How meditation helped me grieve
What is grief meditation?
Grief meditation is a type of meditation that helps bereaved people cope with sadness and stress after the death of a loved one. Meditation is the practice of spending a period of time, even just a few minutes, focusing on being present in the moment and not engaging with distracting thoughts. This state of relaxation is helpful for everyone, but can be especially beneficial for people who are coping with grief.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the general state of focusing on the moment and acknowledging unpleasant and painful thoughts and feelings, such as sadness or grief after a bereavement, but choosing not to become distracted or distressed by them.
It is becoming increasingly popular and is also used as a basis for cognitive-behavioral therapy. Mindfulness is recommended by the NHS to improve your mental well-being.
You can be mindful anywhere; at work, in a shop or even while you are driving or playing sports. Mindfulness can also be very helpful for coping with grief. Focusing on a particular activity that you enjoy and do not want to interrupt can help you develop mindfulness.
Regular meditation is a good way of becoming more mindful.
The most important thing to remember is that you cannot force yourself to become mindful, and trying too hard will usually have the opposite effect. Engaging with any enjoyable and relaxing activities or hobbies, such as walking, reading, listening to music, fishing, football, video games, watching tv or painting, can also help you. Mindfulness colouring books for grief can be very relaxing.
If you find yourself noticing feelings and thoughts of grief while you are doing these activities, but choosing not to be distracted by them because you want to continue with the activity that you are enjoying, you can call that mindfulness.
Why would grief meditation and mindfulness help the healing process after a loved one has passed?
Practising grief meditation and mindfulness can be very helpful if you find feelings of sadness or memories of your loved one are disrupting your life, or making it difficult to sleep or perform other necessary tasks, such as going to work and looking after yourself and your family. It will not reduce the sadness you feel, but it might make coping with life and enjoying activities and social events easier for you.
The Mindfulness and Grief Institute, founded by Heather Stang, provides information and resources to help people use meditation to cope with their feelings after the death of a loved one.
It is important to remember that grief meditation and mindfulness, like all grief therapies, does not work for everyone, but many people find it helpful.
A step-by-step guide to meditation
Meditation can make you feel calm and relaxed just by choosing to not engage with any thoughts or feelings that enter your mind. This method of meditation is sometimes called the ‘noting technique.’
Many people think that meditating means having ‘an empty mind’ or not having any thoughts or feelings at all, but that is impossible. Acknowledging, but not engaging with thoughts and feelings is much more achievable! It is normal to find it difficult to begin with, but regular, short sessions will help you improve.
Sit or lie down comfortably in a quiet place where you are unlikely to be disturbed. Breathe in and out deeply.
Focus on your body. A methodical scan of it, from your toes to the top of you head, is a good way to do this.
If you are meditating to help you sleep, imagining each part of your body ‘switching off’ can be helpful.
As unwanted thoughts or feelings, about grief or anything else that distracts you, enter your mind, acknowledge their presence and label them ‘thought’ or ‘feeling,’ but return to focusing on your body as soon as possible.
If the thought or feeling is important it will still be there for you to return to at a later time. You can think about it as if a person has come into a room to speak to you as you are doing something you enjoy and choosing to make them wait until you are ready for them.
Who can help with meditation and mindfulness to cope with grief?
If you are finding meditating by yourself difficult, a guided meditation can help you get started. A guided meditation is a meditation session which someone talks you through, sometimes with breathing exercises and visualisation.
There are thousands of free guided-meditations on Youtube, many of which are specifically focused on helping people cope with grief. If you are interested in listening to a guided meditation the only important thing is to choose an approach and voice that works well for you.
You can also find guided meditations for sleep.
Even if they are not specifically focused on grief, the calmness and relaxation enabled by any guided meditation can help you cope with it. You can also download guided meditations from iTunes, listen to them on Spotify, or borrow CDs from your local library.
Some organisations also provide meditation or mindfulness courses which you can attend, although these usually charge a fee. There are several dedicated retreats for bereaved people, such as the Fire and Rain Soul Spa, in the UK, which include meditation and mindfulness for grief in their programme of activities and therapies.
A grief-counsellor or bereavement support organisation might be able to help you explore meditation or mindfulness as a tool for coping with the feelings caused by your bereavement.