By Sewa Singh
Q. How do yogis view grief?
Yogi Bhajan: “As humans we feel the loss of loved ones and grieve. As yogis we know everybody as a loved one and part of the Creator. How can we grieve when a loved one goes home?”
When I was asked to write about the subject of grief, the first thing that came to me is the feeling of helplessness that accompanies any attempt to comfort someone who has just experienced great loss. We can’t bring back what has been lost or stop the pain of others that accompanies that loss. Perhaps our desire to help others in this situation is just a projection of our own fantasy which is to avoid our own loss and pain altogether.
Grief and Emotional Attachment
Although loss and the associated pain are not avoidable, there are some wise approaches that support us in our ability to make the most of the most difficult challenges. Some great teachings suggest that human suffering originates from emotional attachment. This is congruent with the yogic wisdom that suggests that we experience our emotions fully, but appropriately.
Popular culture, by contrast, encourages a great indulgence in, if not worship of, the emotions. The yogic model is to never constrict our emotions, but also to be wise and especially balanced in the process. Neutral mind is the ideal and this is achieved through the various practices that we do. If applied to the experience of grief, the idea is to deeply be aware of your grief and how it is being expressed in your experience, and return to a healthful neutrality of being as soon as is appropriate to the situation.
Attitude of Gratitude
Another technology that we relate to with great strength, that speeds a return to a healthy balance, is the process of building an attitude of gratitude. When having to apply an attitude of gratitude to our experience of loss, we are challenged to see, feel, hear and understand how loss can be part of our elevation of consciousness.
A parallel example from yoga is how we are grateful for the process of stretching our bodies, even though there may be real pain involved. The pain becomes less frightening, and really less painful, when we realize the great relaxation, health benefits and self-awareness that result from the process. When we understand the function of the pain we do not feel resentful of, or victimized by, the experience we have endured.
The Challenge of Grief
Yogi Bhajan left those of us who knew him, with a great challenge regarding grief. He said that if we became sad when he left his body, then we did not understand anything he had taught us. I believe there is great and complex wisdom in this challenge and I do not pretend to understand much of it. All I can do is share my limited understanding.
We are not sad because we related to the teachings, not the teacher. We are not sad because he taught us to dwell in neutral mind, not in emotional attachment. We are not sad because he was not sad to leave his body. We are not sad because he was happily returning home. We are not sad because the physical reality is not the most profound reality. We are not sad because his connection with us is not gone. We are not sad because our connection with him is not gone. We are not sad because he was relieved of great suffering.
We are not sad because we do not fear death. We are not sad because we realize that all things come from God and all things go back to God. We are not sad because he is even more available now, in subtle consciousness, than when limited by the physical body. We are not sad because death is an integral part of the incomprehensible greatness of the Creator and the Creation. We are not sad because the separation between our consciousness and universal consciousness is a temporary illusion. We are not sad because we see God in all and are grateful for everything that we are blessed to experience.
Belief and Experience
Grief has several components that are worth considering individually and sequentially. Grief often arrives first, through mental/intellectual perception. This normally is immediately transferred to the emotional and physical bodies. An example would be if someone notifies another person by phone that their pet may have been killed. If the pet owner believes that this is true, the emotional body and the physical body react in harmony. The physical symptoms of grief can include digestive problems, fatigue, headaches, chest pain, sore muscles, vivid dreams, fear and feelings of sinking, coldness, darkness or hollowness in the chest and/or abdomen.
Prolonged grief can result in depression, suicidal thoughts or actions, anxiety, physical illness and post-traumatic stress disorder. Yogi Bhajan said,
“There are two things in your life which will make you sick and dead—anxiety and grief.”
We are so vulnerable to profound physical change, just through our intellectual perception. In the above example the pet may or may not actually have been killed, yet simply believing that it was, creates a huge cascade of emotional and physical changes. Understanding how this process works can empower us to heal ourselves. Yoga always encourages us to experience rather than to simply believe.
Subtle Bonds Survive
There is another component of grief that occurs at the subtle energetic level. When we open up our own chakras and open to the energy of others, connections can be made that are profound. As the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual sharing deepen, so do the energetic bonds become more substantial. What occurs with these subtle, but very important bonds, when there is loss between people, is critical and also variable.
In the example of the pet owner, we see that even the fear of loss can transfer into grief and physical suffering very quickly and easily. When there is also tearing of the subtle fabric of energetic bonds, there is accompanying pain. When people feel that these subtle bonds survive or can be repaired, even when the physical aspect is no longer present, their pain is often greatly reduced.
Centering the Navel Point
As we know from our experience with Kundalini Yoga, the navel point is an important hub for the subtle fabric of energetic human interactions. One of the most useful techniques when dealing with grief is to strengthen the navel point and make sure that it is centered. The best way to check if the navel point has been moved off center is to do stretch pose and then bring together the tips of the fingers and thumb of one hand and press with strength into the navel. If the navel is properly centered you will feel a distinct pulse or heartbeat right beneath the navel.
If you do not feel this, press around the navel slightly higher, lower and to the sides until the pulse is found. Alternating "stretch pose" and "bow pose" several times, with a minimum of one minute for each, is the easiest way to center and strengthen this area. It is amazing how feelings of grief, depression and heartbreak can disappear when this point is corrected. Consult with your Kundalini Yoga teacher or the internet for more techniques like Nabhi Kriya, that can help to keep the navel point strong and centered.
The Smiling Buddha Meditation
When we feel that we truly and appropriately have experienced the totality of our grief and decide that it is time to look forward, Smiling Buddha meditation may be considered as a technology to provide maximum transformation. Smiling Buddha Meditation is extremely effective in providing the means to elevate ourselves in a very specific way to maximize our luminescence as humans. It is a meditation for repairing and opening the heart center. When the heart is open you can only feel elevated and blissfully fulfilled. If you have a Kundalini Yoga teacher, he or she should be able to instruct you on this meditation. It is also available online here:
The key in this meditation is to maintain the great pressure between the shoulder blades in the middle of the back by pulling the hands, which should be directly in front of the shoulders, back toward the shoulders. This is not apparent in the above linked video. This is a difficult meditation if done correctly, but the results empower you to master your own happiness and love. The correct time is 15 minutes, best practiced once a day, at the same time each day, for 40 days. If you can keep up and penetrate the pain, the bliss will follow.
Since so much of the grief experience is generated through the pattern of thoughts stimulating emotional/physical distress, meditation and yoga of any kind can have a powerful balancing effect.
I would like to relate an experience from my life that has left a powerful and lasting impression. Many years ago I was attending a funeral that had many seemingly sad and unfortunate circumstances surrounding it. After the service I ran into an old friend who I had not seen in a long time. When I greeted him I said, “It is such a pleasure to see you, I am truly sorry that we are having to meet under these tragic circumstances.” He looked me straight in the eye and said with a very powerful voice, “Please don’t insult me and insult God by questioning and judging these circumstances! Remember instead to celebrate with deep gratitude every gift, be it challenging or not, that is bestowed upon us during our very short time here on Earth!” My friend has been gone a long time now, but his words will never leave me.
Sewa Singh Khalsa has been teaching Kundalini Yoga for over 40 years and has been providing counseling to couples and individuals based on Kundalini Yoga and Yogi Bhajan's teachings on Humanology for 35 years. He holds an MFA from the University of Washington and has taught at Eastern Washington University, Western Washington University and the University of Washington.