I originally wrote this article for Marty Tousley's Grief Healing Blog. You can find it at:             http://www.griefhealingblog.com/2013/12/meditation-helpful-to-those-who-grieve.html
It is only through holding our own broken hearts and wounds in an attentive and compassionate embrace, that we can, over time, move through our grief to some stage of peace and resolution.  ~ Brad Hunter

Research studies confirm that the practice of meditation and mindfulness changes our brains and our lives; reduces pain, anxiety, confusion and stress; boosts the immune system; and increases concentration, focus and compassion, among its many other benefits. In addition, the practice of meditation and mindfulness can assist us in healing our grief, because it helps us live in the present moment...where our grief resides. It gives us better access to the "now," thereby helping us become more aware of our pain and sadness, and in turn begin to heal it. Distracting ourselves from our grief is necessary and helpful from time to time, but repeatedly avoiding pain and grief only serves to prolong the journey to healing. Any tool that can increase concentration and focus and bring us to that place where grief resides (the present moment) is surely a tool that will facilitate grief healing. As a dedicated advocate of the use of meditation and as a fellow mourner, my hope is that others learn how helpful it can be as they walk the labyrinth of grief in their own lives.
My Story
A daily practice of meditation has been an essential part of my life for years: first as a member of a religious order in my twenties, then as a teacher in the early 60's and early 70's when I taught my 5th grade students how to meditate. In my practice as a psychotherapist, I teach and for many years have taught many clients to use meditation as one way to deal with anxiety, depression, grief and a host of other concerns. My husband Bill and I practiced meditation on a daily basis throughout the years of our marriage.

Why then, when I needed it most, did I abandon this lifelong and important practice? It happened somewhere in 2008, as Bill moved into the later stages of Alzheimer's disease and was no longer able to meditate or practice mindfulness. At the same time, as my husband's primary caregiver I was becoming increasingly overwhelmed and exhausted -- clearly in survival mode, doing only what had to be done as I somehow managed to take care of Bill, see clients, publish a local magazine that he and I founded and much more. Life was challenging and even traumatic, and eventually meditation and mindfulness got lost in the trauma and stress of Bill's final months. It was not until well after he died in 2010 that I realized how deeply I missed my meditation practice, and I knew it would be one of the keys to healing my deep grief.

In hindsight, if I had maintained my practice during my caregiving days and the early months of experiencing the gut-wrenching grief that followed Bill's death, I know that my life and healing would have been easier.
Many Ways to Practice ~
and Not as Difficult as You Might Think


Because there are so many ways
to practice meditation,
the thought of it
can seem overwhelming to a beginner.
This chart describes some of the various types of meditation:
Meditation or Relaxation Techniques
.   

In reality, however, meditation is simple. Let's start with Mindful Meditation. Stop what you are doing and... look around your space. Let your eyes fall on the various objects that surround you. Really look! Really see! Choose one object and hold it in your hand. It can be a pen, a shell, a flower...anything will do. Block out everything except the object you have chosen to look at. Become one, so to speak, with the object. Study the tiny details, the colors, the shape. Do this for a few to several minutes. You have just practiced mindfulness: being present to the here and now, either by focusing on one object or all that surrounds you, including sounds and more.
Now try this. First read the following instructions, then sit up straight and close your eyes. With your eyes closed, pay attention to your breathing...follow your breath, in as you inhale, and out as you exhale. You can also imagine your breath moving through your nostrils, filling your lungs and traveling back out again, or you can count to 4 as you inhale and again as you exhale. When you are distracted (and you will be distracted), gently bring your attention back to your breath. Do this for a few to several minutes. You have now practiced another type of meditation, one with the goal of clearing your mind and focusing on just one thought.
Monkey Mind
Our minds are quite busy, producing some 40 or more thoughts in any given minute. It is what the brain does. Those of us who have meditated for a lifetime still have to deal with our "monkey minds." Your mind will wander. Don't fight with it; just gently return to what you have chosen as your focus. With time and patience, it gets easier to maintain that focus. With practice, you might notice a decrease in your blood pressure if it's been high. You may feel your emotions level out a bit, or you'll notice those all too common grief triggers becoming less stressful. When the tsunamis of grief come barreling into your day, you'll have a resource available to help you become calmer and more peaceful as the torrent of grief subsides.
Guided meditation is helpful to those who are grieving because, with the help of a guide or a recording, it provides something on which to focus. I know from experience that as you grieve, it might seem difficult if not impossible to sit quietly even as the tears may flow.  Your attempts to focus on a flower, the sounds in the room or your breath might be difficult at first, 
but in time, you will find little breakthrough moments when you suddenly realize you have just gotten lost in the textures and colors of a flower petal. Be gentle with yourself as you try it. Perhaps all you can do now is sit quietly for a two minutes. Once you can do that, aim for four minutes. Then try one of the guided meditations using the links below.
For me, the journey through grief has involved not only acceptance of my loss and my grief but an embracing of them. We who grieve learn to integrate our pain into our lives. What feels like a backpack filled with lead eventually lightens until we actually have moments and times when it is barely perceptible. And then in time -- your own time -- those times will increase, and grief will no longer control your life. Instead it might sit quietly in the back of your heart and/or mind, allowing you to honor the love you have for the one you miss so much, and even to be compassionate toward others who are walking through grief. Meditation is one tool to help you arrive at that place.
Meditation Resources

Audios

Tara Brach - Free Guided Meditations

Joan Halifax - Grief and Meditation

Bella Naparsteck - Ease Grief

Jon Kabat-Zinn -Body scan (23 minutes)

UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center - Free Guided Meditations                               (varied lengths: includes LovingKindness Meditation)

Videos

Guided Meditation - Loving Kindness
(13 minutes)

Jon Kabat-Zinn -What is Mindfulness? (2.5 minutes)

Thich Nhat Hanh- Guided Meditation (40 min)

Sharon Salzberg - Guided Loving Kindnesss (Metta) Meditation (27 min)

Articles 

Ten Myths About Meditation

A Beginner's Guide to Meditation

Books

Meditation for Beginners by Jack Kornfield

Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation by Sharon Salzberg (with audio CD on Metta Mindfulness)

Mindfulness for Beginners: Reclaiming the Present Moment -- And Your Life by                        Jon Kabat-Zinn.
Related to: healing, grief work, meditation, reflection
 


Comments

07/28/2014 10:27am

Thank you, Mary. This is such a wise piece.

My husband Vic and I had meditated for over 35 years when he got sick. Our meditation practice held us together during those years. After his death, I meditated every day, often first thing in the morning. My mental chatter was quieter than usual then. I no longer had to worry about Vic's suffering or what I would do without him. It had all been accomplished and my mind was wiped clean by the storm. That's no longer true. Monkey mind returned to tease and entice me and keep my mind hopping and I know how much easier it was to keep regular with practice (and exercise) when I had a partner. But the stillness is there when I quiet down and turn toward it.

Reply
Mary Friedel-Hunt
07/31/2014 9:38am

Thank you, Elaine. Monkey mind does indeed tease me also. And I agree when Bill was practicing with me it was so much simpler...we motivated each other and shared. I do a lot of walking meditation in addition to my sitting practice...just being present to the world as I walk Bentley twice each day in our quiet (usually) village.

Reply
05/11/2016 2:15pm

Meditation is a kind of therapy that is most effective source of healing in grief. Being a psychologist, I want to attend expert’s training sessions to polish my skills more effectively. I appreciate your efforts about meditation.

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