Meditation to Heal Grief
I will never forget when I met Lisa. I have been mentoring her successful meditation practice for several years now, but in the beginning, she reminded me of a time in my life before I had even heard of meditation.
Many years ago, I was a busy entrepreneur. My outer environment was overloaded and stressful, and in my inner world I was unable to cope. The anxiety I felt was like an insufferable weight that someone else had seemingly placed upon my shoulders. I felt powerless to escape it, and I was in fear that I would collapse beneath it.
Eventually, in search of a solution, I discovered meditation. I learned a simple technique of counting breaths that I practiced for only a few minutes each day, yet in less than six months, my anxiety was resolved. In retrospect, that achievement was remarkable. At the time, however, it felt like a painfully slow, frustrating, and ineffective process.
From day to day, I had no sense that I was making any progress at all. Only with the benefit of hindsight did it become clear that I was in fact making slow but steady and consistent progress. After about six months, one day I simply realized that my anxiety was gone. The outer world had not changed, but my inner landscape was profoundly different.
Real-World Benefits of Meditation
Over the several decades that have elapsed since that time, I have often shared my story with students and clients as testimony to the powerful benefits of meditation. In addition to my personal experience, hundreds of research studies have documented that even a modest meditation practice can yield numerous benefits to our physical, mental, and emotional health. Meditation has been shown to reduce blood pressure and heart rate, improve metabolism and blood chemistry, benefit breathing patterns and oxygen utilization, and improve blood flow to the brain. Meditation may reduce cholesterol and the compulsion to smoke. In addition to helping alleviate symptoms of stress and anxiety, meditation also lessens depression; improves memory, attention, and exercise tolerance; aids in struggles with addiction; and promotes emotional health.
Of course, there is a big difference between reading about these benefits in a scholarly journal written by research scientists, and actually experiencing these life-changing benefits for yourself. In the many years since my own meditation journey began, I had never witnessed this sort of transformation in someone else — until I met Lisa.
When Lisa learned that I was a meditation teacher, she asked if I would help her to develop a meditation practice. Like so many of us, Lisa was struggling under the weight of her own unique mental burden. In her case, it was grief. Then in her 50s, Lisa was overcome by grief from the tragic loss of her two brothers at a young age. Although their deaths had occurred several decades prior, grief and anger followed her like a dark cloud everywhere she went.
When Lisa and I started working together, every session was hallmarked by her emotional outpouring of grief. This cathartic release was usually exhausted after we were about an hour into each 90-minute session. Similar to my own experience, our early progress felt painfully slow.
Finding a New Awareness
Gradually, over a period of months, I taught Lisa a seven-step, progressive approach to meditation. She learned a series of techniques that link body, breath, energy, and mind, leading one into a state of natural calm and clarity.
Lisa and I first worked through the foundational practices of releasing tension in the body through scanning and relaxation techniques. Then we began to work with the breath, learning basic pranayama — or breath control — methods to deepen and slow the breath and induce a relaxation response. As the months passed, I introduced Lisa to practices from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition that work directly with the energy of the subtle body, leading to a state of stillness and calm. And very slowly, Lisa began to cultivate the expansive awareness that is the hallmark of mind’s innermost qualities — its ultimate non-conceptual nature of clarity and luminosity.
As time passed, Lisa became less compelled to expound on her grief and loss. We spent more time talking about the theory and methods of meditation, learning new techniques, and practicing meditation during our sessions together. In the beginning, Lisa had been literally unable to stop talking about her grief and loss, no matter how many times I might gently try to return her to the topic at hand. After a few months, this continuous outpouring of grief began to lose its urgent appeal. In time, we could spend an entire session just discussing and practicing meditation.
Putting Meditation to the Test
After six months of working together, tragedy struck, and Lisa lost her older sister. Lisa’s sister had suffered for many years from afflictions of physical and mental health, so her death was not completely unexpected. However, the family relationship was strained and communication was sparse. During the months leading up to her sister’s passing, Lisa never had an opportunity for the emotional healing and release that come with reconciliation and forgiveness.
I was so proud of the progress that Lisa had made during our six short months of working together. Her transformation was truly amazing. Still, I was worried about how Lisa would take the sudden death of her sister. After decades of unrelenting grief over the loss of her brothers, would she return to the familiar darkness of pain and despair?
Lisa and I did not meet for several weeks due to the funeral and other family matters, so I was anxious to see her emotional state when we finally had the opportunity to get together. It was a cold winter day as we sat outside on a hard park bench to meditate and catch up. I remember well my joy and amazement as Lisa was able to calmly relate the events of her sister’s passing. She had suffered another terrible loss, but now her emotional state could only be described as loving, compassionate, forgiving, and kind. Although saddened by the loss, Lisa’s mind was clear, healthy, and at peace.
On that day, I realized that I had no need to worry about Lisa. She had come a long way in a relatively short time, but the fruit of her practice was unmistakable and irrevocable. Since then, Lisa has increased and expanded her practice to include distance healing and energy work. She now undertakes a solitary meditation retreat over a long weekend each year. She is a living testament to the transformative power and benefit of a modest but consistent meditation practice.
These days, while I occasionally share the story of my own journey with students and clients, most often I will use Lisa’s story as a shining real-life example of the transformative power of meditation.
Header Photo: Pamela Joe McFarlane/E+/Getty Images
Republished with permission from DiscoveringMind.com