For Mindfulness Teachers – How to help clients navigate grief.

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I embarked upon my first mindfulness course less than five months after the passing of my beloved Nan. At 96 years old, her death shouldn’t have been so unexpected, but I felt her loss sharply. Noticed as a potential ‘red flag’ in my pre-course assessment questionnaire, my teacher immediately reached out; gently and compassionately checking that I felt ready and able to start on such a new and sometimes discombobulating endeavour. With a regular meditation practice under my belt, I felt able to proceed, and although there’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to grieving, my experience as a participant, and now as a mindfulness teacher, has encouraged me to share the multitude of ways that we can help our clients to navigate grief. Let’s explore these more deeply here.

Firstly, let’s remember that grief will affect everyone at some point, and there are countless reasons to grieve. Unfortunately, we will all at some point lose a loved one, but equally the loss of a pet, a job, a relationship, a home, our health; even changes to our identity can bring about a strong sense of loss and grief. We should therefore remember that grief is a normal and natural process.

By practising mindfulness as part of the grieving process – by paying attention to what is happening, by not rushing it, not becoming consumed by it, not pushing it away or trying to fix it; our clients can be fully with whatever comes up, good or bad. Mindfulness can become a safe space to allow themselves to just be, to feel, to accept and simply exist.

Let’s unpack this further, into five key principles for our clients:

  1. Feel your feelings: Acknowledgment and acceptance of how your client is truly feeling is an important first step in the healing process and the journey through mindful grieving. Without judgement or resistance to their emotions, it becomes possible to see that grief comes and goes, a cyclical process, much like the cycle of the breath. The sense of loss may never truly leave, but the rawness of grief can become easier once clients can acknowledge that eventually their feelings, just like their thoughts, will subside and pass.
  2. Express yourself: Although initially seen as counterintuitive during the grieving process, we can remind our clients to not dampen their previously joyful activities and self-expression. When feeling stressed, sad and generally low, mindfulness can keep their tanks topped up, boosting resilience when they need it the most, and an acknowledgement that sadness and happiness can coexist. This could be through a range of mindful activities, such as mindful journaling, mindful movement, mindful gardening or even listening to music or reading some beautiful poetry. Expressing feelings and unpacking emotions through mindful activities can be incredibly supportive, especially for clients feeling stuck, or unable to talk and share their feelings.
  3. Stay connected: Grief can be a very lonely, isolating place to be, especially when consumed by thoughts of loss and despair. The sense of community and connection through a regular mindfulness group, sangha or weekly sit can be transformative, even when joining a virtual space or sitting in shared, compassionate silence. As time passes, clients may find mindful enquiry, as part of a structured mindfulness curriculum, to be a supportive space to share their experience of grief.
  4. Take care of yourself: Living life whilst grieving can often feel like an uphill struggle, and grief can be incredibly draining, both physically, mentally, and emotionally. Mindfulness has been scientifically proven to support interpersonal relationships, to help to maintain healthy habits and to assist in the creation of better boundaries. The ability to continue eating well, exercising, maintaining wellbeing, and generally living with ease during such a difficult time is a challenge, but daily mindfulness and meditation practices can make life easier for our clients during this time.
  5. Be kind to yourself: Mindfulness practices, particularly those supporting self-compassion, are crucial in enabling many clients to allow themselves to grieve without judgement. The traditional ‘five stages of grief’ can create a sense of urgency, of needing to get through the grieving period as soon as possible, and in the ‘right’ way. Self-compassion practices can help clients avoid this sense of comparison and cultivate feelings of loving-kindness, with a renewed ability to hold a departed one, and those loved ones still around them, more closely in their hearts and minds.

As mindfulness teachers, it can be all too easy to champion the power of meditation and mindfulness to everyone we meet. However, it’s important to remember that taking a mindfulness course, strange though it may sound, can at times be quite stressful. Learning new concepts, daily home practice and weekly sessions can be a big commitment if there is too much going on for someone. In terms of grief and bereavement, it is often helpful to come to terms with some of the grief involved first, as it can be difficult to work with more longstanding habits of mind when bereavement is still very preoccupying. As a mindfulness teacher, you might like to recommend a one-year notional period to your clients (although people will differ greatly in when they feel ready to begin a course) and experience suggests that it can be helpful to have gone through all the ‘significant’ dates of the person who has passed away before moving on to start something new or unknown.

Clarity, knowledge, and freedom of choice are paramount when helping clients navigate their mindful grieving journey. With the intention of care and in the ethos of looking after their own wellbeing first, I will always offer a friendly, no-obligation, pressure-free conversation to talk through their options and possibilities in more detail, giving time and space to explore anything with me that might be supportive. There is no rush, no destination to reach – mindfulness will be here when they are ready.

Victoria trained with us here at MindfulnessUK, where all of our course and teaching is trauma-informed, and we support teachers to have the tools and skills to support their participants safely and professionally.


Introducing Victoria Abbott:

Victoria Abbott works within careers education, advice and guidance at University College London, where she’s also a well-being champion and mental health first-aider. She also supports exhausted, anxious, busy women to create a calmer, happier and less fearful way of life through her work as an ICF trained compassion coach and mindful mentor. Victoria also teaches the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) group programme, and as a trainee eco-therapist, hopes to blend both mindfulness, compassion and nature connection in her future offerings.

Instagram: @i_am_mindfully_victoria
LinkedIn: mindfully-victoria



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