If you're interested in self-development, you've probably heard the term "mindfulness." Actually, even if you're not interested, you've probably heard of it.
Over the last decade, mindfulness meditation, sometimes called mindfulness-based therapy, has been researched as an aid to anxiety, stress, depression, chronic pain, and other human conditions. Once largely confined to the realm of therapists' offices or yoga studios, mindfulness has begun to show up in popular culture -- even making the cover of Time twice in the last decade -- to very mixed response.
With its gain in popularity, however, the whole practice of mindfulness has lost a lot of its depth. In a culture that favors quick-fix solutions, many people use mindfulness slogans -- like "be here now" or "you create your own reality" -- without actually using the practices themselves, or understanding what the practices are.
As it becomes more common, mindfulness is seen as a way to get things (including happiness), rather than as a tool for helping you live.
Even when mindfulness is presented with more thought, it's often misused as corrective rather than supportive. So much of meditation, guided visualization, even basic yoga classes, stresses the idea that if you would only breathe and relax, you would see that everything is perfect just as it is. Everything is unfolding for your deepest good, and this moment, itself, is beautiful.
While this perspective may be true and useful for many things, there are times -- like in grief -- when that message is un-useful at best and offensive at worst.
In the mainstream language of mindfulness, if you would only change your thoughts, your grief would disappear. Any pain or trouble will be transformed if you think about it right. If you would only be here now, you would see that everything is okay, exactly as it is.
That kind of talk is a smack in the face to someone in deep pain.
What I longed for, as a new widow, was an acknowledgement that things were not okay. Watching my partner die, being powerless to help him or stop it, becoming a widow at age 38 -- these are not things that can be made better by changing my thoughts. Sudden death can't be made okay with an attitude of gratitude. I was trying to be here now, but no one liked what my "here" looked like.
Can the practice of mindfulness ever apply to grief? I think so, when it's disentangled from cultural mis-application and confusion. The pure practice of mindfulness is to bring your attention to exactly what is -- whether that is pain or bliss, peace or torment -- each moment, as it arises. At its core, mindfulness does not try to talk you out of anything, nor does it judge what you feel. It's not a prescription for happiness.
Mindfulness is meant to help you acknowledge the truth of the moment you're in, even, or especially, when that moment hurts.
Acknowledgment of the truth is a relief, and it heals. To come to what is true, now, and be with it, that is compassion. That is the practice.
I think the better message of mindfulness is this:
You are here. Where you are is not perfect. It may or may not be okay. And here you are.
You do not create your reality; life will be what it will be.
This is the life you are called to be present for. This is the moment that asks for your awareness. Not because you are improved by what has happened, not because you needed it, not so you can turn it into some kind of gift.
You are called to be present to it because it is what is. Because it is here Now, and so are you.
That's what the tool is for -- to be in relationship with what is real, right now.
Be here now.
Grieve here now.
That is mindfulness, and it does have power.
Megan Devine is writer, grief advocate, and clinical counselor. She helps people living deep grief bear the life they're in. You can schedule a free 30 minute phone call to talk about your grief by clicking here to choose a time on her calendar. On-going sessions are available by phone and Skype. Megan is the author of the audio program "When Everything is Not Okay: Practical Tools to Help You Stay in Your Heart & Not Lose Your Mind." You can download it, and find additional resources, on her website, www.refugeingrief.com.