Grief is probably the most personal of experiences. There is no set rule on how long or in what ways one chooses to grieve. As much as we want our loved ones to feel better and return to their usual selves, grief tends to have a life of its own, including denial, rage, hopelessness, depression, and final acceptance.
Grief is a mental and physical journey that our mind and body take to cope with a personal and irreplaceable loss. “Biologically speaking, grief is a homeostatic process, a journey that our mind, brain, and body need to engage in to best recover from the trauma of a loss. This is an evolutionary need, since attachment and connection is embedded within our limbic circuitry. Yes, whether we are conscious of it or not, or like it or not, relationships deeply imprint upon our neuronal selves,” writes Jennifer Wolkin.
Others can offer empathy, companionship, or help you get through daily life, but processing grief is something that one has to do on their own. In doing this, a few things can help and support this journey—the most important being grieving with mindfulness. But what does it mean to grieve mindfully?
On the face of it, it seems inherently contradictory—to grieve, which involves enormous emotional heavy lifting, mindfully. Can emotions be felt and expressed with total awareness, especially one as complicated as grief?
There is no universally applicable guide to healing when dealing with loss. Each individual must take their time and process it in ways that fit their psychological makeup. And sometimes, a person comes a long way in healing when suddenly a memory is triggered that sets recovery back by weeks or months. That is OKAY. Part of mindful grieving involves not rushing through it.
Read Managing Grief: Five Ways (Plus Breathwork) to Get You Over the Hard Times
Acceptance is Key
The first step in healing and moving through grief mindfully is to accept your emotional and mental experiences with self-compassion. It may seem like someone else has moved on quickly, but you should take your time and fully trust your emotions and pace of recovery.
Accepting emotions has an immediate calming effect on the mind. It eases the stress in the nervous system and helps you move through the grief stages. Acceptance also comes with mindfully agreeing to the hard brazenness and sense of the unfairness of this moment of grief. Yes, this is extremely difficult, and yes, you have not experienced this kind of loss before, but choose to come to terms with the fact that it has happened with total awareness of the inevitability of this moment.
Write/Sing/Talk It Out
While accepting and being one with your difficult emotions is good, you also need to get it out of your mind-body complex instead of bottling up your feelings. The best way to do it is to find a creative pursuit—write poems, journal, garden, sing, talk with a friend or loved one, and release the feelings.
There is a reason so many hit songs speak of the heartbreak and pain of loss—channeling these emotional feelings can be deeply cathartic and healing. You will feel much lighter and free.
Get help. If you feel the loss is overwhelming you or that it is affecting your ability to function, seek professional help. Speaking with a counselor or spiritual teacher can help make sense of such an enormous event in your life.
Usually, when we undergo grief, it feels like a unique experience, but rest assured, there are professionals out there who have many years behind them in helping patients get through such difficult times emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. There are so many mental health counseling options today—in-person, via phone, online, and even texting. Don’t hesitate to find a method that works for you.
You can also choose to open up about what you are feeling or experiencing with your loved ones or intimate groups on social media. Tell your story, talk about the ones you lost, and celebrate them (or lambast them, whatever YOU need to do) with your friends and family. Vocalizing the pain in a place of safety can go a long way in just getting it out.
“Continue to take care of yourself and others. Living life while grieving often feels like scaling a mountain. Grieving takes energy and can often feel draining. As much as possible during this tough time, continue to eat well, exercise, and maintain wellness practices.”—Jennifer Wolken
Know that Life is Comprised of Opposites
An important sutra to remember when trying to cope with a loss, especially of a loved one who has passed, is that opposite values complement each other.
Acknowledging this truth can make your healing journey slightly easier and less painful. Someone’s passing gives value to the life they lived; someone’s absence, as undesirable as it is, makes you value their presence; and every end makes the moments spent together beautiful and memorable. Death, as harsh as it seems, opens our eyes to life’s light. If we want to experience happiness and joy, we must also accept loss and sadness as part of the human experience.