This summary is gathered from 35 years of experience in serving people with a life-threatening illness and their families. Although some of what follows is from traditional grief therapy, most is from what Guru Gobind Singh (the 10th Sikh Guru) taught about loss from the example of his own life, and the tradition of Kundalini Yoga. Please add your own life experience to this information.
Loss is an experience that affects all aspects of who we are as a spiritual being in an earthly body, and must be integrated. One's life is never the same after a loss. It is helpful to recognize and acknowledge that one is different from having gone through the experience and that this is a positive role grief plays in our lives. It is a spiritual experience if done consciously.
The yogic model of Grief Recovery is about the emerging of spirit, transformation, and the integration of change. The outcome is joy in the experience of aligning with one’s soul. With this as your focus, you will always be on target with yourself and in helping others.
Our intention with grief recovery is for the person to reflect on the loss, and feel complete, with a deeper understanding of one's self and contentment for what is.
Grieving is one experience. Grief recovery is another. In conscious grief recovery, we recognize that we are fundamentally changed by the experience and integrate that change into a deeper revelation of our spirit, our true self.
This does not happen in isolation; it occurs in the context of our life, in community. Connection to community is what helps keep a person connected to life during loss. Neutral support and our own strong connection to spirit is how we can help others experiencing loss.
The Siri Guru Granth¹ has two hukams (directives): to chant the Naam and keep the company of the Holy. Transformation and integration of change take place internally within one's self, and externally, in community. Both are necessary for a healthy and complete recovery from loss.
As teachers and leaders in community, we can facilitate this by creating environments where people talk together, eat together, play together, sing together, serve together. These practices are basic to our way of living as Kundalini Yogis and form the essence of grief recovery in community. In this time of COVID restrictions, we can create virtual ways of being together.
Grief is a Sword
Before his death, the writer Paul Monette described his experience of grief as a sword which cuts through any illusions about life and who we are. Like a spiritual sword, grief can take us directly through the pain of the mind and heart and lead us to the joy and infinity of the soul.
Grief Brings a State of Grace
Loss and the grief that accompanies it can be a gateway to the soul where something new can be born and the original purpose of the soul can unfold. This state of grace keeps the intellect minimal and the spirit open. This heightened awareness lasts about 2-3 weeks from the time of initial loss.
How we respond at the initial time of loss sets the tone for the whole recovery process. Be aware that 90 days is about the time it takes for most people to integrate the shock of the loss, and feel like they are in their body again.
Because so much internal change is occurring, it is recommended that major life decisions such as getting married, getting divorced, selling your assets, leaving a job, or moving are not made for at least a year following the initial loss.
Grief recovery is through the body, heart and soul. It is not an intellectual process. Grieving is a whole-body experience. Addressing emerging of spirit, transformation, and the integration of change through community, story, song, music, art, movement, play is quite helpful. Discussing, reasoning, and analyzing it is considerably less helpful.
As yogis we know that in every change there is loss and gain. Grief is a normal reaction to loss. During the initial phases of loss, the person is in an altered state. Some people even regress emotionally.
Normal Reactions to Loss Include:
What is lost? Self-concept, identity, the dream of the future, control, safety, relationship—any or all of these could be involved in the loss, not just the loved one, the job, the marriage etc. Identifying what is lost facilitates the grieving process and makes it more complete.
Has the person said goodbye? This is where spiritual traditions, ceremonies and rites are especially healing. They provide a way for a person to reach conclusion and to feel a deep connection through community and personal experience.
Grief recovery begins with the decision to integrate past experiences and move toward the future. This conscious decision is key.
It may be months, even years, following the event of the loss before the cloud begins to lift and actual recovery begins. After the person has dealt with shock, the details of the initial loss (funeral arrangements, divorce settlement, etc.), and the emotional charge of feeling what had been numbed, recovery can begin.
Grief recovery is a series of conscious decisions and concrete tasks. Elizabeth Harper Neeld, Ph.D., author of Seven Choices, Taking the Steps to New Life After Losing Someone You Love (1990), describes seven distinct steps of the grieving process, each one requiring conscious involvement and decision.
The grieving person and her community has the task of:
The person and her community move from:
The grieving person will need a balance of solitude and sangat (community):
Space and supportive connection are very helpful. There are no hard rules for how to provide this. Keep your heart open, your patience and presence in tact, and listen to your intuition.
Grief is like water, it has to move or it stagnates: create situations for this movement, especially opportunities for chanting and singing and yoga. Nothing identifies, releases, or transforms emotional pain as quickly or completely as mantra.
In addition, our traditional songs help form an internal belief system that invokes our courage and essence of self. For example, the song, "Walking up the Mountain" is about conscious death.
Avoid rushing the recovery:
The person in loss is in a crisis of sell-trust. Their automatic assumptions about life, its meaning, and who they are in the world are shattered. They are in the process of making new assumptions and new decisions. The person must dive deeper than ever before to do this and in the process may question everything. They need to find their own answers. Help them, with your sense of peace.
Grief recovery is complete when the person:
These may require professional help to resolve:
Nothing is more effective in transforming emotional pain than the Shabad Guru. Bring people together around the sound current of the Nam in creative and spirited ways, through mantra, kirtan, Akhand Paths, singing songs, telling stories and the like. Some ideas include:
Take Care of Yourself
Serving persons in grief recovery often brings up our own unresolved grief. It is helpful to become aware of your own feelings about death, loss, soul, and purpose and to include these practices for yourself. Meditate, chant, swim, or otherwise be in water, write in a journal, read from the Siri Guru Granth Sahib. Laugh and talk with others for support. Get professional help if you need it.
As a community we can get in touch and stay in touch. In ways that it is appropriate, move closer to the person who is in grief, bring people together. How we respond as teachers and leaders in the initial phase, sets the tone for the entire recovery process. From the beginning, be calm, compassionate, inclusive, supportive, kind, and clear in our communication.
¹ Revered as the living Guru for Sikhs, a volume containing the sacred words of many enlightened beings who wrote while in a state of union (yoga) with God.
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