By Ashley Davis Bush, LCSW author of Hope & Healing for Transcending Loss
No one wants to feel pain. Let’s face it – it’s painful! In our western culture, we are especially skilled at avoiding uncomfortable and unpleasant feelings. Our society supports us in hiding our feelings, offering a full range of numbing opportunities: alcohol, drugs, eating, shopping, gambling, and assorted digital devices for our addictive consumption.
Mindfulness – the practice of nonjudgmental present awareness — is often promoted in the mental health field as the golden ticket to resilience and inner peace. Mindfulness practices are said to soothe anxiety, lift depression, minimize chronic pain, and reduce stress. The problem for grievers is that mindfulness asks the griever to be present with the very thing that they’re trying to avoid. So what can mindfulness do for the heart-searing pain of losing a loved one?
Quite a lot, as it turns out.
Being mindful allows the griever to feel and observe the pain without being swallowed by it. The act of being present with pain, being mindfully observant, is healing. Such presence allows the painful emotion to surface and shift.
I have worked with grievers for 25 years and I know that a mindful attitude toward the process of grief is tremendously important. I find that the following 3 mindful strategies help the griever navigate painful terrain.
If you or someone you know is grieving, use these 3 guidelines.
Set a daily intention to be with your grief for a period of time each day. Take 5-15 minutes to just ‘be’ with your feelings. Set your intention to welcome the feelings, to learn from them, and to be open to finding the wisdom embedded within the process. Remember that taking the journey through grief is the way to heal. Mindfulness is also about cultivating loving kindness toward yourself, so know that as you create the willingness to feel, you also want to recognize that you are courageous in doing so.
Pay attention to the natural rhythms of emotions. Notice the waves that ebb and flow. See grief rising and falling, washing over you and receding. Watch where the pain lodges in your body. Do you feel it in your throat, your heart, the pit of your stomach? Become an expert of your personal process by paying attention to the subtle changes in each feeling. Grief has movement to it. Remember that you are not your feelings – they are like cloud formations passing across the broader sky of you.
The less you resist your feelings, the less you will suffer. Resist and you will suffer more. In fact, stuffing your feelings takes a toll; it exacts a price from your psyche. So surrender to your natural feelings and know that doing so is a part of a healthy response to grief. Watch with tenderness as you encounter each new feeling.
Know that pain has a purpose. It’s part of the healing journey. The awareness and acceptance that are hallmarks of mindfulness help those struggling with grief to ride the waves of emotion and ultimately redirect their pain toward emotional and spiritual growth.