by Karla Helbert
The fifth coping strategy is “meditation”
You’re probably also familiar with the term “mindfulness.” Mindfulness the practice of being as present as possible in this moment, with as much compassion and as little judgment as possible.
Meditation is a mindfulness practice. Learning to do this can be a huge gift to yourself in grief. It’s not easy, but it has big payoffs. and There’s a guided meditation for you to try at the end of this post.
Most people who believe they can’t meditate usually say something like, “I just can’t quiet my mind!” If we approach meditation as making the mind quiet, we’ll rarely feel that we’re succeeding. This is especially true when you’re in the midst of excruciating grief. The mind in grief is almost never quiet.
Typically, in a meditation practice, you’ll be interrupted by the processes of your mind over and over and over. Gently acknowledge the minds processes and make the choice not to be sucked in. Then, place your attention on a chosen focal point instead of being pulled along on the thought train to who knows where. In this meditation, I suggest using your breath to come back to over and over.
Meditation cannot be forced
It may take time. It’s okay. Because the practice itself builds the resilience of the brain as well as the mind. It increases your ability to manage stress. It helps with sleep and anxiety. It helps with feeling connected to others—including our beloved dead. It helps us feel connected to something larger than ourselves.
In grief, the mind is powerfully affected. The way we think is changed. The content of our thoughts is altered. Particularly in early and traumatic grief, we forget things, lose things, we’re distracted and inattentive. Alternatively, we can be utterly focused on thoughts of our loved ones. We zone out, draw blanks, we review, we scrutinize, we reject and we ask unanswerable questions. We may question the very foundation of our most deeply held beliefs. The way we saw the universe, other people, relationships, life itself, the way things are, changes drastically.
We think about who we are now that this has happened to us, and try to decide how that makes sense based on who we were before grief came and what that will mean when we become whomever it is we’ll be in the future. We contemplate the strangeness of the loss of past interests and the inability to care about things that were once important.
We wonder why other people continue to care about those things. We wonder what it all means. If it means anything. And how could this have happened? We have fears we never had before and we often find brave ways of talking ourselves out of them and of continuing on anyway.
We ponder at the ways we are more fearless than ever before. We wonder why we are still here, how we will go on from this place and why we should bother trying.
We worry, and at the same time do not care, what others think of us. We imagine our beloveds someplace or no place and wonder what it’s like where they are, if they are. We worry that we are crazy and that no one else could possibly understand. We feel deep connections with others who share this kind of pain and we are capable of understanding suffering, compassion and empathy in ways we never imagined before.
We hate and we long to be alone with our thoughts
We have thoughts and feelings of guilt, regret, anger, unfairness, yearning. We search for relief, for answers, for signs of our loved ones continued existence and involvement in our lives. We hope they are okay and safe and happy. We remember them and we miss them and we continue to love them and to long for them. All of this changes and then, in different ways, repeats.
Sound familiar? I bet it does.
Even when we feel powerless to stop or control the chattering of the mind, we can learn to observe it, and to cultivate our inner witness. If we can learn to gently, in each new moment of now, observe our thoughts and minds with compassion, we can get better and better at practicing the quieting of the mind. And better at moving through life with grief.
Audio—Guided Meditation: Cultivating the Witness