What is mindfulness? Mindfulness is a mental state which we can achieve simply by focusing our awareness on the present moment – consciously choosing each and every thought that enters our minds. By living in the present, we can unclutter our minds of memories of the past, unconstructive thought patterns and worries about the future. Scientific research has proven that the more we think the same thought or repeat the same actions, it will become a habit and part of our subconscious minds. If we don’t consciously choose our thoughts, our subconscious mind will take over and those thoughts will become our truth.
When I first lost my son in an auto accident, I regularly had the same thought – “I can’t continue on with my life, without Tyler in it.” I replayed that in my head so many times that eventually it became my truth and was embedded in my subconscious mind. Whenever I was sad or missing him (which was most of the time), my mind would automatically go to my “truth”, that I could’t continue a healthy, happy life without him. The guilt I experienced at the slightest feeling of happiness, was enough to make me recoil back to that sad place where I knew that I would never again feel true, ardent joy. There came a point in my grief journey that I became tired of feeling sad at every thought of Tyler – I wanted to be thankful for the opportunity to be his Mom and and to celebrate his life – in order to do so, I knew that I would have to make drastic changes to my way of thinking.
Through my own research and self-evaluation, I learned that I was expending far too much energy working to suppress my unwanted thoughts, which was causing me anxiety and stress. There were so many moments when the lump in my throat grew so large that it was difficult to swallow – so many times that I had to hurriedly exit a room before the tears began to spill from my eyes – and I found that when speaking with others or being surrounded by others, my mind was replaying “please don’t cry,” over and over. This made it hard for me to concentrate or to really listen when someone else was speaking. It became overwhelming and I wanted to be able to consciously observe those unwanted thoughts and learn to replace them with ones that supported my well-being. The first thing I did was to create a gratitude list that was specific to Tyler and being his Mom. Whenever I was feeling sad, I would read this list and immediately transform my sadness to a feeling of gratitude. I also created a list of affirmation about myself, my life and my role as Tyler’s Mom. Over time, I found that those negative, unwanted thoughts began to disappear and were automatically replaced with healthy, happy thoughts. Rather than telling myself that I couldn’t continue life without Tyler, my new truth became, “I will live my life to honor Tyler, as I am so thankful to have been chosen to be his Mom.”
Don’t get me wrong, this was no easy task – I found that there were many idle times when subconscious, unconstructive thoughts threatened to take over my mind. Some of those times included: driving in the car, brushing my teeth, cleaning the house, cooking dinner, doing yard work, walking on the treadmill, walking through the grocery store, taking a shower, sitting through a meeting at work, and waiting at the doctor’s office. It was imperative to my emotional well-being and my success that I be prepared with how I desired to replace those unwanted thoughts when they occurred so they wouldn’t catch me off guard. Some things that I consistently used to do this:
- Created affirmations to use in replacing unconstructive thoughts
- Created and read a gratitude list regularly
- Observed my breathing – breathing occurs naturally and rhythmically and when we pay attention to it, it can take the focus out of our mind and onto our body. I used this to take the focus off of my worries, fears and negative thoughts and instead, repeat my affirmations
- Focused on my limbs – this helped to slow down my negative thinking as I was now focusing my attention and thoughts elsewhere and allowed positive thoughts in
- Listened to music that was pleasurable
- Read books that I found interesting
- Created a life action plan which gave me something to focus on and provided new purpose for my life
- Paused and connected with my senses – smell the air, feel the breeze or the sun against your skin, slow down and enjoy what your eating – this will force you to slow down and enjoy the simpler things in life which allowed more joy in my life
- Practiced active listening – truly listen when others speak rather than get lost in your thoughts and worrying about what to say next. This will also help to slow down your mind and allow you to be aware and present.
No matter how unconstructive your thoughts have been or for how long, you can always change them into positive thoughts that promote you living your best life. Be mindful of each moment in your life and and give yourself permission to feel joy in addition to sadness when grieving. It is okay to cry and it is also okay to laugh and smile.