I recently received a message from someone who read what I had written about grief and who wanted to know more about the yogic philosophy on this matter.
I thought it might be of interest to other people, so I’ve translated my answer to share it here :)
Thank you so much for your message!
I agree with you: it’s a good idea to think about all of this before having to deal with it. Even if it’s impossible to know how we’re going to react in the moment, having various resources and a support system can help us avoid feeling completely helpless and overwhelmed by our emotions.
Since you mention spirituality, I can try to quickly go over what the yogic philosophy says about death.
One of the pillars of the yogic philosophy is Ishvara Pranidhana, that could be translated as “surrender to the divine”. It’s not an easy concept to comprehend for our western minds, but the idea is that we are part of a whole and we are all connected (the word “yoga” actually means “union”). Death is not thought of as the end of everything, and there’s no reason to fear it if we are not attached to our ego. When we die, we just go back to our essence, we are still part of this whole, we simply dissolve into the rest of the universe.
When we managed to let go of our grasping to our material possessions, our relationships, our experiences… and we truly understand that we are but one with the rest of the univers, then there’s nothing to fear, not even death. We surrender to something that is so much bigger than us.
That’s… the theory! When we haven’t spent the last 20 years meditating in the Himalayas, it’s not so easy to tell ourselves “No biggie if I die, I’ll just make one with cosmic energy!”
Ishvara Pranidhana is the last pillar of the yogic philosophy, so probably the most “advanced” one. As an example, the first one is “non harming”, which is a bit easier for us to wrap our head around.
As for my personal experience with grief, I would say that yoga gave me space. Space to explore the (many!) emotions I was going through and allow myself to experience them without judgment. When you meditate regularly, you have to face your thoughts and emotions. They don’t stay smothered under every distractions.
I strongly believe that emotions always find a way to express themselves, and when we don’t allow them to, they show up in the body or in unhealthy coping mechanisms.
Practicing gratitude was also a big help. Every day, I write in a journal what I am grateful for, and for several months, I could only think about my dad and everything he gave me. Of course, there was a lot of crying involved, but it allowed me to highlight less of the pain of losing him and more of the happiness of having had him in my life.
I don’t have any podcasts to recommend on the subject, but this comment on Reddit which is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever read. It explains the mechanism of grief in the most accurate and perfect way.
Another important resource is Caitlin Doughty, who taught me a lot about death and how it is a normal part of life. She’s a mortician in Los Angeles and a strong advocate for change in how we treat death in our modern society. She regrets that it’s become so taboo, so hidden and medicalised. I strongly recommend you have a look at her YouTube channel where she answers questions and tells cool stories about death in general.
I am not very spiritual in the traditional sense: I don’t believe in God, in souls or in the afterlife. But I find a spiritual sense of wonder in the magic of the human body, human psychology and interpersonal relationships. I’m not sure that’s exactly what you were looking for, but it’s how I see it!
Thank you again for your message. It’s a subject that is very close to my heart. If you have other questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to share them.