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Grief, Surrender, and the Practice of Letting Go

Personal Perspective: How may unprocessed grief be holding you back?

Key points

  • Resistance to grief may be just as psychologically challenging as grief itself.
  • Grief can be triggered by experiences other than the death of a loved one.
  • Even when we are experiencing grief, there are always ways to become hopeful.

It wasn’t until I was in a yoga class listening to the instructor talking about the importance of letting go that I realized a particular type of grief has been plaguing me recently.

Some scholars contend that all depression is a form of grief. Whether or not we have a diagnosable mental illness, all of us experience grief over the course of our lives. Grief doesn’t just occur after the death of a loved one. It can occur in reaction to trauma, the loss of a relationship, or even in reaction to changes that happen in our lives that weren’t our choice or that we feel we couldn’t control. We can grieve over a childhood that was fraught or non-ideal, or an imagined future we had for ourselves that no longer seems likely.

What all of these experiences have in common is that the way we think about ourselves when experiencing grief impacts our relationships with the people in our lives, and just as importantly, our relationship with ourselves. Grief isn’t necessarily something that will ever fully go away, depending on its origin, but it is something that we can sit with and lean into. I realized as my yoga practice progressed that the reason why my grief was feeling so overwhelming was because I was resisting how I was feeling—and that resistance was causing me more suffering.

The simple act of mindfulness in the form of awareness of my body’s movement during yoga and my breath enabled me to reset my nervous system and get closer to accepting the things that were happening around me that I couldn’t change. It helped that I was in a space where the instructor was reminding me to breathe and prompting me to connect the exhale of my breath to the practice of letting go.

Acceptance is a practice, as is the work that goes into fully processing grief, in all the forms it takes. We are living in a time where there are many resources we have at our disposal, from traditional therapeutic interventions to more curated media we can access on our own. Here are some of the resources I have found helpful when confronting my own grief:

For some helpful books, I recommend Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief, by David Kessler (2020), which helped me enormously as I was processing the grief over the death of my father. For those of you whose grief is tied to trauma, a very effective intervention is detailed in Overcoming Trauma Through Yoga: Reclaiming Your Body, by David Emerson and Elizabeth Hopper (2011).

There are a number of insightful podcasts that focus on grief. Griefcast, hosted by Cariad Lloyd, is intense, as one would imagine for such a topic, but also extremely compassionate and helpful. For those that are struggling or experiencing grief related to a break up or rupture in a relationship, Jillian on Love has a number of episodes about processing the emotions surrounding rejection, break ups, and all the other triggers related to grief that are embedded in romantic attachments. Sounds True: Insights at the Edge, which is hosted by Tami Simon, is a very spiritually-oriented podcast that has a number of episodes surrounding not only grief but more generally how to process strong emotions, trauma, and other significant life experiences.

As spring draws closer, we are almost upon the season of rebirth. Many of us will be experiencing a psychological shift as we transition into longer days, more sunlight, and warmer weather. The onset of this season can bring both renewal and hope, but in order to get there, we also have to be willing to confront what may be holding us back, which could include unprocessed grief. It is only through letting go of what no longer serves us that we can forge ahead and begin anew.

Copyright Azadeh Aalai 2024

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