Meditation for Grief: Advice and Guided Meditations for Grief and Loss

Meditation for Grief

Meditation can be a welcomed tool for coping with grief, which is one of the more difficult human experiences. Meditation practice in general can help us stay present with challenging emotions, and meditation specifically tailored for grief can help us endure the pain associated with it without avoiding it, which can often lead to suffering.

Let’s take a closer look at grief, what it is, and how meditation can help. 

Meditation for Grief: What is Grief?

Grief is our system’s response to loss.

Grief is our system’s response to loss. Grief can be personal, as with the loss of a loved one or the pain of having to let go of expectations. It can also be collective, as when we grieve for the suffering related to global conflict, racism, climate change or the divisiveness we face as a society.

When our nervous system perceives loss, it is sometimes interpreted as a threat to survival. This triggers the brain to activate the body’s stress response, causing physiological symptoms such as a hollow feeling in the stomach, heaviness in the chest or throat, oversensitivity to noise, difficulty breathing, a lack of energy, or an increase or decrease in appetite. Of course everyone experiences grief in their own way, so you may or may not share these symptoms. 

Grief is an intense stress response felt in the body.

In short, grief is an intense stress response felt in the body. It has even been associated with an increased risk of physiological conditions such as heart disease, memory problems and digestive issues. The distress associated with grief can come in waves, perhaps triggered by a thought or a sensation we perceive from the environment.

“Grief is like waves coming in from the ocean. At times the waves are small and barely noticeable. But when you least expect it, a huge wave pulls your feet right out from under you. No two people ever see these waves exactly in the same way and no one reacts in the same way to each incoming wave.”

Alan Wolfelt

Again, every individual experiences grief in their own unique way, and there is no one way to grieve, nor is there any timeline. That might seem like bad news to those of us who require concrete steps and definitive action plans, but it is actually good news. It means you get to experience whatever you are experiencing in your own way, at your own pace. This is where meditation can aid us in our journey. 

Meditation for Grief: How Can Meditation Practice Help?

Loss is painful. The Dharma (Buddhist teachings) teaches us that pain is inevitable, a natural part of the human condition, and that trying to avoid it can cause suffering. By not allowing ourselves to feel what we are feeling, we add layers of stress to an already stressed body. When we fight against what is happening, we can prolong our pain.

When we fight against what is happening, we can prolong our pain.

Loss can often mean feeling a lack of control over our environment. We want to hold on to people we love or things as we want them to be. The Dharma teaches us, though, that nothing is permanent. That when we try to solidify anything, ideas, feelings, things, we deny the fundamental truth of impermanence, and we suffer. Meditation can help us accept impermanence as we let go of whatever arises.

Emotions that arise in the course of grief, such as anger, fear, and sadness, are painful experiences, but they are not solid. They are energy moving through us. Emotions have a life cycle and will arise, gain intensity, and then dissipate if we don’t suppress them or feed them with thoughts.

Meditation can help us meet the experience of difficult emotions directly.

We are not our emotions, but we often fear being swallowed by them. Meditation can help us meet the experience of difficult emotions directly. By sitting in meditation (the Tibetan word for meditation is “gom” or “becoming familiar with”) we can learn to observe them, to become familiar with them, and to meet them with kindness, rather than aggression. By observing and allowing them to arise, we can learn not to fear them, however uncomfortable they may be. 

“That mind of fearfulness should be put in the cradle of loving kindness.”

Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche

When we fear our emotional experience and try to fight against it, or to deny or avoid it, we are not being kind to ourselves. By allowing ourselves to stay with the difficult emotions we can befriend them instead. We can be gentle with them, and therefore, to ourselves.

Meditation for Grief: 3 Core Concepts

Peter Levine, PhD, founder of Somatic Experiencing Therapy, offers three suggestions for working with grief. These are important to keep in mind as you work with grief through meditation and otherwise, as it can often be overwhelming.

Before beginning meditation, allow yourself to become familiar with the following concepts. 

1. Pendulation

Pendulation means touching into painful feelings, then pulling out when you need to take a break and ground.

This basically refers to the process of touching into the painful feelings, and pulling out when you need to take a break and ground. Consider the image of a pendulum. There is a regulation that happens when it swings back and forth. When you swing toward the grief, you are allowing yourself to intentionally touch those tender parts, and when your system has had enough, you swing out the other way and take comfort, calming the system.

Not only can it be difficult to feel painful emotions, but we may also at times experience joyful emotions which can be disconcerting when we are grieving. But if we withhold judgment, and simply feel the joy as it arises, we will see that this emotional shifting is our body’s natural way of processing. It is not helpful to dive in and stay mired in painful emotions until your grief is processed. Our nervous system is not designed to withhold overload for long periods of time. 

