Meditation for grief and loss can help you reduce suffering and gain insight no matter where you are on your grief journey. But before we go any further, it is helpful to define meditation.
The word meditation is like the word exercise. There are countless ways to exercise. From a gentle walk to rock climbing! There are also countless ways to meditate. Physical exercise strengthens your body. Meditation - mental exercise - strengthens your mind.
I like to define meditation as compassionate mind-control.
You choose where to direct your attention, rather than let your mind run all over the place. This is why meditation is a lot like exercise! Meditation requires training. Unless you are already in shape, you don't show up to the gym and bench press your bodyweight.
I run the Awaken membership community, which offers meditation for grief classes and group coaching. It is not uncommon for new members to think they are not "good" at meditating. Or tell me they have tried it before and feel they are doing it all wrong.
I believe that there is no such thing as a good or bad meditator. There are people who meditate. There are people who do not. The fact that you attempt to control your mind has amazing results. Even if you are distracted most of the time!
If you are grieving and trying to meditate the first thing you need to do is give yourself a break. Let go of perfection. Let your practice be messy - like grief.
On our best days our mind naturally spends a lot of time traveling back and forth through time. Rehashing the past. Rehearsing the future. And rarely does it do this in a way that reduces our suffering. Instead it causes a lot of stress and anxiety.
Even in the midst of grief you can learn to control your mind at least some of the time, and in the process reduce emotional and physical pain.
How To Apply Meditation To Grief & Bereavement
So what type of meditation for grief is best for you? That depends on what you are trying to achieve.
- In the early days of loss, focus and concentration meditation can help give your mind a much needed break from thinking and calm down your anxious mind.
- Mindfulness-based meditation practices will help you cultivate a calm and steady presence as you open to your experience of grief.
- Compassion meditation will help you soften to your own experience and feel more connected to those around you.
- As you begin to reengage in your life after loss, more contemplative practices will help you acknowledge the ways that you have changed and rewrite your post-loss story.
Guided Meditations For Grief
The first three steps in the Mindfulness & Grief System - which is the foundation of the Mindfulness & Grief Book - are Relaxation, Mindfulness, and Compassion. These foundational practices build the resilience you need to live with your loss and reengage with life in a meaningful way.
Below are three MP3s that I pulled out of the Awaken course library for you to try yourself. If you decide you would like some guidance, consider joining Awaken, where you will find the tools and community you need to grief mindfully.
Using A Personal Mantra
Daily Guided Meditation
With Focus, Mindfulness & Compassion
Working With Difficult Emotions:
Self-Compassion For Pain
How Meditation For Grief & Loss Can Relieve Your Suffering
Practicing meditation for grief and loss can help you reduce the suffering that comes with grief. When you practice meditation for grief and loss, it is not about trying to get over anything. The intention is to help you suffer less. The relationship you have with the person who died is now a part of your life, and that can not, and should not, be changed. In fact, it is helpful for most people to honor the relationship and incorporate the love and the memories into life after loss.
The great meditation teacher Shinzen Young offers us this equation:
Suffering = Pain x Resistance
Meditation for grief and loss helps us release resistance. Of course pain will remain - that is the artifact of love. But when you learn how to relieve some of the suffering, you will be able to engage with your grief-work mindfully, and skillfully reengage with life after loss.
Meditation can help relieve physical tension, and even change how you relate to physical pain. When you are able to take care of your body, your mind will feel some relief, too. After all, the physical pain of grief just adds suffering to suffering. People I work who are new to meditation often tell me that their body feels better than it did even before the loss because of learning meditation for grief. Relaxation meditations are particularly useful for this - especially in the early season of grief. Coupled with focusing meditations, I find these to be particularly helpful with grief-related sleep problems.
Practicing meditation after a major loss can help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. While grief and depression are not the same thing - the experience of grief can feel very much like depression. When you practice meditation during grief - specifically focusing practices such as counting and breath meditation - you signal to your brain that it is safe to turn off the fight-flight-freeze response, which can help reduce anxiety. You also give your attention a place to rest, which will lessen rumination and worry.
Grief can feel very lonely. Compassion meditation for grief helps you connect more deeply to yourself and others, and can even help you feel less alone even when you are physically alone. In addition to being hard on ourselves during grief - we may tend to be hard on others - and vice versa! When someone dies everyone around them is left feeling raw and vulnerable, and this can lead to conflict. Additionally everyone grieves differently. You may have people telling you that you aren't "grieving right." Or you may be feel that about someone else. Compassion practices help us see clearly that all of us want to be free from suffering, and are doing the best we can.
At some point you will start to rebuild your worldview. Contemplative practices can help reorient you to your changed landscape. Who are you, now? By turning towards your pain rather than avoiding it, you can see more clearly your own wisdom and truth. This to me is the crown jewel of meditation for grief - it can have a lifelong impact on how we relate to our own precious life. This type of meditation invites us to ask a question in a contemplative manner, and find the stillness to receive our own guidance. This empowers us to chart our own course through grief - rather than trying to fit into a contrived method or process.
Getting Started with Meditation for Grief
There are many ways you can start your meditation practice. One quick way is to download the free guide Navigating Grief, which will orient you to the Mindfulness & Grief System. It even includes meditation practices to support you along the way!
You can also join me in Awaken: the mindful online grief community based on the Mindfulness & Grief System.