Mindfulness & Grief: Coping Skills For Life After Loss

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Mindfulness & Leadership Excellence

Coping WithLife After LossHeather Stang, MAAssociation of Death Education & Counseling2016 Annual ConferenceMinneapolis, MN


Lets GetFOCUSEDBreathing In, I Know That I Am Breathing In.Breathing Out, I Know That I Am Breathing Out.

Close your eyes and invite places where you are holding tension to relax to whatever extend that is possible right now.Begin to follow your breath, labeling it In. Out. In. Out. When you get distracted, just begin again.


Introduction to my practice:

8 Week Mindfulness & Grief GroupsPrivate SessionsDrop in Relaxation for GriefSurvivors groups & Workshops3

The awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose,in the present moment, and non-judgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment to moment.

Jon Kabat-Zinn (2003)

This is the definition used most often as the benchmark in research.

Shapiro: Intention, Attention, Attitude

Importance of Intention Skills Developed in Present moment awarenessNon-judgmentally lets you know your own preferencesAllows you to become aware of when you are clinging or avoiding

We meet the present moment through our senses4


Presence is much easier when things are going well, but in reality we are learning to cultivate equanimity no matter what is happening.

Four Brahma-Viharas: loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity

From Latin meaning calm, level.

With equanimity, what passes through your mind is held with spaciousness so you stay even-keeled and arent thrown off balance. The ancient circuitry of the brain is continually driving you to react one way or another - and equanimity is your circuit breaker. Rick Hansen, Ph. D. The Practical Neuroscience of Buddhas Brain: Happiness, Love & Wisdom


1st FoundationOf Mindfulness Body

Breath AwarenessBody ScanSensory AwarenessYoga / Yoga Therapy

The goal of mindfulness is to find liberation and reduce suffering by living life in the present moment not rehashing the past or daydreaming about the future. With time you will learn to respond mindfully to lifes ups and downs, rather than react out of habit or mindlessness. Mindfulness helps our grieving body recover from the stressful effects of loss, and widening the perspective of our experience of loss. You will find that your body can offer you both a safe harbor to rest your mind, as well as powerful wisdom. Your relationship to your body can provide insight into how you relate to yourself, and offer you fertile ground for compassion practice. 7

2nd FoundationOf Mindfulness Feelings

Three Feeling TonesAwareness of Add-OnsMeditative Inquiry

The three feeling tones are pleasant, unpleasant and neutral. You may experience one at a time, or a combination of feeling tones. Labeling a feeling with a feeling tone gives you the opportunity to step out of the story and explore any add-ons.

Meditative inquiry allows you to peel back the layers of your experience and uncover more subtle experiences.8

Working with emotions during our meditation sessions sharpens our ability to recognize a feeling just as it begins, not fifteen consequential actions later.

Sharon Salzberg (2003)

Behavior as a reaction to feeling: What would happen if you could slow everything down including your reactions?

Working with emotions during our meditation sessions sharpens our ability to recognize a feeling just as it begins, not fifteen consequential actions later. We can then go on to develop a more balanced relationship with it - neither letting it overwhelm us so that we lash out rashly, nor ignoring it because were afraid or ashamed of it.9

3rd FoundationOf Mindfulness Mind

Lens of PerceptionPreference & PrejudiceNon-identification

The most fundamental aggression to ourselves, the most fundamental harm we can do to ourselves, is to remain ignorant by not having the courage and the respect to look at ourselves honestly and gently. Pema Chdrn, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times

When we are mindful of mind we become intimate with our internal weather, and notice our predispositions and habits. This is not so we then judge our lens of perception harshly, but so we can act from a place of wisdom rather than ignorance.

We learn that we are not our mind it is just one more sensory experience.10

Mind Full or Mindful?

When our mind is cluttered, we miss the present moment.11

4th FoundationOf Mindfulness MentalObjects

Descriptive & PrescriptiveLiberation From Suffering

Photo by my stepfather, Tom Clark.

Once we are aware of the nature of our own mind, we have stepped over the threshold and into a room filled with mental objects also called mental phenomenon. Note: In Buddhism there are 108 specific mental objects 36 now, 36 past, 36 present.

Recognizing our mental inventory is both descriptive what we are experiencing and prescriptive we are offered remedies using skillful means.



Sensual Desire or Greed Ill-will & Aversion Sloth & Torpor Restlessness, Anxiety & Worry Skeptical Doubt

Oregon Department of Transportation

Sensual Desire: Focus on unattractive parts of the body. If what you want is harmful (i.e. a whole bag of potato chips) consider the consequences of giving in.Greed: If what you are attached to isnt harmful, remind yourself how temporary the pleasure will be.

Ill-will: If you are wishing another harm, practice loving-kindness meditations.Aversion, Fear: When you want things to be other than they are, narrow your focus (count your breaths, relaxation response) broaden your focus (sounds outside and in the room), or use the RAIN technique from week 4.

Sloth (physical)/Torpor (mental): Start by sitting up straighter, focusing more on your breath. Open your eyes, look at a light, stand up. Explore why you are sleepy - nutrition, better sleep, etc. and tend to them, or dull aversion, avoidance, fear.

Restlessness, anxiety, worry: Focus using by counting breath, practice loving-kindness meditation, smile, or shift your focus to sound. Walking meditation can also be a good remedy.

Skeptical doubt: Reflect on the questions you have and find a way to answer them, either with a teacher, prayer, or through research; put it aside and continue to practice.



RAIN: Four Steps To Manage Emotions Mindfully- When a difficult emotion arises on or off the cushion, RAIN allows you to decondition your response, and choose to respond mindfully rather than react mindlessly.

Recognize - Acknowledge what you are feeling. What is happening inside me right now?

Allowing (Acceptance) - Be willing to be present to your experience, no matter how unpleasant. Whatever you notice, let it be. (Tara Brach recommends noting I consent or yes or this too).

Investigate - Unhook yourself from the object or story, so you can witness the emotion with kindness, and from an unbiased perspective. Mindfulness of body is a great technique here, as is asking yourself what am I believing to be true?

Non-Identification - Recognize you are not this emotion or experience; it is just a temporary event arising. Watch it with an attitude of natural presence.


CompassionMay You Be Free From Suffering,As I Wish To Be Free From Suffering.

The formal practice of lovingkindness meditation also known as metta - involves sending a short verse in six directions as you visualize a particular being: yourself, a spiritual leader or teacher, a friend or family member, a neutral person, a difficult person, and all sentient beings. You can craft your own verse, similar to the one below:

May you be happy, as I wish to be happy.May you know peace, as I wish to know peace.May you be free from suffering, as I wish to be free from suffering.


Contact HeatherEmail: heatherstangma@gmail.comSpeaking: heatherstang.comGrief: mindfulnessandgrief.com

Get The Guided Meditations & Slide Deck Here:

heatherstang.com/adec16/password: thanatology