Begin with short intervals. Start with ten minutes maximum in the feelings. Set a timer if you need external regulation.

2. Resourcing

Let people that you trust know that you are going through the grieving process and ask if they would be willing to support you in your journey. This doesn’t mean letting others try to make it better, or to fix your pain. It means asking if they would be willing to simply be with you in your grief from time to time. 

“The human soul doesn’t want to be advised or fixed or saved. It simply wants to be witnessed—to be seen, heard and companioned exactly as it is.”

Parker J. Palmer

Having the support of a trusted friend can regulate the nervous system’s response to the pain. 

3. Titration

Titration means adding a little more time to your processing each time.

Titration in this case means adding a little more time to your processing each time. Titration means allowing the pendulum to swing a little slower, allowing the system to endure a little more feeling, thereby increasing your system’s tolerance and resilience to the distress.

Increase your time in processing as you feel appropriate. You will know when you are pushing your growth edge when it feels uncomfortable but not overwhelming. If it becomes overwhelming, step out and distract with something comfortable and familiar. A series on Netflix. A walk in nature. 

Remember to be gentle with yourself. You should only be feeling whatever you are feeling. In other words, there are no “shoulds” here. 

Meditation for Grief: Two Guided Meditations

Meditation will not reverse the loss, but it can help you change your relationship to the feelings of grief. Here are two meditations you can try to help you release and process the grief.

“Even though the feeling hasn’t necessarily changed, our relationship to the feeling changes over time.”

Mary-Frances O’Connor

1. First Guided Meditation for Grief

Find a place where you feel comfortable. It’s best to use a space you don’t use for sleep. It is also most beneficial if you can be upright, either sitting with your feet on the ground, or in a lotus position, if that is comfortable for you. Start with a short period of time, for example 10 minutes. Set a timer so you don’t have to be aware of the time. 

Take a moment to check in with yourself. What are you physically and/or emotionally feeling at the moment? Don’t try to change anything. Just let wherever is arising to be there. Become aware of your present experience and see if you can name it. The phrase “I am aware of” can be helpful. 

Can you find where this emotion or feeling lives in your body? Once you find it, connect to the direct physical sensation that is occurring at this very moment. If stories begin to pop into your head, thank them for trying to help make sense of the feelings and return to those feelings as they are happening in real time. 

Place your hand over the place in your body where you are feeling the emotion or physical sensation. Let it know that you are right there with it. And send it some healing compassion. Stay with the feeling and continue to be curious, being aware when thoughts and stories come in. 

Move now to the other places in your body where you are not feeling these feelings. What can you notice? Are they bracing, tense? If so, see if you can let those paces relax, letting them know that you are with the painful sensations. 

Return to the emotion or feeling and stay with it without the stories. Focus and attend to the feeling. Continue to offer compassion to this feeling as it is in this moment.

2. Second Guided Meditation for Grief

This meditation comes from Jack Kornfield’s teachings on grief, which you can access here: https://jackkornfield.com/meditation-grief/ Below is the full grief meditation script.

To meditate on grief, let yourself sit, alone or with a comforting friend. Take the time to create an atmosphere of support. Sense a field of strength and support wherever you can, of your loved ones, of your spiritual teachers, of Mother Earth who has seen it all. When you are ready, begin by tuning in to your breath. Feel your breathing in the area of your chest. This can help you become present to what is within you. Take one hand and hold it gently on your heart as if you were holding a vulnerable human being. You are.

As you continue to breathe, bring to mind the loss or pain you are grieving. Let the story, the images, the feelings come naturally. Hold them gently. Take your time. Let the feelings come layer by layer, a little at a time.

Keep breathing softly, compassionately. Let whatever feelings are there, pain and tears, anger and love, fear and sorrow, come as they will. Touch them gently. Let them unravel out of your body and mind. Make space for any images that arise. Allow the whole story. Breathe and hold it all with tenderness and compassion. Kindness for it all, for you and for others.

The grief we carry is part of the grief of the world. Hold it gently. Let it be honored. You do not have to keep it in anymore. You can let it go into the heart of compassion; you can weep.

Meditation for Grief: Practice Kindness and Care

Attending to your grief with loving kindness can change your relationship with it. While you cannot change what has happened, you can change your experience of it. Remember that you are not your grief; you are not your pain.

This article is part of the Shambhala.org Community Blog, which offers reflections by Shambhala community members on their individual journeys in meditation and spirituality.

2 thoughts on “Meditation for Grief: Advice and Guided Meditations for Grief and Loss

  1. Thanks. We experienced a loss 3 months ago due to a car accident.

    It is very painfully on mind and heart today.

    In gratitude for the support.

    Josephine

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2024-03-01 21:59:23