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Is mindfulness possible whilst grieving?

One of the core tenets of Buddhism is the concept of impermanence. When we place value on permanence, it can result in obsessing about a future that may or may not happen or dwell in the past. When we accept impermanence we allow ourselves to live in the present moment which can profoundly affect how we manage grief – the idea of ‘one day at a time’ can be a very helpful motto to adopt.



Mindfulness can become a practice in which we become fully aware of the present – our thoughts and feelings, our physical experience, and the world around us. It is understanding that everything is fleeting, our thoughts and feelings can change within minutes … or even seconds.

To let go of the idea of permanence can be very freeing – what may have felt like a bad start to the day may end with joy in it! We are not our emotions, they are only temporary and can come and go and it is well within our reach to move out of a particular state if we want to … a phonecall to a good friend, watching a comedy, a walk on a beautiful day, savouring a delicious meal can all change our state of emotions. It is not to say that mindfulness distracts you from the grieving process as avoidance or denial of it can also be detrimental.

But it might mean that on some days when you feel completely consumed and trapped by the feeling of sadness, mindfulness reminds us that pain and sorrow, are equally impermanent emotions which means our grief may not have to feel so all-consuming. Once we recognise the natural ebb and flow of grief and allow ourselves to accept its ever-changing form, we can accept it with the knowledge that we do not need to be in denial of it but to understand that grief does not have to last forever. Additionally, by increasing our awareness through paying attention to these specific thoughts and feeling that are consuming us, rather than general sadness and pain, we can notice and accept them and find the appropriate time and place to address them.

The old adage ‘time is a healer’ is often quite true and what may have been overwhelming moments of sadness can diminish as those moments are replaced with more pleasant feelings. Most importantly, mindfulness teaches us to be compassionate towards ourselves and not to build up expectations

Physical aspects of mindfulness

As our thoughts produce emotions, they, in turn impact our physical responses. Intense pain, stress and grief can affect our central nervous systems, releasing high quantities of adrenaline and cortisol associated with fight-or-flight-type symptoms. Our bodies are not designed to cope for long periods in this state and some of the signs might include increased heart rate, shortness of breath, dry throat, muscle tension, digestive problems … amongst other physical manifestations.

Through relaxation and mindful breathing, it is possible to reverse this effect by encouraging release of the ‘feel good’ hormones oxytocin and serotonin (the latter used in the manufacture of anti-depressants). We are likely to be aware of our body’s needs when we become more focused on it, which can help with other aspects such as good sleep, regular exercise and nutrition.

Mindfulness Practice

– Sit comfortably or lie down – Find a place that feels calm and quiet to you but do ensure that you can stay awake for the exercise

– Set a time limit – If you’re just beginning, it can help to choose a short time, such as 5 or 10 minutes once or twice a day (generally early morning is good before you get up and a quiet time in the evening)

– Become aware of your body – Become aware any sensations in your body, stretch if you feel the need to, shrug your shoulders and gently relieve any held tension

– Focus on your breath. Become aware of your breathing. Take a couple of deep breaths in and out. Either focus your eyes softly on a particular spot or item (such as a candle or flower) or simply let them close. If it helps you to focus, try counting each breath (the inhalation and the exhalation counts as one). When your mind starts to wander, gently bring it back to your breath. It’s very normal to find this difficult to do at first, but don’t judge yourself – the more you practise, the easier it becomes.

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