How Grief Changed My Meditation Practice

Letting go of expectations helped me to move on.

Flavio Edreira / EyeEm/ Getty Images

I had my first experience with meditation during a yoga teacher training class. The first few times I tried it, I wasn’t sure what all the fuss was about. I spent most of the time thinking — or trying not to think. By the end of each session, inevitably one or both of my legs would fall asleep. Everything changed one day when I started to see waves of colors and lights coming toward me during the meditation. And then I simply floated up. 

I can’t really explain where “up” was. I just had a feeling that I was outside of my body. And I was surrounded by white light. I only stayed there for a few seconds, but that experience opened my eyes to the possibility that there was a spiritual realm and that I might be able to access it.

When I met my boyfriend he was also curious about meditation, so we started doing it together. We were dedicated to our practice, sitting for a full 20 minutes each day and reporting back to each other on whatever we had experienced. 

As I built my meditation practice, I started to connect with what I called my inner voice. It wouldn’t happen every time, of course, but it happened often enough. When I was struggling with a decision, my inner voice would point me in the right direction. I came to rely on my meditation as a safe place where I could find whatever answers I was seeking.

Last year turned out to be a devastating year for my family. My dad became ill somewhat suddenly and the doctors didn’t seem to have the answers. He was in and out of the hospital for a few months and then we finally brought him home. Although no one in my family would acknowledge it, I could feel my dad slipping away.

I remember one afternoon I was sitting in meditation and my inner voice said, “Your dad is dying.” I nodded my head and silently replied, “I know.” My dad passed away a few weeks later. 

Until my dad passed away, I had never experienced the loss of anyone close to me. It was absolutely devastating. My grief was so deep and complex. It had so many layers that I couldn’t even comprehend it. Some days I still can’t. 

After the funeral, I tried to settle back into my regular home life. One day, I was meditating with my boyfriend when a voice came out of the blue and said, “Break up with him.” I tried to ignore it, but the voice came back again. I told myself that I didn’t have to listen to the voice. I knew that I was in deeply love with my boyfriend and we were happy, so why would I break up with him?

The voice came back even stronger and said, “I can take him away from you.” I opened my eyes and looked around, relieved to see my boyfriend still sitting next to me. For weeks, I couldn’t seem to shake that experience. I thought I was having some sort of mental breakdown. 

Luckily, I was seeing a grief counselor who reassured me that sometimes people who are grieving have very dark dreams and those same types of experiences can also come out during meditation. After that, I decided to stop meditating for a while. 

During the past year, my boyfriend and I tried a few times to restart our meditation practice, but we couldn’t seem to get into the groove again. It felt like we were trying to force it, as opposed to just being. And I still wasn’t comfortable sitting with my grief. I decided to focus my energy on my yoga practice and I started taking long walks each day to clear my head. 

Then my sister sent me a free trial of a meditation app called Headspace. My sister is a busy C-suite executive and a mom of two boys. She barely has five minutes in her day to take a bathroom break, so I was curious to see what got her so excited about meditation. (It turns out that the meditation teacher’s British accent might be part of the appeal.)

Even though I consider myself an experienced meditator, I approached the app with a beginner’s mind. I started with a basic five-minute guided meditation. The friendly British voice led me through a brief body scan and a breathing exercise. Whenever my mind started to wander, he was there to gently guide me back to my breath. After five minutes was over, I felt refreshed and happy.

I have been using the app for about a month now, and I absolutely love it. It is completely different than the way I used to meditate. At first, it felt like cheating because it seemed so easy. I was used to a grueling 20 minutes of sitting in silence and wrestling with my thoughts. Now my meditation practice feels light and airy. 

Meditation can be a deep spiritual experience, but it doesn’t have to be. Sometimes meditation is the simple act of taking five minutes out of your busy day to slow down and connect with your breath. And for me, that is enough. I am just grateful to have my practice again.

The clouds were rolling in this afternoon as I settled in for my daily meditation. As I sat listening to the hum of the ceiling fan and counting my in and out breaths, I felt my body start to relax. When I opened my eyes, I saw a ray of sunshine streaming through the tomato plants on our balcony. I smiled and thought of my dad as I watched the small patch of sunlight slowly fade away.

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