How Being Present In Your Grief Can Help You Move Beyond It

Photo: Soren Egeberg

The fabric of humanity is made of many threads of emotional experience. One of those is grief. None of us are exempt from the grips of grief, and at some point on the journey of life, we’ll be faced with the death of a dear friend, parent, pet, spouse, or child. And actually, it’s this shared sense of grief that exists as the common denominator between human hearts. Grief penetrates the depths of our hearts, sinking into the recesses of our inner life. The path of mindfulness offers us a powerful way to turn toward our darkness to reignite our light for living.

Grief is like a cloud that dims our heart’s natural radiance. But it’s the courage to be present that dictates our true power to transform our relationship with grief and loss. Mindfulness is all about cultivating an intimate relationship with the present moment, intentionally and without judgment. Research shows that mindfulness can help move individuals through the stages of grief, decreasing anxiety and depression. When grief’s darkness comes upon us, mindfulness can help us return to our true selves.

That being said, it takes practice. Like doing bicep curls for your inner emotional well-being, practices of presence can help you walk alongside the loss of loved ones with grace and dignity. Here’s how:

1. Get more comfortable embracing your vulnerability.

The extent to which we’re willing to own our emotional responses to life, is the extent to which we can experience the true joy of life. Vulnerability is a practice of mindfulness, as it takes our intention and attention to turn toward grief. The death of our loved ones cuts us to the primal core, leaving us lost and helpless, swimming in a sea of dark sadness. But the only way to reach the shore of serenity is by swimming through those dark waters. Our culture has conditioned us to feel ashamed of crying and expressing deep sadness. Even in the psychology world, there are these puzzling terms called “resolved grief” and “unresolved grief,” suggesting that somehow our grief dissipates automatically through a few sessions of therapy. As a mindfulness-based psychotherapist, I’m dedicated to demystifying the journey of grieving. We don’t resolve grief; we transform with it. In fact, grief can be the catalyst for awakening if we own the courage of vulnerability by feeling, seeing, and honoring our darkest moments.

Brené Brown, vulnerability researcher and professor, shared findings from her research: “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.”

2. Practice acceptance and liberate your heart.

If you’ve lost someone you love, you know the incessant desire to have their physical presence back in your life. The mind is constantly clinging to pleasure and avoiding pain—this includes how we approach the death of those oh-so-dear to us. When I was in the first year of my Masters of Social Work program at the University of Georgia, my mom died of a sudden stroke at the age of 57. I can’t tell you how many times I've thought, I wish Mom were here to see this. After years of mindfulness training (on the journey of becoming a mindfulness psychotherapist) I can now acknowledge this thought and allow it to pass through my mind without attachment. Of course, it would be beautiful to have her here, physically, but the heart-centered acceptance of her physical death has awakened me to a profound spiritual relationship with my mother. The power of acceptance can open our eyes to a different way of walking with grief, making the loss soft enough to fit into the sacred center of our heart.

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3. Find the strength in your sensitivity.

It’s easy to keep ourselves numb by diving headfirst into everyday life. It takes tremendous strength to turn inward, toward our sensitive spaces. There’s a power that comes when we proactively choose to be still and silent to honor where we are emotionally. Feelings are meant to be felt, and whatever we resist persists. Mindfulness practices such as formal sitting meditation or simple mindful belly breathing can help us find strength in embracing our sensitivity. Today, I carry each moment, each joy, each smile that my mom and I shared together through this crazy journey we call life; the moments we did share will eternally define the relationship I had with my mother—not the moments we lost. And through the depths of our suffering, mindfulness reconnects us to our wholeness, oneness, and joy—even in the face of grief. This liberation is oftentimes just one breath away.

Here's what meditation means to nine real people. What does it mean to you?

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