Some yogic thoughts from Yoga Journal on loss and grief as I deal with a little taste of them myself this week.
Life is suffering, the Buddha says, and even if you’re not given to abstractions it’s easy to see that life can be hard. The added strain of a major loss can make your world unremittingly bleak.
When you’re grieving, the simple fact of whatever loss you must endure is hard enough to face. Yet many of us do things that increase our suffering. We flee the moment, either by attempting to deny a reality that seems insufferably cruel or by imagining a worst-case scenario that might well never occur. We react to actual loss with fear of further loss. We convince ourselves we cannot survive the present crisis (emotionally or even physically), or that the loss is so unfathomable that we don’t want to. We cling desperately to the one thing we can never have in the present moment: what is not.
“We don’t get to live and not lose,” says Ken Druck, a grief counselor in San Diego. “If we care about anything, we’re going to experience loss.”
We just have to let grief have its way with us,” he says softly. “There was nothing to do but let it happen. I relaxed enough to breathe, and realized I’d contracted around my wound.”
People who’ve lost loved ones are often shocked to learn how brutally physical grief can be: They lose their appetite; they can’t sleep; their muscles tighten with tension.
Alternate-nostril breathwork with pranayama can promote mental clarity and calm, centered breathing. Massage can unlock unresolved pain. “What we don’t express, we may repress,” she says. “The mind can lie, but the body can’t.”
Sausys’s goal is to alter the perception and experience of grief. “In yoga,” he says, “transformation is the key. And in grief, it’s what needs to be done. We can’t change the loss, but we can transform ourselves.” Indeed, if amid the onslaught of grief you can undo the physical misery that may accompany it, the effect can be profoundly life-affirming and, yes, transformational.
Another essential (and elusive) tool for dealing with grief is understanding the all-important concept of attachment. Vairagya, or nonattachment, is a key concept in yoga. The relationship of attachment to grief is obvious, says Sausys: “We don’t grieve what we’re not attached to.” But, he adds, the attachment that compounds grief—the clinging to what is not, what cannot be—”goes against one of yoga’s primary truths: Everything changes and everything will eventually end.”
Desiree Rumbaugh learned this lesson the hard way. An Anusara Yoga teacher and the co-owner of Arizona Yoga in Scottsdale, she lost her son Brandon, 20, when he and his 19-year-old girlfriend were shot to death in their sleep while camping outside Phoenix. The horror of her son’s death precipitated a “deep, dark grief” during which Rumbaugh barely left her house. “I could eat, but I lost weight. I could sleep, but when morning came and I had to face another day, it took a lot of coaxing just to get me out of bed.” During this time, she says, “I kept practicing yoga, because I thought that by keeping my body in shape maybe that would support my mind.”
Ram Dass suggesting that the girl had “finished her work on earth.”
Sometimes our life’s work is complete at 20 and sometimes our work is to live much longer.
“I understand that I cannot change the situation,” she says. “I may always wish things were different, but that doesn’t change the way they are.”
Our culture makes it difficult to accept such hard facts. “We live as though we can deny death,” Prashant says, “and only unfortunate people have to deal with it.” Doctors and sick people alike view death as a failure rather than an inevitable conclusion to every life. Our litigious society wants to view death as a bad outcome to be avoided at all costs even though it happens every day, just like birth. The consensus, Marchionna notes, is that “death is something terrible, dark, and ugly.”
It is certainly true that some deaths constitute grave wrongs or brutal crimes, and those can be especially hard to accept. But everyone who suffers a loss is forced at some point to confront a basic truth: Every life has an arc—however prolonged or truncated—and every soul has a path. Recognizing that truth can be liberating.
We may still miss people, but that’s all about us and our feelings. I can believe that people who’ve left this world are all right.
But the point is letting the pain be there—not getting over the pain but embracing it. It belongs to you, and it’s right to feel it. It’s hard to stay with pain, but doing so is an essential part of being human.”