Using Mindfulness to help with grief .....
Life can seem sometimes lonely, sad and senseless, particularly when unwanted events happen. The loss of a loved one is one such event. There can be a range of emotions wrapped up in an event like this and these emotions together form grief. Grief can be the result of a range of events including death and also a car crash, a sudden job loss, or a divorce or the breakup of other once special relationships. The emotions associated with grief include shock, anger, denial, guilt and loneliness, particularly in the early stages of grief.
Anger is a common emotion with grief. With a sudden death, particularly suicide, it can feel as though the person who died had control over the situation and were being selfish. You may feel as though they lied about their predicament before dying and that if you knew the full story perhaps you might have been able to better help. Perhaps you felt they were holding back on information that they deliberately did not give you. This leads us to think that they somehow had some handle on what was going on and they were orchestrating events. Ultimately we will not know. What may be true is that they were probably struggling. They were in pain emotionally. In situations like this it is not uncommon for that person to feel worthless or not worthy of true love, happiness, or a guilt free life. Our anger can be directed towards the person who died because they did not reach out to you enough and the anger can be directed at ourselves because we may be feeling we could have done more to help them.
Anger is ok. It's a normal reaction in dealing with something sudden and devastating. It's also a way of protecting ourselves. Our heart closes up and we go into defense mode because of the rawness of the hurt. So anger is ok. Dwelling on things to sort things out in our heads is ok too. For a while. When it lingers it can eat us up.
Becoming increasingly aware of our words can help us start to separate ourselves from the anger. Saying "I'm angry!" allows us to be totally inside that anger, at times overwhelmed by it. Creating distance with it such as saying "I notice that I'm angry" allows us other options. Try saying it to yourself. "I'm angry" versus "I notice that I'm angry". At first there may seem little difference between the 2 versions. The second one does however allow us the scope to start to observe and become more aware of what is going on. There's a simple way of demonstrating this awareness. It goes like this:
"There is a part of us that can notice, that can observe, that can become aware. Exercise that part of us right now by drawing your attention, becoming aware of, your breathing. Simply notice your breathing. The fact that you are breathing. That breathing is happening for you right now".
You would have become aware of exactly that, that you are breathing. So where did this awareness side of us come from? Where was it 2 minutes ago? Well it's always there. It's just that we don't use it much generally. Let's use it again. Become aware of your big toe on your left foot. No doubt now you've become aware of that toe. It's the concept of becoming aware that we're emphasising here. It's different to being absorbed in the action. There is some distance that is created as the side of us that can become aware, the Wise Self kicks in. It's called the Wise Self because it can become present at any time. The more you practise using it the easier it is to identify with.
Try being aware of 3 breaths in a row. Now as simple as that sounds it can be difficult to do. We can be successful with one breath but it's not unusual for our minds to be distracted by time we get to the third breath. Perhaps some psycho babble or even that anger has taken over again.
Awareness allows us to check in with right now. With what is happening for us in this very present moment. If we're angry we can check in with it. If we're in pain we can check in with it. The Wise Self can notice it. The Wise Self may say ....
"Ahhhh I notice I'm angry again. I can feel my jaw clenching. My shoulders are scrunched up. I can feel my stomach churning. My mind is going at a million miles an hour". What it's doing here is noticing. It's noticing the thoughts, feelings, and sensations occurring as we 'catch' ourselves out doing whatever it is we are doing right now. Try it. Catch yourself out. We can become aware not only of thoughts and feelings but of anything our senses communicate with us. For example, where are your feet positioned right now? Are you standing or sitting? What are your legs doing? Are they crossed? Which leg is crossed over the other, the left or the right? Are you wearing footwear? Can you feel your feet inside your footwear or can you feel the ground beneath your feet? Do you have any discomfort in your body? Notice it. Allow it to be. Simply notice it. What are you thinking? Notice the thoughts. They're only thoughts.
When you get into that zone of noticing, then draw your attention to your breathing. Simply notice your breathing. It's a great leveler. It can bring you right back to now in a comfortable way. Notice the breath going in all by itself then notice how you breathe out automatically. It doesn't require any input from you. It just does it automatically. Now look around you. What can you see? Do more than have a quick scan. Really focus on something. It's shape, it's colour, it's texture. Your mind may kick again while you're doing this. That's fine, it's what minds do. If you get distracted by the mind, notice what the distraction was and then bring your attention back to what you are observing.
You can try this with 5 things you can see. Five individual things. The shape, colour, texture, distinguishing features, the way the light hits that object, any shadows etc. Then 5 things you can hear. Can you hear 5 different things right now? Maybe sounds that are close to you or sounds outside the room. The ticking of a clock. The whirring of a fridge. A car going by. Your breathing. If you get distracted, notice the distraction then bring your attention back to the activity. What about 5 things you can feel? The clothes against your skin. Your feet in your shoes or the carpet or ground beneath your feet. Your watch against your skin. The air passing through your nostrils as you breath in and out. The hunger feeling in your stomach. A pain somewhere in your body. What can you feel?
This process, this activity of exercising our Wise Self, that part of us that can notice, is a great way to ground us, bring us back to now and get us to a point where we are more present in the now. You come to realise those distracting thoughts like the angry thoughts are in the past. The past is gone. It cannot be undone. Worrying about the future takes our focus away from right now. Can you be in the future right now, or the past? Or can you be in the present moment?
So if you get angry, notice it. If you feel sad, notice it. Notice the thoughts, notice where you feel it. Then focus on your breathing. Bring yourself back to right now. Really get present with right now. Once you're connected with the present moment again, decide what you can do right now. Ideally choose something that is good for you. It could be sitting and taking in nature. It could be going for a walk. It could reading a book. It could be something you have thought about doing for a long time but have put off doing it. You might decide to make a cup of coffee. Whatever you do, do it mindfully! If you're making a cup of coffee watch the process like a curious scientist discovering this for the first time. Notice the boiling water hit the coffee beans. Take in the aromas. Look at the steam rising from the cup.
You might also like to do something good for yourself. No matter what you do, if the anger is raw and recent it will come back. This is normal. Though we might not want it, it is normal. So if you have to do this a thousand times a day because the anger is intense or dominating, then do it a thousand times a day. We are simply bringing ourselves back to right now rather than be carried off by the anger. It's in the present moment we can do more in order to be kind to ourselves. Not in the past or the future. All we have is now so the more we ground oursleves back into now, the better able we are to make good decisions for ourselves. Like to know more? At the bottom of the page are details of how you can download a free eBook on Mindfulness which will give you more detail on how Mindfulness can benefit your life no matter what you are experiencing.
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