Meditation for grief
Whatever kind of bereavement or grief you are experiencing, we can’t predict what thoughts, feelings, or sensations will arise at such an impossibly hard time. Maybe the huge sense of loss will leave us numb. Maybe the sadness will envelop us. Maybe we’ll feel waves of anger. Whatever arises, the pain will feel intense, and for a lot of us, we might even wonder if we’ll ever get through it and feel the same again.
We all grieve in different ways. For some people, it passes quickly; for others, it takes a long time. The truth is that when we lose somebody we really care about, we never really move past it. The loss, the void, the hole they leave becomes part of our life. It becomes part — and a really important part — of our journey. We change and adapt to life without a particular person and eventually, we reach a point where we find a resting place in our hearts for the memories to reside; a place where we can learn to smile and be at peace with those memories.
Obviously, meditation for grief and loss isn’t the be-all and end-all to help people navigate through grief. If you are really struggling, it’s advisable to reach out to a health professional, and, of course, lean on friends, family, or support groups. Whatever works best for you. Nothing can really hurry along the healing process; we all heal in our own time, so be gentle and patient with yourself. Healing — coming to a place of acceptance over the loss of a loved one — takes the time it takes, however short or long that might prove to be.
At whatever stage of the grieving process you are currently experiencing, you’ll know how tortuous the bombardment of thoughts, emotions, and memories can be. It might also feel like you are going through a unique sense of loss, but the thing about grief is that it’s a universal experience — everyone goes through it, to varying degrees, at different times of their life. It’s worth remembering that you are not alone in that regard, and we all emerge from the experience forever changed, in some way.
The mere idea of sitting with the mind — our thoughts, feelings, and memories — at such a difficult time can feel overwhelming for many people. But what meditation teaches us when grieving is that we can create a space for ourselves: a space of acceptance, a space for healing, and a space, ultimately, for letting go. By “letting go,” we mean letting go of the tension and any additional thinking that often exacerbates the pain and heartache we are experiencing. No matter how challenging it might initially be to sit and meditate, we meditate to create room for our healing; a safe space that allows us to connect with ourselves, and eventually with the person or thing we are grieving.
When we practice meditation for grieving, we allow ourselves to sit with what we’re feeling, even if that feeling is numbness. We create a healthy environment for our pain and emotions to rise to the surface, and what can follow is something magical: a cathartic release of emotion that leads to healing.
Meditation for Grief
Grief is the natural human response to loss. While the death of someone you love might bring on the most intense form of grief, painful loss can come in so many different forms, including (but not limited to): the loss of a partner through a breakup, the loss of a friendship, the loss of a job or financial stability, the loss of a pet, the loss of your health due to illness or injury, and the loss of a marriage.
Each person’s grief process and healing journey is different. Emotions can range from shock, disbelief, anger, guilt, and irritation to loneliness, anxiety, despair, and sadness. And because our mind and body are inseparable, the physical symptoms associated with grief are very real. These can include changes in appetite, sleeping problems, loss of energy, illness, and physical pain.
The rollercoaster of emotions and sensations associated with loss can sometimes feel like too much to handle. While meditation doesn’t change the way we feel, it does change our experience and perspective of those feelings. Practicing mindfulness meditation for grief, or observing thoughts and feelings without judgment or reaction, helps the body and mind find peace and refuge in a time of great change.
In a published study conducted at Google and Roche with 238 employees, eight weeks of using the Headspace app resulted in a 46% reduction in depression and a 31% reduction in anxiety — two normal emotions for those who are grieving. Meanwhile, research shows that just 10 days of using the Headspace app decreases stress by 14% and irritability by 27%, and that using Headspace for meditation increases resilience, an ability that is key after a loss that changes your world.
In remembering that grief is a shared human experience, and that there are millions of other people in the world experiencing sadness and grief, we can start to feel less alone.
Along with meditation for grief and sadness, a helpful tool for processing grief is joining a grief support group, like Our House in Los Angeles. Being with others who are experiencing similar feelings can provide immense comfort and support. Try to remind yourself that grief is too much for one person to lift all by themselves — it requires that you get support, whether that support is from your family, friends, colleagues, religious community, or a grief support group.
In practicing meditation to release grief, you might come across the body scan technique (used below). The body scan exercise helps us bring our body and mind back together again. It’s not about changing anything, it’s simply about noting what you find.
When you’re ready to begin your practice, take a moment to get comfortable on a chair or on the floor, then take one or two deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth. With the next out-breath, gently close your eyes and allow the breath to return to its natural rhythm. Notice how the body feels right now. Note if there’s a sense of stillness or restlessness, and if there’s a sense of heaviness or lightness. Starting at the top of the head, scan down through the body at an even pace from head to toe. Notice the different sensations; notice what feels comfortable and what feels uncomfortable. We’re not trying to change any of the sensations, we’re simply observing and watching as we move the mind down through the body. Allow thoughts to come and go, and gently bring the attention back to the body as you continue to scan. When you’ve scanned down to the bottom of the feet, gently open the eyes again.
When we are grieving a loss, it’s normal to be in a state of disbelief or to feel a strong sense of anger and injustice. Whatever emotions arise, judging and/or suppressing those emotions only exacerbates them. But when we use meditation to sit with our entire being, we can embrace and process what is happening now. Acceptance does not mean forgiving, ignoring, or excusing what has happened. It simply means recognizing what has happened, processing it, and in time, finding that you are a stronger and different person because of it.
Remember, every individual’s grief process will be different. Someone might suggest that “you should get over your sadness already,” or that “you’ve been grieving for long enough.” You don’t need to pay attention to these comments. Gently remind yourself that your journey is your own, and you will benefit immensely from taking the time you need to heal.
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