I lost my husband six months ago and I’m going through a really tough time. I started Headspace to try and help, although I have not found it easy.

At one point, you told me to ask myself a question: “Who or what I would miss the most if I wasn’t here?” Having lost my husband so recently this immediately brought my thoughts to him and I started to cry uncontrollably and I could not stop. You also say to try and appreciate things during the day but the sadness was so overwhelming that I couldn’t think about appreciating anything at all. I’m not sure if this reaction is good and if continuing to meditate will help relieve me of some of the great sadness I feel or if it is actually making it harder for me.

My main concern is if it is normal and I’m interested to know if anyone else has had this experience, particularly in view of my circumstances. Do you think meditation could help me or would you advise that I try something else? I know it’s up to me but if it will help me, I will carry on. Any advice would be really appreciated.

Andy’s answer:

I’m so, so sorry to the news about your husband. I cannot even imagine how difficult that must be and how painful it must feel. Our heartfelt thoughts are with you.

I admire you greatly for sticking to your daily routine of Headspace and am not at all surprised that it has been difficult at times. When we sit to meditate, we sit with the mind as it is, and to do that so soon after losing a loved one can often be extremely painful. That said, meditation can also be extremely helpful in the grieving process.

It’s worth saying that many people find this particular question difficult, even in the very best of times. In fact I’ve sat with people to do this exercise and beforehand they have felt on top of the world, only to complete the exercise with tears streaming down their cheeks. That’s not to say this is the intention or goal, but simply to reassure you that it is very common to experience these feelings early on.

At first, this may sound off-putting, but if we look a little deeper we see that it is actually an unavoidable and essential part of the process. Because when we sit with it, something magical happens. Everything which has been stored away, whether it’s because we have felt unable or unwilling to deal with it, rises to the surface. It is an extraordinary release. For some the feeling will be intense anger, for others sadness. In truth, it can be any number of emotions. It can often feel as though the emotion comes out of nowhere and it can quickly overwhelm us. But if we can maintain our awareness and simply allow the emotion to arise, to wash over us, for as long as it takes, it will eventually subside.

It is easy to say and yet so much more difficult to apply. But this is such a precious thing. So many people go through their entire lives holding on to the weight of past experiences, often distraught and unhappy. I am not suggesting for one moment that this release makes the situation any better or negates the sadness of loss, but it does at least ensure that those feelings are not further compounded by our own thinking and the suppression of any emotion. In short, this release sets us free. It may not happen all at once and it might continue for quite some time, but each time we sit we provide a safe framework to let go.

It’s also worth thinking about the intention of the exercise as well. Remember, the idea is not to “achieve” a feeling of appreciation, but to create a space in which we are either reminded of appreciation, or where we let go of that which obscures appreciation. If it is the former, we may experience appreciation as a sense of wonder or joy, although it is often tinged with sadness and a feeling of vulnerability. If it is the latter, then it can be anything at all, but allowing it to arise is very much part of the exercise.

This idea really goes back to the blue sky analogy right at the beginning of the Headspace Journey. The idea is that appreciation is much like the blue sky – ever present. Sure, sometimes our view of the sky will be obscured by the clouds, but the clouds are temporary, fleeting, impermanent. When we remember this, we stop trying to find appreciation in everything, instead trusting that is already here. And each time we let go, our trust and confidence in that truth deepens.

So my advice to you would be to continue with your meditation, knowing that what you are experiencing is both normal and helpful. And if at any stage it all just feels too much, then you can always take a day or two to return to Take10, before coming back to whatever pack you may be on.

Warm wishes and, as I say, our thoughts are very much with you here at Headspace HQ.