Mindful Grieving: Learning to Accept Loss

Mindful Grieving: Learning to Accept Loss

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This article explains, what is mindful grieving, how to mindfully work with grief, and learn to accept the loss. We’ll also discuss various factors with the help of which, you can remove any obstacles that might impede the natural course of grieving.  

Mindfully working with grief essentially means removing any obstacles that might impede the natural course of grieving. In other words, grief is an invitation to welcome our experience with equanimity—without fear or aversion.

It is to be open to whatever grief brings to us and to allow ourselves to experience that fully. Grief is not always predictable, and it doesn’t follow a set timetable or path. It has to be allowed to happen on its own, taking its own good time.

(Also Read: Generosity: The Joy of Giving with Mindfulness)

I.      Mindful Grieving Tip #1: Grief and Loss

Grieving is the process of coming to terms with loss in our lives. Almost from the very moment, we’re born, we have to deal with loss. Newborns who come into the world have lost the warmth and comfort of their mothers’ wombs, and from that instant onward, life can seem like a string of losses.

Some losses, of course, are greater than others. Losing a loved one to death is more significant and more distressing for most people than losing a mere material object, but the loss of anything can cause suffering and can require the process of grieving to help us adjust.

Take a moment to reflect on the losses in your own life. Almost certainly, you’ve lost someone close to you to death—a parent or grandparent, a spouse, a friend, or a relative.

We endure loss through means other than death, of course. And, we can lose our jobs and our life savings. We can see cherished possessions stolen or accidentally broken. Our friends may leave because of a quarrel, or we may leave them when we move away to embark on a new career.

In the American courtship system, one can undergo a series of romantic breakups before finding a spouse. Even after marriage, one faces a 50% chance of divorce. As we age, we may begin to recognize that the youthful dreams we had long held are unlikely to materialize.

These losses can cause us to suffer greatly, but for the significant losses in our lives, we need to grieve, and mindfulness practice can help facilitate our grief skillfully.

Grief is a natural healing process that has several identifiable dimensions. Often, these aspects of the process are referred to as stages, a notion that suggests that mindful grieving or grief follows a predictable, linear course as we come to terms with our loss.

The typology of grief proposed by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross notes that mindful grieving sequentially progresses through the stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. While grief certainly can include these phases and experiences, it may be misleading, and potentially harmful, to suggest that grief is predictable or follows a specific timetable.

Each person grieves in different ways. There may be times when grief includes anger and sadness and other experiences, but the experiences may not come in a predictable sequence, and there may be no sharp divisions between these stages.

Note: Practice breathing meditation in a graveyard. Notice and appreciate the way the idea of death affects you.

The mindfulness approach to grief is not to usher us through various stages so that we might hasten onward to the final goal of acceptance. Rather, mindfulness practice can be used to ensure that we accept and fully experience whatever the process of grief brings us.

Mindfulness assists the grieving process by helping us acknowledge and accept the universality and inevitability of loss. Having to give up what we have is unavoidable. Throughout our lives, things are taken away from us—sometimes with our consent and sometimes without.

Resisting necessary losses, of course, can cause us to suffer. The mindfulness insight into the impermanence of all reality helps ease our resistance to living in a world where ultimately everything we hold dear will have to be relinquished.

II. Mindful Grieving Tip #2: Easing the Suffering of Grief

Being aware of the universality and inevitability of loss—and realizing your solidarity with everyone else—implies that we are all well-advised to begin to prepare for grief now. Why wait?

Throughout our lives, almost daily, we are given ample opportunities to practice mindfully coping with loss. These occasions are chances to remind ourselves of the nature of impermanence and of the potential hazards of becoming attached to transient things.

Remembering the transience of all life helps us to avoid developing unhealthy attachments that can cause us to suffer, but how does mindfulness help us cope with the loss of those things to which we have already become attached?

Quite simply, it’s no different from the way we handle any other unwanted experience we might have, including anger and pain. It involves acknowledging, accepting, and letting go.

