Mindful Monday: Mindful Goodbyes.

How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard
— A. A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh

For the fun of it, since the last Monday Mindfulness was on Hello, I thought I would swing to the other side and look at Mindful Goodbyes. How to close the loop, finish the conversation, move to the next task or interaction with gratitude.

I joked not long ago that the four most difficult words in the English language were Yes and No, Hello and Goodbye. They are the words of boundaries, of approach and avoid and attachment and separation. All tasks which we work on our whole lives long.

So why a mindful goodbye? A mindful goodbye allows you to actually be present to where you are and what you have done. Often, we do things or we talk to people and we are so busy moving on to the next task or the next sentence or the next interaction that we actually haven’t finished the one that we are in. We haven't actually listened. We haven't actually experienced. 

When we don’t say goodbye to the task or the person we don’t get to take it in—we don’t get to feel its impact. We don’t get to be grateful for the action, the completion, the presence. Saying goodbye and attending to completion contributes to sturdiness. It’s contributes to solidity. Imagine if the builders of skyscrapers just bolted the beams in place and moved on. Decided not to bother with the whole welding thing. Finish the action you are in. Your learning, your experience and your well-being will be more solid.

One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was from my friend Donna who told me that when I finish something, like the dishes, or cleaning my desk, or raking the leaves—that I should stop, and take a full minute to look at the completed task. Take in that it was done, feel good about how it looked and pat myself on the back. A little self-gratitude can go a long way. Normally I would race through tasks and feel like “I got nothing done.” I never had a sense of completion or accomplishment, despite the crossed off to do list. But the simple act of staying with the end, instead of moving to the next beginning really shifted that experience. So go ahead--look around at what you completed, take a bow, have your own private standing ovation.

Stay with the end. This might be as radical as actually saying, “Goodbye” instead of just ducking out. And like we discussed with hello, say goodbye and wait for the response. Say goodbye and say or think something that you were grateful for in the interaction. As you are walking away think about what you are taking with you from the conversation. What you are taking with you on your journey and then breathe and be where you are.

Learning to say goodbye and stay with the end are great ways to build muscles for the bigger goodbyes that happen all throughout life. They are the musical scales of loss and expansion and growth. They allow us to feel our edges, where we begin and end, that helps us understand how we belong and how we understand ourselves.

For people who have experienced significant or traumatic loss even small good byes can be painful. Even small goodbyes can trigger the feelings of loss you once felt. It’s okay. Small tiny goodbyes can help you mend those torn muscles and rebuild them. Small tiny goodbyes. Goodbye to that phone call. Goodbye to that project. Goodbye to the grocery shopping for this week. The small goodbyes, really experiencing them, helps us remember that feelings can hurt but they aren't fatal. It reminds us of our resilience. We can feel our legs again. Start as small as you need to. Some traditions have you start with your breath. Breath in: Hello, Breathe out: Goodbye. You can practice small goodbyes with each breath.

Of course it’s a circle this goodbye and hello thing. Say goodbye to the task you just completed, to the person you were just talking to, and then notice what happens when you come to the next task and the next person. What is your hello like? Follow the circle. Hello. Goodbye. Hello. Or as the Italians would say, Ciao! Ciao! Ciao!

© Gretchen L. Schmelzer, PhD 2015