Getting Mindful About Grief
Pause for a moment and notice how you feel when the word grief comes to mind…
Perhaps it seems like a word that may not apply to you right now. Maybe you noticed your body tense, shoulders round, tears form, or heaviness in the chest. It may even feel like waves are crashing over you in turbulent seas during a storm and you can’t quite stay afloat.
We are all experiencing grief as a byproduct of the pandemic because collectively there has been a shift within normal human culture. In the Dear Jack Foundation community, there is also the unifying undercurrent of cancer. Additionally we all have an individual grief journey to explore.
Grief is the normal human reaction to the loss of anything we are attached to in life. Attachment is evident when there is a deep emotional bond that results in longing for what has been lost. Because attachment can be felt toward people, pets, jobs, lifestyle, identity, or places we live, we experience grief through major changes or transitions.
Everything is impermanent, so we will face many different kinds of loss and experience grief time and again. Grief manifests itself physically, emotionally, mentally, socially, behaviorally, and spiritually. These symptoms of grief are most intense when we are resisting them, like trying to swim upstream rather than flow freely with the current.
While in active treatment navigating a cancer diagnosis, it is common to experience many physical and emotional changes which can result in feeling confused and disconnected. It’s normal to resist symptoms because it is too painful to feel and it can be easier to stay busy while assuring that all is okay. It’s also natural to feel for a bit and then start to think, “I’m stronger than this,” or “that’s enough feeling for a while,” as the busyness of life takes priority. If we continue to push emotions aside, grief gets stuck and eventually comes back unexpectedly because the body keeps the score.
So how do we prevent grief from getting stuck? Mindfulness is a path toward freedom. The human brain is constantly thinking. There will always be another thought, then another…and another. We don’t usually have control over what we will think next but we do have control over how we respond to our thoughts. Mindfulness is a tool that creates awareness and the ability to pay attention to the present moment and how you respond to what is happening.
Sometimes life moves too fast. It is then counterintuitive and also beneficial to pause, slow down, and check-in with yourself.
The purpose of this mindfulness meditation is to create greater presence. When we are focused on the present moment, there is no dwelling in the past or fretting about the future.
- First notice your Physical Body. How and where do you feel symptoms and sensations manifesting physiologically? (ie: pain, tension, fatigue, sleep patterns, digestive stress)
- Next pay attention to your Breath. Do you notice frequent sighing, shortness of breath or like it is stuck in your chest? We hold grief in our lungs so it’s normal for breath to feel labored or heavy.
- What’s happening in your Mind? It’s normal to feel scattered, distracted, forgetful, or in denial.
- How does your Heart feel? It’s common to compare grief symptoms and emotions to being on a rollercoaster while experiencing shock, numbness, sadness, anger, guilt, anxiety, loneliness, fear, depression or, paradoxically, relief.
- What is resonating in your Soul? You may feel awe, wonder, mystery and have questions about the reasons for loss, a spiritual presence or the greater purpose of life.
Once you are mindful about how grief is manifesting, then it’s possible to move through it. The American Cancer Association recommends that a cancer patient gets a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week to manage health. Exercise can also help move through grief. I prefer moderate meditative movement, such as yoga, because it creates a sense of presence through connection of body, mind and soul, along with many other health benefits (check out the Yoga 101 Module of Dear Jack’s The Breathe Series for more info and practices).
Other ways to move through grief include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Gratitude Practice
- Conscious Breathing
- Connecting with people and animals
Processing grief takes a delicate balance of feeling and then resting from it. You have permission to allow the waves of grief to crash. Mindfulness helps create a sense of safety, afloat on a boat, rather than feeling whisked away by the waves.
Through years of conscious grief processing and studying yoga therapy, I have learned that grief becomes a teacher when we are willing to dive into mindfulness and begin processing unavoidable pain. We don’t get over our grief, we transform our relationship to it and through this comes self knowledge. Suffering then becomes optional because it’s possible to learn ways to establish a sense of balance and control. I realize now that I can never go back to how life was and am constantly learning to embrace past loss and future challenges. It is possible that our greatest suffering can be a silver lining in dark clouds, a rainbow radiating after the storm and a gateway to gratitude.
Yoga Instructor, Lov Yoga
Breathe Now Retreat & The Breathe Series Facilitator