Skillful Courage in Grief: 11 Tips To Find Resilience Amidst Vulnerability

By Heather Stang, MA, C-IAYT

Posted: September 4, 2023

Skillful courage is the graceful dance where we embody the essence of bamboo: a harmonious duet of strength and vulnerability, standing tall yet willing to sway with life's rhythms.

Grief is rarely experienced without a felt sense of fear. Whether tied to a specific situation, like financial insecurity or the loss of your ride or die, or that general uncertainty that arises when your assumptive world is shattered, this anxiety can be paralyzing. 

Just like the bamboo that stands tall yet sways unbreakable with the wind, our resilience too lies in our ability to be both grounded and flexible. While it may not seem doable, I have witnessed countless clients summon courage in the face of fear, and embrace both strength and vulnerability. 

This is not the same as simply "being strong," "keeping your chin up," or letting "time heal all wounds." These unhelpful platitudes are about denying your fear. Mindfulness invites you instead to tend to it. 

It may be helpful to begin by acknowledging that feeling a pervasive fear for the future is a common, albeit uncomfortable, sensation, especially in the wake of loss. It's a path that I too have walked, where the fear sometimes seems like a shadow that follows closely, casting doubts on the future. And through my walk, and my work with clients, I know that we are capable of finding our light, our inner strength that guides us gently yet firmly through the fears.

This is the fourth component of my 8-step Mindfulness & Grief system, a part of the nurturing environment I facilitate in Awaken and delve into through my books. I call it Skillful Courage, a gentle approach that combines mindfulness and self-compassion, creating a nurturing space of safety and strength within you.

Tips to Cultivate Skillful Courage

  1. Embrace Your Vulnerability
    It’s completely natural to feel vulnerable, especially when grappling with grief. Allow yourself to sit with these feelings by setting aside a few moments each day to acknowledge and breathe through the emotions without judgment. Offer yourself words of kindness, like "this is hard, and I am doing my best." Pretending you are not feeling afraid rarely works. Courageously acknowledging that you are afraid summons your inner strength.
  2. Count Your Breath
    When you feel gripped by fear, pause place a hand on your chest, feeling the rise and fall with each breath, a physical reminder that you are here and grounded. Start with the number 10, and count down each time your exhale. When you reach 1, count back up. This gives your mind something else to do other than worry, and sends a signal to your body that you are not in actual danger.
  3. Journaling Your Feelings
    Penning down your fears and feelings can be liberating. Journaling for grief can help you see more clearly and brainstorm solutions. Try writing two letters. One to the part of you that is afraid, and another to your inner wisdom, asking for guidance and help navigating difficult terrain. For extra support, write response letters from Fear and Courage using your non-dominant hand.
  4. Connect with Your Support Circle
    Don’t hesitate to reach out to your close ones. Sharing your feelings over a cup of tea or a phone call can often bolster your inner strength, providing a nurturing space where you feel seen and understood. If you don't have a supportive community, considerer joining me in Awaken, my online grief support program, or find a local grief group in your community. 
  5. Daily Self-Compassion Practice
    Cultivate a daily practice of self-compassion, which I think is the most healing attitude we can cultivate during grief. This isn't about pretending everything is OK, rather it is acknowledging that you are going through a difficult time, and want to alleviate your own suffering. You might whisper kind affirmations to yourself each morning, fostering a nurturing space within where courage can flourish. I call this waking up with compassion. 
  6. Mindfulness Meditation Using RAIN
    Embrace the practice of mindfulness meditation as a tool to navigate through the turbulent seas of grief. Particularly, the RAIN meditation technique can be a beacon during moments swayed by difficult emotions. This practice encourages you to Recognize the emotion you are experiencing, Allow it to be there without judgment, Investigate the physical sensations and feelings associated with it, and Nurture yourself with kindness and compassion. This is one of the most effective tools I share in Awaken, and do myself whenever difficult emotions arise. 
  7. Move Your Body
    Incorporating some physical movement into your daily routine can be a powerful anchor during times of grief. Engaging in activities such as a gentle morning yoga routine or a leisurely walk not only rejuvenates your spirit but has tangible biological and psychological benefits. Movement releases endorphins, the body's natural mood lifters, and can also serve as a form of meditation, helping to calm the mind and reduce anxiety. Dancing around your house to evocative music can also be a great way to release fear and stress.
  8. Mindful Eating
    During times of grief, nourishing oneself can sometimes feel like an uphill battle. In these moments, bringing a touch of mindfulness to your eating habits can be a gentle way to ground yourself. Try to engage with your meals more fully, using all your senses. Feel the texture of the food, appreciate its colors, and savor each flavor. Slow down the process, chewing thoughtfully and taking the time to enjoy each bite. This practice not only fosters a deeper connection with the food but also creates a nurturing routine amidst the chaos, offering a moment of peace and grounding each day.
  9. Creative Expression
    Engage in activities that allow you to express yourself creatively. This might be crafting a scrapbook that honors your memories or painting a canvas that mirrors your emotions, fostering courage through creation. I am a big fan of collage, because it doesn't require any artistic skills. Grab a pile of magazines, and without analyzing why you are drawn to certain images, cut them out and paste them on an 11x17 piece of cardstock. Then notice what themes you see in your work.
  10. Connect with Nature
    Spend time connecting with nature. You could sit by a quiet stream or simply observe the birds from your window, activities that foster a sense of peace and grounding in the present moment. Make it a point to get outside regularly. Even a brief stroll in your garden or a quiet park can be rejuvenating, allowing you to breathe in fresh air and feel a connection with the larger world, fostering a sense of hope and grounded courage.
  11. Seek Professional Support
    When the waves of grief feel relentless and fears threaten to engulf, reaching out for professional support can be a sanctuary of understanding and healing. Whether joining a community like my online grief support group or opting for private sessions, it's a space where you are not alone in your journey. Here, you can delve deep into understanding the intricate nature of your grief through a lens of mindfulness and compassionate self-care. Remember, seeking guidance is not a sign of weakness; it's a brave step towards embracing yourself and your grief with kindness and understanding.

As we navigate the intricate journey of grief, the practice of skillful courage emerges as a beacon of hope, guiding us gently through the tempestuous seas of loss. It is through embracing both our vulnerability and our innate strength that we find our way, a harmonious dance that, like the bamboo, unites both flexibility and resilience.

Remember, dear reader, you are not alone on this path. The waves of grief may seem unyielding at times, but with each step, with each breath, you are fostering a sanctuary of safety and strength within yourself. It is a journey of a thousand small moments, of quiet courage and gentle self-compassion.

As you venture forth, may you find solace in these practices, grounding you in the present and nurturing hope for the future. Your journey is uniquely yours, yet woven with the common threads of humanity and the universal experience of loss. And in this shared space, may we find community, understanding, and a resilient hope that guides us forward, step by step, with grace and courage.

Heather Stang, MA, C-IAYT

About the author

Heather Stang, M.A. is the author of Living with Grief and the guided journal, From Grief To Peace. She is the creator of the Mindfulness & Grief System that is featured in the Handbook of Grief Therapies (2023) and is the founder of Awaken, a mindfulness-based online grief support group. Heather also hosts the Mindfulness & Grief Podcast, and offers mindfulness-based grief support online through her organization, the Mindfulness & Grief Institute. She holds a Masters degree in Thanatology (Death, Dying, and Bereavement) from Hood College in Maryland, and is a certified Yoga Therapist. She currently lives in Falling Waters, WV.

You might also like

Get compassionate live online grief support with author Heather Stang

Meditation | Journaling | Self-care | Sharing