Guest Post: Mindfulness and Divorce - What's the big idea?

Aurora Johannson

You want me to try mindfulness --- NOW?

Separating is like filing by a smörgåsbord in which you were never interested, full of foods that seem all to disagree with you, with apparently no end in sight, and you can't just take on a little salad and say “I'm fine thanks. I had a big lunch earlier.”  No one really plans on divorce. I use the terms divorce and separation interchangeably because people doing either are really at the same all-you'd-never-want-to-eat buffet. So, why on earth would someone want to pile yet another obligation on an already overflowing plate? The answer is choice.

Many seem to find themselves divorcing, as though separation really has found them. They just happened upon it unfortunately. However, this is far from the whole story. Everything in a person's life, separating or not, has led them to this particular point in time with all of its blessings and curses. Even those who find themselves blind-sided by an unworthy adversary they had once considered their best friend, if truly aware, can think of choices they made which led them to this eventuality.

What's a gal or guy to do about it? Improve your vision, improve your choices. Hindsight is 20/20. What if you could have seen, or let yourself see then what you can see now clearly? What if you could do something now to see more clearly now so that you can make better decisions for now and the future? Right now you are making momentous decisions that will impact your life and the lives of your family long into the future. You want your hindsight of the future to match your current clear vision, to see 20/20 right now.

Most people would choose, if they could, to make these important decisions using their highest intelligence, their pre-frontal cortex part of their brain where the higher-level reasoning happens. Unfortunately, separating people are triggered into fight,flight or freeze mode again and again by the conflict and apparent chaos of their rapidly changing lives. The part of one's brain that operates in this mode is the limbic system. That's the part of your brain that will get you the heck out of Dodge when there's a cougar in front of you, when there's a physical emergency. When the limbic system is activated, the pre-frontal cortex becomes much less active. It gets out of the way of your animal instincts to save you. That means no higher level thinking when you are triggered. It is a double whammy for anyone divorcing. These seem like unfair odds. If only there was something you could do to improve those odds...

To be mindful is to practice being as aware as possible in the present moment.

Through this practice we cultivate our abilities to appreciate all that is happening in and around ourselves now rather than being embroiled in worries about the future or regrets about the past. Some would say we spend the majority of our time away from the present moment, zoned out. The practice of mindfulness is an invitation to zone in. Mindfully we can see that our thoughts are not ourselves. We have thoughts. We can cling to them or watch them arise and then pass by. Through practice we learn to enjoy the beautiful moments mindfully as they too arise and then pass by. Practicing mindfulness can help a person to see one's self exactly as one is, good and flawed, positive and negative, effective and ineffective. This self-knowledge can only enhance the effectiveness of one's decision-making.

Ready to give mindfulness a shot?

HINT: You really do not have anything to lose. It is non-invasive, you do it yourself so you can stop when you like, it has been around for thousands of years so it has been well bench-tested, and now science even backs up its benefits.  (Ask Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn about his Mindfulness Based Stress-Reduction Program “MBSR”: ).

Alright, it could be good for me. I'm still skeptical, but I'll do anything if you'll just stop using the world mindfulness. What do I do other than crossing my legs and saying Ommmmmm?

 1.    Find a way in, and get started.

Here are a few ideas for where to begin:

  • apps: there are many. Some are free. The people at Insight Timer have done a nice job of making it free and easy.
  • A local group
  • a friend who has been irritatingly slipping the word “mindfulness” into every conversation hoping you'll ask him about it
  • your local yoga centre
  • a local counselor who practices mindfulness or who teaches MBSR classes
  • an online community
  • a book (hard copy or audio). Check on-line, at your library or in the self-help or Buddhism section of your bookstore. (While the concept of mindfulness was first introduced in eastern philosophies, it need not be secular or even spiritual for you. It is all based on your own awareness and needs.)
  • Try this exercise adapted from the teachings of Henry Yampolsky, founder of the Living Peace Institute: "I am here now." Find a spot where you can sit uninterrupted for a few minutes. Assume a comfortable, dignified posture. Sit on a chair, the floor or even in the driver's seat of your parked car. Set a timer for 3 minutes. Begin by noticing your breath. Follow your breathing for a few inhalations and exhalations without trying to change it. Then, on the next in breath, note “I”. On the next out breath, note “am”. On the next in breath, note “here”. On the next out breath, note “now”. Repeat until the timer sounds. When you notice you are distracted, bring your attention back to continue the exercise and congratulate yourself that you noticed mindfully when your mind had wandered. This noticing is the essence of mindful awareness.

2.    Practice.

Choose to try one of the above methods and dedicate yourself to giving it an honest go, say 6 weeks. See if it makes a positive difference for you or those around you. If one method is not working for you, drop it and try another. Do keep at it for at least 6 weeks. Even when mindfulness practices such as meditation feel like they're not working, like you are are too distracted to be receiving benefit, they are. Each drop in the bucket adds up eventually to a full bucket.

3.    Get support when you need it.

If in practicing your mindful awareness you come across something particularly upsetting, don't go it alone. Find a counselor you like or a support person you trust to support you.

4.    Repeat.

Even if you are only beginning with a minute or 2 of mindfulness practice a day, you will soon see changes in how you see things and in your awareness at other times when you are not doing your daily practice.


You do not ever have to cross your legs or say anything strange to practice mindfulness. You can do it sitting, laying down, or even walking. Be comfy. This is about you learning about you and what works best and doesn't for you.

What can I expect?

The more you practice mindfulness, the more aware you will become. The more aware you become, the more you will recognize which of your thoughts and emotions are really running the show. You will see more and more of the big picture that is your life. You'll be able to make choices that are more likely to bring you more peace, to control the one thing you have any control over – you.

You may also find a community you didn't even know was there for you. Mindful people tend to be like those people with dogs who find other people with dogs and then have a good old time chatting about dogs. You might just find yourself enjoying your life at a time when you did not think that was even possible.

Aurora Johannsen is a mediator, family lawyer and avid meditator in Kelowna, BC. She enjoys helping people transform through conflict and make use of its potent opportunity for growth.