Many people spend their lives worrying about what might be or mulling over what has been, without giving enough thought to what is going on right now. I’m certainly guilty of not living in the moment, especially while dealing with the death of my Tia and Spartacus. I had a really hard time just being in the midst of my grief without wanting to do something to quell my pain, which is what makes my mindfulness practice so important to me.
Mindfulness is the state of mind where I am only aware of what is happening to me right now. I meditate to achieve mindfulness, but mindfulness and meditation aren’t the same. Meditation is something I do; mindfulness is a way of describing my perspective. My thoughts and feelings about the present, the experiences that I am currently undergoing, the current condition of my environment – when I am mindful of the moment, these fill my awareness.
But never for more than a second, because the present never lasts. It lacks permanence. There is always a new present of which I need to be aware. Which is an important point to remember, especially for those of us dealing with pet loss. In the past, I’ve tried to deal with my grief in two main ways: let it control my thoughts (which is to live in the past, where the loss occurred), or try to ignore it and move on with my life (which is only thinking about the future, where I will not feel this way). I tend toward the future-looking to the detriment of my own wellbeing. Neither of these allows for closure or healing.
Embracing my grief as part of my present allows me to let it go, just as I must let this present moment go. Like it or not, the next moment is on its way, and the next, and the next….breathe in, breathe out. Mindfulness lets me know that my pain is not permanent – it may never go away completely, but it will not always feel exactly the way it does right now, either.
Breathing, Meditation, and Science for Grief in the Loss of a Pet
A number of high-profile celebrities and business icons are very vocal in their support of mindfulness practices, and researchers are finding out that the benefits from meditation are real as well. For instance, a study done at the Max Planck Institute in Germany trained 200 adults in four separate types of meditation techniques, and then observed them over the course of nine months. The four techniques were:
- Breathing: The one most of us do, where we focus on the sensation of breathing.
- Body Scan: This is where you concentrate on making a particular part of your body relax, such as your toes, and then move on to the next part.
- Loveingkindness: Some call it the positive-emotion approach because you begin by projecting positive emotions toward someone you love unconditionally, then moving that to yourself, other people, and finally the whole world.
- Objective Reflection: This would be the most difficult one in my opinion. You pay attention to thoughts as they enter your mind, but instead of feeling anything about them you simply try to label them. The labels can vary; you could go with simply positive or negative, or determine whether they are about you or someone else. What’s important is the attempt to maintain objectivity.
The scientists conducting the study split the tests into three, three-month segments. The first included both breathing and body scan techniques, the second was focused on positive feelings, and the third on objective reflection. Each three-month stint included a three-day retreat, two-hour weekly group session, and five days of meditation at home. There was a questionnaire to fill out just before every meditation session, and then one to fill out afterwards as well.
The subjects experienced encouraging results: More positive emotions, better energy, and – perhaps most importantly – a greater awareness of the present moment, which included less distraction by unwanted or stray thoughts.
What I was surprised by was the specific ways in which different meditation techniques really made a discernable difference. I mean, the results made sense – body awareness meditation increased body awareness, positive feeling meditation helped with mood, and objective reflection increased thought awareness – but the benefits were so measurable and precise! Especially when it comes to something like grief support or, more specifically, pet loss support, which we all feel the need for differently, science shows that meditation practices can be tailored to address our unique situations and experiences.
A Self-Guided Meditation You Could Try for Your Pet Loss
Ever been walking down the street, or fixing dinner, or doing any of the million things people do in a day, and all of a sudden a memory of your lost pet just fills your mind? Me too. And I don’t think this is a bad thing at all; I often cherish these memories. What I have found is that, with meditation, I can manage these emotional memories and the connection they create with my late animal companions in ways that doesn’t distract me from my routine.
Though I usually use guided mindfulness exercises (my mind wanders far too much), this is a self-guided meditation routine I sometimes use. It's a great mindfulness technique that works great while at home in a comfy position or while walking to process my pet loss feelings:
First, I schedule about 20 minutes of completely uninterrupted time. I won’t actually meditate for this long, but if I give myself 20 minutes I’ll be sure to meditate for at least 10-15 minutes of that time. Then, once I’m in position, I close my eyes. I like to sit cross-legged on a pillow or yoga block, but do whatever feels good for you.
For about three minutes, I focus on long, deep breaths. I count to eight while I inhale, then count to eight while I exhale, but again: do whatever works best for you. Once I’m relaxed, I allow myself to imagine a beautiful space that is peaceful and comfortable. I notice the lighting, colors, and sounds that surround me. For instance, I live in an area with beautiful ocean walks and forests; often, I’ll imagine walking along a wooded trail, listening to the birds sing and the water gurgling on a warm afternoon, feeling the mist from the nearby falls, etc. Honestly, I feel great just writing about it.
