotions, and therefore one must not merely acknowledge their grief but really sit with it without trying to repress, judge, or deny it. People experience the various stages of grief in their own order and overcome them in their own time. There is no “right” or “wrong” way to move through grief.
Check In, Physically
Through mindful meditation, check in to gauge how your emotions are affecting you physically. Through careful attention and self-awareness, one can usually pinpoint where emotional pain resides in the body and therefore send love and healing energy there (this is a Reiki practice that anyone can do for themselves with some focused attention).
Compassion and connection are necessary components for true mindfulness practice. When we aren’t meditating, mindfulness requires that we give our surroundings and the people we encounter, our full, nonjudgmental attention so we can understand them and share loving kindness. When we experience profound grief our instinct may be to seek solitude, but it is necessary during these times that we seek compassion from others and stay connected, particularly with those who may sympathize with our grief. At the very least, attempt to connect on psychic or spiritual levels (whichever you believe).
In addition to maintaining connections with others, one of the most (if not the most) powerful acts on our road to healing is in helping others. Even small, random acts of kindness, like assisting an elderly neighbor with groceries, can fill a wounded heart. Helping others is part of our life’s purpose, therefore doing it brings meaning and purpose to our lives. This is soothing when we may question the very meaning of life during times of grief and loss.
Mindfulness, is by its nature a “practice” because it is not something that can be achieved once and held forever. This is because what is now, is changing every minute. The only constant in this universe is change. Truly acknowledging impermanence can be profoundly helpful during times of grief. As I have stated earlier, one should never put a time limit on one’s grief, nor should they suppress it, but the simple knowledge that “this too shall pass,” offers the promise that no matter how distant, there is always light at the end of the tunnel.