Meditation for Grief and Loss – Controlling Negative Thoughts

Intrusive and negative thoughts affect grieving parents a lot. These thoughts come at random times and seem to have a life of their own. Meditation is a very useful activity to deal these thoughts either by eliminating them, or directing them appropriately. I’ve found meditation helps me control painful thoughts and calms me down.

What is Meditation

Meditation is a means of focusing the mind on what you want it to focus on. It doesn’t mean going into a trance and separating from society or one’s surroundings. One can meditate anywhere, in the privacy of home, or in a public setting. 

Relaxing the Body, Pre-Meditation

upper body of man silhouette on blue background

Relaxing the body is an important first step. I call it pre-meditation. A relaxed body helps focus the mind. The following activity relaxes the major muscle groups:

Begin with the feet, and work up to the face. The idea is that you clench, stiffen, or flex a particular muscle, then relax it. Pay attention to working on just one muscle while relaxing the rest of the body. As you stiffen the muscle, slowly breathe in with your mouth, breathing in from the belly. You should feel your stomach inflate. When you relax the muscle, slowly exhale through the mouth, feeling the belly deflate and soften:

Clench your toes on the right foot and then relax. Do this three times. Repeat with the left foot. 

Stiffen the muscle in the right thigh and then relax. Do this three times. Repeat with the left thigh.

Tighten the abdominal muscles, then relax. Do this three times.

Clench the right fist, then slowly open your hand. Do this three times. Repeat with the left hand.

Stiffen, flex, the bicep in the right arm, then relax. Do this three times. Repeat with the left arm.

Finally, stiffen the facial muscles, then relax. Do this three times.

On to mental meditation activities.

Meditation to Stop Negative Thoughts

River and Leaf Imagery

Close your eyes and imagine sitting at the bank of a gently flowing river. You hear the water bubbling past. It’s autumn. Leaves fall from the trees and flow down the river. Now, take one of your negative thoughts and place it on a leaf that’s flowing by. Watch this thought and leaf flow down the river till it’s out of sight.

Label That Thought

When an unwanted thought enters your mind, give it a label. For example, when I’m trying to chase a thought away, I mentally say “thinking”. That’s my label for an unwanted thought, and I say it several times to myself till it’s gone. Mentally labeling the thought creates a break between the thought and processing the thought. Once there’s a break, it’s easier to eliminate the thought.

We Aren’t Our Thoughts

It’s important to remember that we are not our thoughts. Thoughts pop up randomly for no reason. They’re just there. Science hasn’t yet figured out why thoughts keep on coming. Negative thoughts don’t mean that we are negative or bad people. A parent grieving a child is in a very difficult emotional place, and troublesome thoughts are a part of grief.

Meditation for Grief

back of woman thinking at sunset

This is a four-step grief meditation to help with loss. These steps are:

Step 1- Facing Grief 

Step 2 – Feeling Grief

Step 3 – Embracing Grief 

Step 4 – Asking a Very Important Question

Step 1 – Facing Grief

Facing grief is all about acknowledging that I can only do so much. It is what it is. I’ve lost my child and now I have to cope as best as I can. The mantra for this is:

“I’m doing the best I can right now.”

I repeat this to myself over and over, because I often feel I’m not doing enough. Not doing enough for my child to honor his memory, and not doing enough for myself to better cope with my loss. I keep telling myself, right now, I’m doing enough. There’s time to do more when I feel I’m ready.

Step 2 – Feeling Grief

Feeling grief means to notice where grief manifests itself in the body. When tears start to well up in my eyes, when all of a sudden I panic at the fact that my child is gone for good, where do I feel it in my body:

Do I feel a tightening in my throat or my chest? Do my fists clench? Does my heart race? What part of my body stiffens up? Is my breathing shallow or deep, quick or slow? 

When I focus on my body during a grief attack, I cope with it better at that moment. When I feel my limbs tightening, I try to loosen up. Rather than taking quick, shallow breaths I take slow deep breaths from the belly. All this refocuses my mind from my emotions to my physical body, and helps quiet disturbing and negative thoughts.

Step 3 – Embracing Grief

Embracing grief focuses on the things I miss the most about my child. This is a hard step because I’m thinking long and hard about the attributes of my wonderful child with whom I can no longer share my life:

What do I miss the most about him? How did he impact me? What qualities did I adore in him? How can I have these qualities live on in me? 

Answering these difficult questions are good prompts to help me find ways to honor his memory. 

Step 4 – Asking a Very Important Question

This last step is very profound and poignant. Some people answer it right away without difficulty, while others think about it for awhile:

If I could explain to my heart how brief my time in this world is, what would my heart want me to stop doing right now?

Meditation exercises courtesy of therapists at Simple Habit.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post. If only one of these methods works for you, it’s well worth it.

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