Mindfulness is of greatest benefit in the grieving process in keeping us focused in the present moment, the place we can fully feel the pain of loss. Loss of something important in our lives almost inevitably provokes us to worry about how to fill that void and to face the future. These are legitimate concerns, and they must be faced.

Inordinate attention to apprehensions about the future, however, can also hinder the process of grieving, which requires momentarily setting aside these anxieties and being completely aware of our experience in the present.

During the period of grief, mindfulness meditation can provide a deliberate opportunity for attending to the present. As we discovered in our conversations about anger and pain, fully experiencing what we find in each moment is the precondition for thinking and acting wisely.

Practicing deliberate acts of self-compassion is also essential to grieving. Being self-compassionate during these periods not only means relaxing our usual tendencies toward self-judgment and criticism, but it also means being open to the expressions of compassion from others.

Bearing in mind one’s solidarity with others in grief is one way to ease our suffering; another is to bear in mind the serendipitous nature of life.

Serendipity is the word for the phenomenon of discovering pleasant things not sought for. Part of the surprising and unpredictable quality of existence is the way that, sometimes, things can turn out better than we imagined or hoped.

Because our foresight is so greatly limited, we’re well-advised not to rush to judgments about the events that happen to us. Remembering that we really do not know what the future holds for us, except the certainty of death, can often ease the anxieties we have about the future. We fear the worst, but often what turns out is for the best.

III. Mindful Grieving Tip #3: Dealing with Staggering Losses

What do we do with losses that seem staggering, altogether outside the realm of normal human experience? There are times when people lose almost everything. One only has to think of earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, genocides, and terrorist events—disasters whose horrors are difficult to comprehend and to integrate into our ordinary experience of life.

Perhaps you may be able to understand such staggering events by appealing to the providence of a God or to the belief in rebirth or reincarnation—in which cases such massive suffering can somehow be redeemed and ameliorated.

If you are hesitant to make such metaphysical claims, it makes it more difficult to put such losses in a comprehensive framework. Sometimes it seems that the only thing these disasters are good for is giving the survivors some perspective—which is of course no consolation to the victims—and perhaps the motivation to be more compassionate.

These are times when rituals may come to our aid. Whatever our faith or culture, joining with others to share our grief—moving through the familiar elements of a ceremony and sharing words that have been spoken by others in our situation for generations— can help us keep in mind that this is part of our human lot and always has been.

Here’s where your suffering can be of use to you:

Many people find it’s not until they have had to cope with setbacks of their own that they are truly able to have compassion for others.

For as long as we’re met with nothing but success—warm friendships, a loving family, rewarding job—we’re likely to think that all good things have come to us because we deserve them.

Only when we experience some losses ourselves do we realize we had less control over events than we had believed. It’s humbling and disillusioning, in the best sense of the word; it helps us with mindful grieving, and it also helps us rid ourselves of whatever illusions of permanence and control we may have been holding.

Many mindfulness practitioners eventually come to see such losses as supports for meditation. It may be going too far to say these problems are welcomed, but once you have begun to use the tools of mindfulness in your daily life, it’s almost certainly true that you will at least see your problems as opportunities for gaining a more intimate knowledge of the way your mind works.

If you practice developing skillful means with life’s everyday challenges, you’ll be able to react more skillfully when the greater losses come to you, as they inevitably will. You’ll understand that you’re not being singled out for suffering—you’re just having a life.

IV. Things to Remember:

Grieving: The process of coming to terms with loss in life.

Serendipity: The word for the phenomenon of discovering pleasant things not sought for. Part of the surprising and unpredictable quality of existence is the way that, sometimes, things can turn out better than imagined.

V. Things to Consider:

  1. Reflect on your experiences with grief. Did they follow a particular, specifiable pattern? What losses have caused you the greatest grief? Are there losses you still grieve?
  2. Throughout the day, notice the times you experience loss—no matter how small. It may be staining your favorite shirt, losing the perfect parking spot, or being outbid on eBay. Notice your reactions to these losses. Use these experiences to deepen your practice with grief and your acceptance of impermanence.

(Related: How to Build Self-Esteem?)

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