Meditation for loss, grief, sadness and depression
by Pauline McKinnon
One of the most frequent causes of depression involves the matter of loss and grief and the sadness it brings. Unless the tremendous depth of pain and the range of emotions that accompany such events have been experienced, it is unlikely that even some experts can bring any degree of consolation to those in this situation.
Loss can be relatively minor yet the reaction to it can be potent. There are so many levels of these highly charged occurrences and the individual reaction that accompanies them; and so people find themselves adrift in shock, exhaustion, confusion, bewilderment, unreality, impatience, loneliness and sorrow – not to mention hurt, frustration, anger, anxiety and, quite likely, depression.
In grief, memories, fears and feelings become magnified – at times quite out of proportion. Loss, whether of a loved one or a seemingly less significant, though personal part of life can be an experience of desolation:
I am walking along a familiar street. My footsteps are reluctant, hesitating, drawing back to avoid the pain toward which they are leading me.
I am walking, in fact, towards knowledge; the knowledge and the need to accept that someone very dear to me will never be near me again.
In that moment, dragging myself toward a fate of unwilling comprehension, I am numb to the world around me, with self awareness present only by an indescribable sinking feeling within. The torment in my mind, so overwhelmed with grief, persists with the belief that I cannot conceivably continue my own life. This thought or feeling or concept within me is unbidden. The future is temporarily meaningless and time, a massive obstacle. I have literally hit a wall of despair. Turmoil, sorrow and heartbreak reign within me as I long only to escape this torment and find relief by travelling some unfamiliar path to deep comfort with the deceased.
Such, on one occasion, was a fragment of my own reaction to the loss of a loved one. At that time, even the tears and distress that took place over the many months that followed had not yet become a reality.
Throughout our lives we must face innumerable losses and consequent grieving. Each occasion though, is different – and always individual. The loss of a treasured pet or experiencing childhood rejection may be as painful in some circumstances or at some stage of life as a physical loss and separation through tragedy, illness or death.
In the pain of grief, the pleasures of one’s daily comings and goings simply disappear, replaced by emptiness. Nothing can fill that void. Not company, love, sex, drugs or money; not material goods or distractions. Technology is pointless, unable to provide healing for the broken heart. In grief there is nothing but grief – a wilderness of unknown terrain to begin to traverse – or to run from.
Depression can manifest when the effort and fatigue and disconnection persist as a scramble of total dis-ease. Hope and purpose seem pointless. And without hope or purpose, the future is extremely bleak.
The beginnings of my personal way out of pain as described in that recollection above came primarily from the obvious. This loss in fact, was not all about me. Others were immersed in their own pain, grieving for that person, too. Furthermore, there were people who actually needed me for a variety of reasons: a baby, small children and dependent others. Though indeed, within that realization I also learned that I must somehow find the will and the energy needed to make that kind of effort. This stage was a struggle. But little by little, tasks and duties became easier and over time, a long time, the anguish began to ease.
There were other things, too, to support the journey. Innate gifts came to the fore and the skills one learns along the way re-emerged as necessities. Reading, reflecting and journal writing became requirements. Exercise, especially purposeful walking helped to shift negative energy. I found I could begin to draw on a certain faith I am fortunate to possess – and times of prayer. And healing places, the joy of art and music and the ability to occasionally be present to the uplifting power of humour along with quiet conversations with family and friends all contributed piece by piece.
But it was the strength of stillness … my learned ability to meditate; to rest, let go, experience calm … to immerse myself in practicing what I preached that ultimately brought all those other skills into being.
When grieving, sitting to practice meditation can at first be very difficult. But in meditation, answers evolve as mental regulation sorts out negative neurological reactions. Feelings of depression almost always bring the desire to find a way out of pain. Meditation gives strength to find a way through pain. The restfulness of meditation helps restore that vital energy and the will to keep going. Resolving the pain of grief cannot be hurried, so learning patience is very important. The calming effect of meditation can assist this process, simply because in meditation, one learns to sit and wait. And little by little, meditation the beginnings of personal peace will emerge.
Meditation cannot remove the pain; but it can aid the healing journey. In this way, slowly, emotional balance is restored and hope, a sliver of hope, reawakens to gradually grow and transform suffering beyond the depths of despair to the supreme, healing power of love. Love of self, love of others and, in time, the love of life.
And so, from loss and grief, comes growth. When grief is raw this may seem ridiculous or something of a mystery. But it is the truth. Healing arrives when we begin to know that loss and its darkness is just as important as all the goodness and joy we can take so readily for granted. Without the dark, who can ever truly know the light? Meditation is the buttress that sustains us on our way.
Pauline can be reached at: Stillness Meditation Therapy Centre
From the heart
Lisa is a mother in her early 40s who lost a child to a rare illness.
I am a very average meditator and I was never a spiritual person. I have always had a very busy mind, and it is more jumbled and flighty since the death of our son Sullivan (Sully). I also can feel very hopeless and useless. I would not have thought that my inconsistent and amateur efforts at meditation would have much impact on my life after Sully. Despite this, when I meditate, my mind can become a lot more peaceful. The reasons for my true feelings are often clarified, and can be approached and dealt with.
This is very important to me now, it gives me a beautiful mental space to purely love and think about Sully and the rest of my family, with the other complicated jumble in my life receded or cleared. It is a very practical aid to my life; if I wake with anxious feelings I will use breathing exercises and mantra repetition and feel a bit better. Although I am functioning, feeding the family, getting everyone to school etcetera, I know I am often not fully present for my family and others around me. Meditation helps me feel more emotionally open, and mentally in the present. It makes me acknowledge when my busy mind is dominating and confusing my feelings of grief.
Attending a meditation group is one of the things that gets me through each week. Minor resentments can be acknowledged and forgiven. I can reach a place where my own pain is not all consuming, and I can feel empathy for others. I can feel an inner shift from numbness, hurt and pain towards love, acceptance, and hope in my own strength to live on. I can also sometimes feel uplifted and unburdened, which still amazes me.
These awkward words only go a small way to explaining the slow opening of a spiritual awareness for me since our beautiful Sully passed away. People find different paths useful, but consider giving meditation a go sometime if you can, even of you think you won’t be able to do it, it might help. I thank people for sharing their journeys with me through the bereaved parent’s newsletter, and express my deep sympathy to you all. Look after yourselves; it’s a hard thing to do.