Making Grief Mindful

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.

Making Grief Mindful

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.

Intention

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.

Attention

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.

No tension

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.


Ashley Davis Bush, LICSW is the author of 6 self-help books, including Hope and Healing for Transcending Loss.  She is a psychotherapist, grief counselor, and a Huffington Post contributor. 

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When a White Christmas Turns Blue: Surviving Grief During the Holidays

Do you know someone working to overcome grief during the holidays? Check out Ashley Davis Bush’s great blog post on Huffington Post! 

Here’s a little snippet of it.

While everyone seems festive and joyful, you’re feeling blue — downcast and sad — weighed down by grief. It can feel extremely lonely when your heart is heavy with sorrow but those around you are expecting you to smile and be happy. If you’re grieving the loss of a loved one, it is anything but “the most wonderful time of the year.”

There may be many reasons to feel stressed during the holidays, but grief brings its own brand of challenges. If you’re grieving this year and are wondering how you’ll survive the season, use the following six suggestions to ease the way.

Just Say “No”
Although friends and family members may expect you to be the same this year, clearly you are not. That means you need to reflect on your traditions and – for this year, at least – say ‘no’ to anything that feels too overwhelming or painful. You may not want to put up a tree. You may be unable to send holiday cards. You may be completely unmotivated to bake your holiday cookies. It doesn’t matter if your loved ones understand. You need to take care of yourself. Give yourself a break this year and only do things that provide some comfort. You have permission to say “no, no, no” instead of “ho ho ho”.

That said, if you have to carry on with some customs for the sake of others, ask for help and make easier choices like shopping online or purchasing baked goods.

Read more here: “When a White Christmas Turns Blue: Surviving Grief During the Holidays”