Recently I logged into Facebook and read that a student had lost her adult son. Her words brought memories rushing back into my consciousness. Loss of a loved one — a child no less!
The crippling, crushing shock and grief that rips out your heart, and makes you feel that everything that you had done, had deeply loved, was gone forever. The feeling that nothing will ever be the same. That your own life, as you knew it, was over. That the love of a parent for their child simply wasn’t enough to protect them — or carry them through tough times.
The difficult comprehension of the loss of a life yet to be fully realized. The why’s, why not’s, the shoulda-woulda-coulda thoughts that circle around unending without rational answers.
I’ve had multiple conversations over the years with students that have lost a family member or friend. The causes range from old age, illness, miscarriage, accident, suicide, and mass shootings. Either they reach out to me, or I reach out to them if I learn about it. Why? Because I understand fully what they are going through.
In her recent interview on the NPR program Fresh Air
– author and professor of religion at Princeton University – Elaine Pagels – writes in her new book titled “Why Religion?: A Personal Story” about the suffering that comes with grief. Pagel described what she learned through her studies of secret ancient texts from Egypt called the Gospel of Truth. She doesn’t see suffering as the fire one must go through to find their ultimate truth or spiritual lesson. Pagel said – “but rather, this spoke about the fact that when people suffer, there is a potential in that dreadful complex of experiences of grief to open up to other people in a deeper way, that it can demonstrate our connection with all other people.”
It was seven years ago this month that my son Jimmy chose to depart his physical body. My life imploded into unthinkable depths. Darkness enveloped me completely as all the cells in my body went into shock. At the moment I did not know how I could go on. I longed for this period in my life to end. But I now know that I was wrong. Very slowly I reconnected to my belief that the Universe could see farther than I ever could. The Universe was guiding me into the next phase of my life.
Loss is one of many threads woven into the tapestry of our lives. Sometimes grief is small and passes quickly, other times it can be all-consuming. Suffering the loss of a loved one is one of life’s most profound challenges. The practice of yoga offers a way through to the other side, where we learn that life does go on — after even a major loss.
Patanjali writes in the Yoga Sutras, about vairagya, or non-attachment. Our attachment to that which we can see, touch or feel grounds us in our grief. We cling to what was lost instead of releasing it, forgetting that everything — as hard as this is to accept — must end. When we hold onto the notion that what was lost was irreplaceable, grief grips us into isolation, physical illness, and separation from our humanity.
The Yoga Sutras also speak of dirgha-kala – the necessary passage of time when one embarks on a new task. The process of grieving is, in a way, a task. It is a task that requires time – time to engage, and time to discover acceptance and peace. When we allow ourselves to acknowledge this pain, to honor the process of grieving — we can process loss in a more healthy way.
Nothing can be done to change loss, but we can do something about our perception of it. Though it may sound counterintuitive, the practice of yoga helps us delve into our grief rather than fleeing from it. As we practice, we are in the present moment, grounding our body through the postures, balancing our mind through the breath, and centering ourselves through meditation. We place ourselves in the here and now, where the grief resides. And know that your yoga practice does not necessarily mean asana practice. It can be a walk in nature, studies, music – any ritual that connects you to a deeper state of knowing – of being – in the infinite light of the universe.
Yoga stops us from repressing the feelings we’d rather not deal with, helping us incorporate them into our lives. As we do this, our perception of the loss slowly changes, and we begin to feel lighter, more peaceful, more free. This takes time (be patient with yourself), and to those with more recent losses may sound ridiculous. When we allow ourselves to grieve, to feel the deep pain of loss, in time provides us a path to gratitude for what we have — the fond memories, the unencumbered energy of the soul that passed on, the here and now of our own existence.
There is a saying that you have to be in the darkness to see the stars. As time passes a little more light shines the way into our own darkness. There will always be a hole in my heart for my Jimmy. I will never forget what he means to me in this present day. My practice is the path that has allowed me to find my way back into the tapestry of my own life. With every season of the past seven years I have felt small shifts toward being free from the pain – and coming out the other side brighter, better, and more empathetic than ever before.
Giving back to humanity has always been at the center of my work. In honor of my beautiful son, I created Jimmy’s Way, a program of one-day retreats that help others learn how to bring the best of yoga to their lives.
Jimmy’s Way is my pride and joy! And my second Jimmy’s Way event, coming up this month, is a very special one because the location is with a former student who suffered the same loss I did. Through Jimmy’s Way we walk this path together and lessen each other’s burdens. I hope to announce other events in the future – through the kind cooperation and commitment of those who also seek to act in the interest of others.
Trust that your life is unfolding as it should. Every experience is a lesson for our soul journey. Trust that these lessons — your own healing path — is a way to find your spiritual purpose in this lifetime.
It is beautiful. It is life.