Letter to my Mother about Mindfulness (with Fluidity) for Grief


My mother recently finished her dissertation for her PhD in Health Psychology. She would sometimes comment on how she was the oldest person in the program – to which I’d respond, “You’re 83 years old! Of course you’re the oldest person!” My mother also teaches tap dance out in the desert where many retirees are and she is quite popular there – she’s funny and a great teacher. Yes, she is the force of nature that you’d assume she is from this.

Her first “gig” as “Dr. Mom” (well, only we like to call her that), is going to be to speak (& have discussion groups) with residents of a senior center (where she used to teach tap dance) in a 4 week workshop about issues pertaining to them. Each week has a different topic health/exercise/polypharmacy, grief, dealing with Alzheimer’s, and depression & loneliness. She sent me her outline to get my feedback.

It was good. It was a class I’d like to take – one that I felt would take alot of research & time to prepare & present. I was impressed and glad she’s getting the opportunity to share what she knows – and I’m sure it will all be quite helpful to these people who already love & respect her (and thus will listen to every word.) What a great opportunity – for everyone.

The one component I felt I could offer (that she didn’t really know of) was how mindfulness can play an important role – especially for the grief – and loneliness & depression.

In describing mindfulness to this obviously bright woman (and don’t get me wrong, I’ve explained in many times to her over the years – but now she had a reason to be really interested and I knew it was a special opportunity.) So I chose my words carefully – and ended up describing it – emphasizing fluidity in a way I liked alot (and, because of that, I ended up teaching a meditation workshop yesterday centered on fluidity and flow.)

My mother’s response to what I wrote was to say she was printing it out and would study it. [Insert sensations of delight here.] This is what I wrote to her:

“I can simply offer the mindfulness perspective on all that (in case you want to add that to all that you already have.) And, as I’ve told you, I do always emphasize that mindfulness needs to be part of a balanced approach that includes exercise, diet, getting out in nature (which in the desert could also be getting into water – i.e. swimming), and social relationships – and you seem to be addressing all of that.

The mindfulness perspective is one of discrimination (of the different strands of experience) – and of acceptance of one’s experience without judgement.

Usually we have an agenda – we want good things – i.e. pleasant sensations & emotions – plus certain external conditions – and we don’t want discomfort or unpleasant external conditions. Mindfulness is about being happy independent of conditions.

We learn that we don’t really want pleasure – we really want satisfaction. And we don’t really want no pain – we really want no (or less) suffering. Increased satisfaction & reduced suffering is what mindfulness is all about. That can be had.

This doesn’t mean we don’t take steps for a healthier outcome in the external world – but we get rid of the “friction” or “resistance” or “grasping” ( all = forms of tension in mind & body) – so that our experience is one of fluidity.

The term “in the Tao” or “in the Zone” refers to such fluidity. And this fluidity is almost always a pleasant experience and tends to create better circumstances – i.e. you draw good things (circumstances, relationships) – but if bad stuff happens, it doesn’t break you – because you’re fluid.

So, for example, let’s address GRIEF:

When I’m working with someone who is grieving, there is always an initial period when they do not want to work through it – they need to feel the grief. (And this period may be short or so long that it’s not healthy – that has to be judged by how functional the person is.) In that first period of time, I do not attempt to direct their awareness away from the grief or to substitute something for grief – that may trigger that “resistance” (which is the source of all suffering according to Buddhism.)

(A side note about grief is that people will/can hold onto it as an honoring of their loved one – i.e. they grieve to prove they loved. They may feel that if they stop grieving it will somehow dishonor their loved one or mean that they didn’t really care. And here’s where psychological reframing can be quite helpful, and we help them find new says to “honor” the departed loved one that involve taking care of themselves. But I do find that often the person is not aware that is why they are holding onto their grief so tightly and so sometimes just that insight can be integral in helping people to let go just enough to focus in a more productive way.)

In any event, the process of tuning into one’s emotional experience in body & mind with discrimination & acceptance is key.

So, with skilled guidance, one can delve into exactly what one is feeling in his/her body – and usually we also discover love, joy, and maybe anger or fear – it’s not just sadness. Really tuning into and discriminating those different strands of experience is quite empowering and brings one more fully into the richness of the present moment – so that one can feel the grief + all the other flavors present fully, with acceptance, and then, the natural shift will take place – that takes place with everything – i.e. everything that arises will pass away.

The Acceptance of the sensations (in this case of feelings in the body) will help the feelings no longer be stuck and they will flow on through – as they are designed naturally to do – like weather. It’s a lovely process to be part of, actually.

Most people have never just attended to the physical sensations associated with an emotion – and just that process of separating the physical component from the story/image/idea can be quite effective in reducing suffering. Then the willingness to really check it out, feel where it is, allow it to be there and move as it wants not only sets the stage for this natural fluidity – but for insight & purification.

So our work as facilitators, is often just to set the stage and help direct awareness – and the process that unfolds is a natural one – like childbirth and we’re the midwives.

Let me know if I can explain further or support you in any way on your new journey as “Dr. Mom.”

I’m so proud of you.”


  1. Stephanie:

    This is stunning on so many levels. Your warmth, insight, creativity, and wisdom shine. It also convinces me I’ve been guided your way and the Universe is taking great care of me. I never realized I might be holding onto my giref as a way of honoring my mother—and staying connected to her. I also love what you said about separating physical components from their stories, ideas, and images as a way to decrease suffering.

    I LOVE that at 83 your mom has finished her dissertation for a PhD in Health Psychology! I didn’t know such a degree exisited. I’d like to hear more about that.

    Thank you for sharing this articulate, tender, and funny post. I laughed out loud when I read your response to your mom saying she was the oldest person in the room.

    Looking forward to seeing you on Friday.


  2. Yvonne says:

    HI Steph again, just had to comment on this one too. I read this a while back and was struck at how you pretty much “covered” everything with your Mom.

    Today as I glanced through it again, this one sentence sticks out. An obvious statement, and yet one I had forgotten. Mindfulness is about being happy independent of conditions.

    Thank you for sharing with us!

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