When facing the loss of someone dear to you, it’s natural to want to push the pain away — indeed, pain avoidance is built into our nervous system. But please don’t resist the process of grieving. The emotions and sensations in your body brought up by grief carry important messages. Can you stay willing to mourn and allow grief to happen in its own way, in its own time?
You have the inner capacity to do this work, to spend time with your grief and to care for it. You can learn to stay, to tolerate its intensity, and keep opening to it. Let it bring you its messages. Let it teach you. Allow yourself to fully know the truth of your pain, because opening to the fullness of your experience makes it possible to truly heal the way that you most hope to.
There is a poignant quality to loss, a profound bittersweetness. The sweetness comes from the beauty of the connection made between two hearts. And the poignant quality comes from vulnerability, which includes the suffering of a loss. Exploring grief is a process of balancing the parts that uplift and inspire us, and the parts that hurt us.
Opening to your grief through mindfulness and kindness can help you acknowledge and integrate your experience more fully, and to see into the larger truth of loss — that grief and love are inseparable. It will also open your heart to a deeper, more vast love that is free of holding or clinging. Your heart can become big enough to hold great love and the pain of loss.
When feeling something like this, try saying to yourself: I can’t move forward from the grief of losing someone dear to me. The pain seems to get worse instead of better, and I can’t run from it, no matter how hard I try. Memories that once brought me joy now bring me heartache.
A Meditation for Grief and Loss
The pain of grief can be felt in the body, so this meditation builds tolerance to difficult sensations and focuses on opening fully to the experience of loss. If it feels too intense in the body, you can widen the attention outward to include sights, sounds, and smells in the room. Then as you are ready, return attention to the body.
Sit quietly in a peaceful place. You may close your eyes if you like. Begin by taking a few deep, relaxing breaths. Sense your breathing in the area of your chest. Sense the rise and fall as the air flows in and out. You might place a hand gently over your heart and rest it there. Now bring to mind an image of the loved one you have lost. Imagine them seated right across from you, facing you. Let the details come into focus: of their face and body, their smile, the light in their eyes. See their face as they gaze at you, this beloved one. Gazing at you with a full heart. Allow yourself to receive their loving gaze.
Now gently scan your body for any physical sensations. Take a moment to softly name what you feel, like a whisper in the mind. Is there a pleasant feeling, a warmth, a glow? Or an unpleasant feeling, a tightness, a heaviness, a sharpness? Notice how the sensations change in intensity, the way they shift and move. Allow them to arise and pass away like waves.
If you find it difficult to stay with strong sensations, try gently focusing on your breath. When ready, scan for areas in the body where emotions are felt most strongly, like the throat, chest, or belly. These are places where sensations surface that are linked to emotions we’re avoiding. Gently name what you feel — heat, pressure, aching, vibrating, whatever is present. Hold this with tenderness, softening and relaxing. Breathing. Repeat the process for any area you notice strong sensations, allowing any tears that may want to come.
Bring to mind again the image of the dear one you are grieving. See them right here, seated across from you, not as a memory but as if it were happening now. See their face, bringing into focus their eyes, nose, mouth, their hair, shoulders, upper chest. Sense this beloved face gazing at you. Offer them your loving gaze. Let that love fill every part of your body.
Slowly begin to shift your attention between the image of this dear one and the sensations in your body. Taking your time as you move back and forth. Holding this dear one and being held by them. Resting in your love for each other. Breathing.
Repeat this meditation many times. You can call forth the love shared with your departed one; you access it within your body as a felt sense of connection to them. This is part of a larger loving presence that holds us all mysteriously and beautifully. Remember this love. Rest in it.
This article originally appeared in our print magazine, Kindfulness (Buy on Amazon, $12.99).