Meditation Practices in the Wake of Tragedy

As Japan continues to cope with the aftermath of its recent natural disasters, the rest of us follow news updates and perhaps even make a charitable donation. Still want to do more? Diana Winston shares this personal meditation session focusing on Japan.

The earthquake in Japan may feel like a hazy nightmare to us in the U.S. at this point, but as we know, the consequences are far from over. I’m finding my meditation is often focused there. Several practices address the terror and sadness I feel, the “what if…?” Here’s a run-down of my typical session, which can take any amount of time…

1. I start with loving kindness and compassion—directing them towards Japan and whatever else moves me. Sometimes it’s towards the fish in the ocean near the reactor or the families of the victims of the tsunami. I trust my creativity and follow where my heart is drawn. I use the dreadful images I saw on the news to cultivate compassion. I bring to mind an image and sense its impact on me and then offer compassion as I breathe out—May you be free from suffering, may you be safe and protected. May you be healthy.

2. Sometimes that practice leads to gratitude. Spontaneous gratitude often arises for the plant workers who were willing to go in to try to contain the radiation. These are truly heroic individuals. I might silently

3. As I do both of these practices, I then check in with my body and emotions as other feelings often arise—fear, worry about my family, grief. When these emotions come, I try to hold them in a space of mindfulness and compassion. I breathe. I notice what they feel like in my body. I let them be. Sometimes I direct the compassion to myself.

4. I then do a simple kind of intention-directing. Some might call it prayer. Using my imagination (visual, sensing, or feeling), I imagine the Fukushima-Daichii plant radiation contained and the plant shut down. I then get a sense of the nearly 500 nuclear plants on the planet shut down, and replaced with wind and solar and other alternatives. Sometimes I imagine millions of people marching in the street calling for an end to the nuclear madness. I see my daughter growing up healthy and whole without fear.

Will these practices make a difference? Who knows? The research around the impact of prayer is spotty. What I do know is that it certainly impacts my own mind. And I also want to believe that if millions of us direct our minds to healing through inner work, in combination with action in the world, well then maybe we stand a chance.

Please feel free to share, in the comments below, what practices you’ve found helpful since this ongoing tragedy began.


Diana Winston is the Director of Mindfulness Education at UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center. Her new book (with Susan Smalley) is Fully Present: The Science, Art, and Practice of Mindfulness

Photo © Official US Navy Imagery