Then, I invite the memory of my deceased animal friends to join me. Sometimes they're kittens; other times, they're their older selves. I always know it’s them, and we’re always happy to see each other. We greet each other, and I’ll let them know how much I miss them. From there, I allow the meditation to advance organically, encouraging the mental and spiritual connection that I’ve established with the memory of my feline friends.
When our time is up, I let them know that I’m grateful for the time we’ve had together and the memories I have. Then, I bring myself back to the present moment, slowly opening my eyes and checking in with my body, mind, and emotions. I allow whatever I’m feeling to happen, without judgment, and after a few moments I am ready to re-enter the world.
The specifics of my practice aren’t as important as the spirit of them. Find a comfortable place, imagine yourself somewhere relaxing, and then invite the memory of your lost pet to visit you. Then, at the end of your session, gently and lovingly say goodbye…until next time. This allows you to control the memories and the sense of loss associated with grief.
Apps help me a lot through this process - in fact, I rarely do meditations without some guidance. I find my mind wanders too much and I need the help of a lovely voice to coax me back to my practice.
When do I do these meditations? Often in the evening around the time my two kitties passed away. Actually, I've talked about how I mark these times each day as a way to honour their memories and structure my grieving time in a way that is meaningful and private. Check out my post on how an app and some intentionality helps with this practice.
How to Find the Right Mindfulness App for Your Pet Loss Meditations
There are a few apps that I find extremely useful when it comes to helping me in my mindfulness practice. However, I’ll admit that the process of finding apps that really do what they say was a bit laborious, to say the least.
What I discovered – and hopefully by sharing this I’ll save you some time – is that many apps which claim to be based on scientific research are not. The apps will reference a tangential study on the positive benefits of mindfulness on their webpage, but that’s not to say that their app is based on science. The hope seems to be that by referencing a study, the app will be made scientifically valid by association. You can read this article for a more thorough explanation of the problem.
Three guidelines I now use when considering a mindful meditation app are:
- What Is Its Purpose?: As in, what is this app supposed to help me with? If I want to use an app to help me with my pet loss grief, then an app designed to deal with stress or anxiety might not be as helpful as I would like.
- Is There Relevant Research?: Not research about mindfulness in general, but evidence that this app in particular does what it claims.
- Do the Special Features Really Help?: Ambient sounds and relaxing music may seem like nice features in a mindfulness app, but in fact they might serve as a distraction. If your goal is to objectively label mental images and emotions as they occur to you, for example, then certain music or sounds might keep that from happening spontaneously.
A Review of Mindfulness Apps
Here are a bunch of apps I’ve found that you may find useful as you use mindfulness to work through your grieving process. Let me know how they stack up against your own selection criteria.
Description: According to its creators, Headspace is a “gym membership for your brain.” You can use it for stress, sleep, focus, creativity, and balance.
Features: In-app purchases, timers, reminders, progress trackers, set programs, and social media features.
Pricing: Free for 10 days, $7.99 a month after that.
Platform: iOS and Android
Description: First designed with children and teens in mind, adults can now benefit from this tool as well. Meditations are divided by age groups.
Features: Timers, reminders, mood trackers, progress trackers, set programs, and social media features.
Pricing: Free – run by an Australian nonprofit.
Platform: iOS and Android
Description: Great for beginners, this app introduces uses to the basics of mindfulness and how best to practice it.
Features: In-app purchases, timers, reminders, and progress trackers.
Description: This app focuses on developing a mindfulness habit with guided meditations throughout the day.
Features: In-app purchases, timers, reminders, mood trackers, progress trackers, set programs, and social media features.
Platform: iOs, still in Beta for Android
Description: Over 80 different types of meditations created by experts, this is also a beautifully desgned app as well.
Features: In-app purchases, timers, progress trackers.
Platform: iOS and Android
Description: Provides a range of formal mindfulness meditations with rationales to support the use of each practice.
Platform: iOS and Android
These are just some of the options out there which may aid you on your journey through the grieving process. Meditation really can be a very positive way for you to actually work through a deal with your grief rather than avoiding it. Let me know which ones you've tried and which have worked the best for thriving through your pet loss pain.
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Health Disclaimer: I’m passionate about wellbeing and health but I’m not a medical professional, nor am I a licensed therapist. Any content you read on this site is intended for inspiration and for information only – by not means am I providing medical advice. Please consult your certified professional for personalized recommendations on the mental health or physical health ideas I write about.