A Meditation for Loss and Grief

An antidote for physical distance.

Posted Apr 18, 2020

It is 4 a.m. and it is pitch dark. Like millions around the world who are caring for a loved one who is ill, I’ve become acquainted with the darkness. The poignant song of a solitary robin breaks the silence. I look out the window to see where the music is coming from, this melancholy melody in a minor key, but I can’t find the source of the haunting call. I take comfort in a golden crescent moon rising low in the sky and the full exuberant bloom of a white cherry tree. I think of the words of a Guatemalan grandmother that I heard earlier today, “The people are so sad, but the earth is so happy.”

I don’t usually awaken thinking of sculpture, but today I keep seeing Michelangelo’s Pieta in my mind’s eye. Considered to be one of the most magnificent works of art ever created, the mourning Virgin lovingly cradles the broken body of Jesus. It is an ancient image, but I can’t imagine a more resonant one for these times.

Last night I attended an online meditation given by the soulful teacher Alexis Santos. There were technical problems and my screen froze. It took a while for me to realize that the meditation had ended and the talk had begun. My bandwidth is low these days, and at that moment it felt like nothing was working and that everything was broken. But after a few minutes, I was able to settle and calm.

Toward the end of the talk, Santos mentioned that he had recently come across an image of the Pieta. Seeing it, he identified with the collapsed body of Jesus. I could immediately resonate as well, not only with the archetype of the death of a loved one, but with all the heartbreaking photos these past few weeks of caskets upon caskets from every country in the world.

But then Santos shared a powerful insight that was a balm for my aching heart as well as what we psychologists call a “cognitive reframe.” He realized that he could also identify with the loving Virgin, holding the tremendous sorrow. Yes, we have a choice here. We can choose to reach out and help and comfort those in need.

I did a little research and pulled out my old art history books (I was an art history major in college) to look at the sculpture afresh. And as I read, I realized that Pieta also translates as compassion.

In a number of religious traditions, in times of darkness and despair, when we are overwhelmed, teachers often recommend a meditation practice of invoking a compassionate being. This version that I created, inspired by Santos’s talk, and the “split screen” of video conferencing that is so present in our lives right now, brings together sorrow and love.

Meditation on Loss and Grief

  • Sit comfortably, taking a few minutes to settle and rest.
  • Feel the weight of your body grounding you, anchoring you.
  • So that you aren’t alone, invite a compassionate being to join you. It could be a spiritual being, such as Christ, Buddha, the Virgin Mary, Kwan Yin, the goddess of compassion, or it could be a loving parent, grandparent, teacher or even a pet.
  • If it feels right, with this support, acknowledge whatever you are feeling right now—exhaustion, panic, anxiety, fear, pain, grief.
  • Hold that suffering in your heart, as if you would hold something precious and fragile.
  • Let in the support, guidance, and wisdom of your compassionate being.
  • If you can, in this time of physical distance and emotional distress, let yourself be held by this compassionate being.
  • In your body see if you can feel the comfort of touch, the warmth, the deep human need to be held and comforted.
  • Let yourself rest here, taking in this soothing touch. It is also fine to hold and hug yourself.
  • Take this meditation with you throughout the day and return to it whenever you need comfort.

There is powerful research on the importance of physical touch. Scientists are finding that the brain doesn’t differentiate between our touch and the touch of others—both are calming, comforting and necessary. This practice can be very helpful for those who are living alone and isolated. Feel free to put two hands on your heart, hug yourself, stroke your arms, or give yourself a massage.

This is a hard, hard time and you are not alone.

May this practice bring comfort to many beings.