Try out the meditation for grief and sadness offered at the end of this article to help you cope with the difficult emotions that arise in the wake of loss.
When you are reeling from a significant loss, coping with difficult emotions like sadness, anger, and fear may seem like an impossible task. It is natural to want to turn away from or suppress painful feelings. But as you probably know, the stronger you resist an emotion, the harder it will persist.
It is equally natural to ruminate, spinning your wheels as you try to think your way out of how you feel. Unfortunately, this usually doesn’t help either, and in fact may make you feel worse.
A third option exists, and that is to turn toward what hurts with self-compassion. In other words, give yourself the same care you would give your best friend.
How Meditation for Grief and Sadness Can Help
The meditation for grief and sadness below can help you cope with difficult emotions without denying the reality of your pain. It is a practice that you can apply on your meditation seat as well as in the heat of the moment when difficult emotions appear out of nowhere.
Rather than focusing your thoughts on how you are feeling, this practice focuses mindful awareness on how your body is responding to the feelings. Afterward, most people report feeling more calm, centered, and in control. Even though it doesn’t fix the situation — nothing can — it helps you find clarity and the resources you need to face your grief.
I use this practice on the spot and quite often myself. As a grief professional, I use it to steady myself when I am moved by a bereaved client’s story in a private grief session or group — which happens a lot. As a bereaved person, I use it when I feel overwhelmed in my own life.
Using Meditation for Grief and Sadness in the Moment
A few years ago I attended a funeral for a friend who died too young. I had lost touch with him over the years, but he was such a good person with a young widow and two small children. The world was a better place with him in it, and I felt sad for everyone who was touched by his kind and loving spirit.
During the large funeral service, bagpipes began to play. I sat in the balcony, scanning the faces of people who loved him. Seeing so many of my friends in pain, coupled with all the grief I was carrying from my work and my life, united in a perfect storm of emotional overload.
A tidal wave of sadness welled up in my heart. I felt like I was going to drown in it. Dizzy, hot, and afraid, I was sure that an involuntary wail was about to emerge from my body. I panicked. I closed my eyes and tried to focus on my next exhale, but the crescendo of emotion building up inside drowned out the whisper of my breath.
I didn’t want to cause a scene, and I was one moment away from running out of the church before I remembered to ask myself, “What would I tell a client to do?” This meditation for grief and sadness practice immediately came to mind.
Moving From Distress to Insight
"What’s happening in my body right now?" I asked myself, eyes closed. "What am I believing to be true?"
I could feel overwhelming sadness as a gray oblong shape. It pressed down on the top of my stomach and up against my lower ribs, forcing my heart up towards my throat. I got curious. "How big is this sensation? What is it made of? What is its shape?" This type of inquiry into the physical symptoms of distress focuses attention away from the upsetting narrative, and instead highlights the present through direct experience.
I realized I had been holding my breath, and that my shoulders and fists were clenched tight. These were things I could control, so I took a mindful breath in and out, softened my shoulders, and unfurled my hands. My body responded to these cues to relax and turned down my stress response and my distress.
I asked myself, “What’s happening now?”
Sadness in this moment, I realized, felt like a cold metal shell, but it was protecting a soft and warm center. I felt both vulnerable and safe at the same time. Suddenly, these words came to me:
Make a pillow for your sadness — so it can lie down and you can watch it sleep.
At that point, all my resistance to the difficult emotion melted away. I felt my body relax as the cold metal seemed to soften into warm down. The tidal wave turned into a pool. And somehow, by paying attention to my body, I felt more connected to everyone else in the room. And I was able to focus on the sadness I felt over my friend’s death, rather than being distracted by physiological and emotional distress.
Unfortunately the COVID-19 pandemic prevents most of us from attending these types of services in person, which may add to your distress. You can use this practice while watching a service on Zoom, or when emotions arise that are unrelated to funeral rituals. This is a technique you can apply whenever you feel the stir of emotion — no matter how big or how small.
Try This Guided Meditation for Grief and Sadness
Even when you feel as if the whirlpool of suffering is inescapable, the practice of mindfulness can help you reduce — and often eliminate — your suffering. Here is a guided meditation for coping with all of grief’s difficult emotions using the techniques I outlined above. May it bring you peace.