How Meditation Can Help You Navigate Grief

Grieving the loss of a loved oneWoman Walking Towards the Sea can be a horribly lonely experience. It is natural to assume that others don’t really understand or “get” our loss. Although we hope to find people who can truly understand and identify with our stories, be it via support groups or self-help books, we rarely find the mirrors we seek. It seems we are more prone to focus on the differences than the commonalities we share, as though the comparisons we make somehow legitimize the degree of our pain. Questions such as “How old was he?” or “Had she been sick very long?” are typical as people seek to compartmentalize the experience and find a means of separating from it. Sometimes we even find ourselves trying to quantify whose loss was harder or more painful by making similar comparisons. It is the unlikeliest and perhaps most unfortunate of competitions.

The Buddha is said to have helped a woman who was trapped in her grief for her lost child by asking her to collect a handful of mustard seeds, one from each home and family whom had not also experienced a death. She was unable to collect a single seed as each and every family had a loss of its own. The lesson was intended to teach her the reality of death, but this exercise also acted as a lesson in showing how we are not alone but rather all connected in our experience.

Human beings have an innate instinct to “pack” or “herd,” especially during times of crisis. I recall being deeply moved on 9/11 by the amazing way in which Americans befriended one another and banded together in both our survival and healing. It is unparalleled in terms of collective strength. All the things that had, prior to that point, divided us evaporated in that moment of devastation. Political, religious, and racial separations became a ridiculous and superfluous distinction—spontaneously overridden by our determination to stay alive and thrive. We became a “whole,” and from that a boundless strength abided.

In meditation, we can practice this same interconnectedness, but without the pre-cursive trauma that often precedes it. The practice of Maitri is a meditation of meta-compassion, in which we connect to the pain and suffering of others. While this may at first sound counterintuitive in adding to our already heavy hearts, we paradoxically find healing in this reaching-out process, just as we did during our country’s tragedy.

We can begin the Maitri meditation by sitting alone in a quiet room and during a time in which we won’t be interrupted. With eyes either closed or softly focused on a single object, we reflect upon our feelings of grief. It is often helpful to place a hand on our hearts to convey a warm and healing energy, feeling the warmth move from the palm to the chest. As we do this, we imagine sending love to this place of suffering with an open and compassionate heart. This is not a time to think or question, but rather to tend to ourselves.

Once we have experienced the nourishment of this self-care, we seek then to extend our compassion to families and friends we have known over the years who have died or who have also experienced a loss, by sending them this same feeling of empathy. Imagine their faces and their suffering and send them love. Then, finally, we expand our compassion beyond the circumference of our inner circle and send this feeling to all of our neighbors who have grieved and who are grieving, near and far.

When we conduct this meta-compassionate meditation, the boundaries of our experience begin to blur, as does our sense of separateness, division, and aloneness, and we find ourselves deeply rooted in the collective experience. It is this offering of compassion to others that unites our capacities for healing and enables us to receive the strength of the sum, which greatly transcends that of the individual life and resources, and which is indeed limitless.

© Copyright 2014 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Dr. Juli Giordano, PsyD, LPC, therapist in Scottsdale, Arizona

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Stefania

    October 18th, 2014 at 2:27 PM

    So beautiful to imagine this process,and actually being involved in this process of focusing more on the things that we atually have in common with others – common threads and common experiences- rather than only focusing on the things that have and do make us different. It is within these commonalities that we can then make the connections for us in our lives that will give us the strength and the courage to begin something new and to find something good in life each day. If we simply look at the divisions, then I don’t think that you will see too many things that we can be grateful and thankful for.

  • Sylvie

    October 20th, 2014 at 3:50 PM

    I just think that the whole process of becoming more mindful and aware of our actual feelings can be such a turning point for so many of us. It allows is to look beyond what we THINK that we feel to the inner workings of what we really do feel, and this alone can be a valuable first step toward healing and making a huge difference in our lives for the greater good.

  • Ker C.

    Ker C.

    November 20th, 2014 at 10:54 AM

    Lovely description, for clarity may I note that this is metta practice, not Maitri (speaking as one who trained in Maitri at Nairopa University). Thank you for your article.

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