What does it mean to be mindful? It has become quite the buzzword in recent years with various interpretations of its meaning. There is the Zen philosophy, which disregards cognition completely, and focuses on letting go of thoughts to be immersed in the moment with nonjudgmental acceptance. Many psychologists embrace this same idea of mindfulness as Paul Fulton writes in his book Mindfulness & Psychotherapy, “By learning to see thoughts with no special reality, we come to appreciate our minds incessant tendency to build imaginary scenarios that we inhabit as if they were real”. Quite different is the traditional, Buddhist definition, which embodies thought and directs it in a very productive way. The Buddha valued goal-directed, analytical thought in his explanation of mindfulness. He believed that if you evaluated your thoughts and how they affect your body, your emotions and your state of mind, and then you might be better able to respond to your circumstances. Today, when we think of being mindful we often define it as “paying attention” to avoid negative consequences or we sometimes associate it with meditation.
So how do any of these interpretations relate to divorce? Let’s take the idea of mindfulness meditation in its most modern form, which is where I began my journey. I wanted to calm my anxiety and clear my mind. I needed to quiet the voices in my head saying, “you weren’t good enough” and “if you would have just done this or that” and on and on and on. The emotional trauma I had experienced led to mental and physical repercussions. Things felt chaotic in my brain and body. My mind was cloudy, my body ached and my stomach felt sick all of the time. I was ruminating over everything. I wanted to relieve the constant tension and emotional turmoil that was taking over my life.
Although I was slowly learning how to achieve this through mindfulness mediation, I found it extraordinarily difficult. I tend to reside on the high end of the anxiety scale under normal circumstances and now I was faced with a situation more devastating than I could ever have imagined. Still, every night before bed, I would listen to a meditation practice in hopes of releasing some of my anxiety enough to fall asleep (and stay asleep). It helped to a point but I couldn’t sustain it.
Since there are different stages of grief as well as various meditation techniques; each with heir own strategy for coping with scattered thoughts, I decided to try a different approach. Borrowing from each philosophy and sometimes creating my own; recognizing that not all methods will work the same way for each stage. Instead of trying to let go completely, I decided to embrace whatever thought came in, hold onto it, evaluate it and resolve to accept it or at least wait until it physically felt okay to move on. Cultivating this type of mindfulness takes a long time and continuous practice. However, this method was helping me make the transition from meditative mindfulness into everyday consciousness.
Being mindful of your emotions is a difficult concept to grasp. Emotions usually drive your behavior so when you ask yourself to “be” with these emotions without taking action, how does that feel? It’s pretty uncomfortable. How you see yourself can change dramatically and it can be unsettling. Divorce can profoundly destroy your identity. You may no longer know who you are or the only identification you associate with is “the victim”. Be careful with this one. Since my friends agreed that my husband was a selfish coward who had no respect for me or any regard for my feelings, it was easy to play the victim. However, I only became aware of that when I began to practice mindfulness. I started to notice that I was identifying myself as a victim of divorce. The worst part about succumbing to victimhood is that is does not allow you to move forward. It keeps you grounded in the past and holds you back from experiencing your future. You define yourself by what someone else did to you instead of looking at it as an opportunity to become your authentic self. Whenever I would meet people, I found myself telling my story as if I was the only person on earth to ever be hurt. Being mindful of this made me realize that I did not want to be my story.
Paying attention and recognizing your emotional triggers can help. For instance, I am very aware that listening to the radio evokes the fear that I may hear a sad song or a song that reminds me of my ex-husband (or that time when my wedding song came on while I was getting a pedicure and I ran out of the place crying). Do I avoid listening to music? Sometimes. But overall, I’ve learned how to be with those unpleasant feelings and move through them, mindfully.
The anger, the bitterness and the sorrow still visit but they don’t stay as long anymore. These emotions often shift. Their intensity lessens and there is a glimmer of hope that you will come out on the other side of this. Simply being aware that there is hope is crucial to your healing process. Finding that one positive in what you once thought was the end of your life, will lead to another positive and eventually you will be able to string them together to make your new life even better than it was before. It may be difficult to see this at first; you just want your life back to the way it was (or the way you thought it was). I would have given anything to erase the pain and start over but that’s not how divorce works. The unfortunate reality is that a traumatic event took place and you are grieving a loss. This takes time. And some of us never truly get over it. Not to say that you will never be ok again but you won’t be the same. Divorce fundamentally changes you. It shapes the person you are and the experiences gleaned through the process affect every aspect of your (new) life. Remember that healing is not linear. You will make progress and you will slip back. Honor your feelings as there is no time limit on grief. The journey can be rough but staying mindful of each stage can ease you through the transition.
Jennifer Giamo, NSCA Certified Personal Trainer and Nutrition Consultant, is the founder of Trainers in Transit LLC. Her career in the health and fitness field began as a Nutrition Consultant and evolved into managing director for multiple Corporate Fitness Centers throughout New York City and the Northeast region. Jennifer’s experience in the field spans over 15 years; working with corporate clients such as IBM, Johnson & Johnson, Schering-Plough and Dow Jones. Jenn has worked as a running coach with Team in Training/Leukemia & Lymphoma Society to help marathon runners cross the finish line and she has completed 7 marathons. Additionally, Jenn has recently become a Certified Reiki Practioner and is excited to offer this new (age) service to her clients! You can learn more about Jenn at http://www.trainersintransit.com.