Dealing With Grief and Loss – Hanuman’s Story

A Story of the Courage and Healing from the Hindu tradition

Stories and poems offer metaphors providing a language for the soul.  In many stories there is a demon, dragon, or monster that needs to be conquered, a reminder that we need to face our fears and turn towards our challenges rather than avoid our problems. As a Yoga Instructor, I draw upon eastern philosophy as a source of insight. In this story form the Hindu tradition, Hanuman’s journey offers guideposts that help orient us when facing difficult times. This story comes from the Hindu tradition and teaches us about how to find courage and healing when dealing with grief and loss.

Graphic showing the hindu god hanuman Ocean and Shadow Self Dealing with grief and loss

Hanuman and the three obstacles

Hanuman has been set forth on a seemingly impossible task in response to ease the wounded heart, Rama’s loss of his beloved Sita.  In the process of his journey across the ocean, hanuman faces three challenges-those common to when crossing the seemingly endless passage set in motion by loss or trauma.

Hanuman’s First Obstacle

The first challenge Hanuman encounters is the unsurpassable obstacle. As Hanuman prepares to take his leap across the ocean a tremendous mountain rises up from the middle of the ocean. Hanuman could not fight, could not run around this mountain, nor could he fly above. Without any reserves, his only choice was to let go. And as he allowed his weight to rest upon the earth, the Gods spoke to him and he discovered that the mountain offered a place to rest in the midst of the long journey. While he could not stay there (as he did need to continue on his way) he learned the importance of rest pacing himself when faced with great a challenge.

Hanuman’s Second Obstacle

The second challenge faced by Hanuman is that of a fearful serpent demoness who swallows all who come across her path. Trying to avoid this fate, Hanuman tries in every way to enlarge himself…he grows larger yet the mouth of the serpent grows larger as well. He expands even larger and she expands along with him until she swallows him whole. Hanuman was swallowed by the snake. He feels utter despair and in his grief begins to shrink until he was so small that he was as small as a grain of sand, and still he shrinks until he is as small as the tiniest atom; allowing him to squeeze out between her teeth, beyond her lips and escape. Once in the open the demoness acknowledges that he has learned an important lesson about himself.  He could not avoid the truth and had to surrender.

Hanuman’s Third Obstacle

Exhausted Hanuman is released forth to continue his journey, but at this stage he moves forward as if in a dream; in disbelief that we will ever make it through to the other side. He feels unable to proceed and is depleted and yet at this very moment is faced with his third challenge; this time a demoness who has the power to possess the shadow of all who she encounters and pull them into the ocean. She takes hold of Hanuman’s shadow and begins to drag him into the sea. At first Hanuman feels that he has no reserves and that he too will die. However, what is required of him in this final phase of the journey is courage.  Against all odds, he gathered his strength to turn towards his past and his pain. As long as he can see clearly the murky, avoided, or disowned places in himself he can prevent the demoness from having the power to drag him under by his shadow. He takes hold of his shadow and is released to arrive at his destination, complete his journey, and return love to the broken heart.

Dealing With Grief and Loss

Dealing with grief and loss photo of ocean at sunsetWe are reminded that at times that which we perceive as an obstacle is really a reminder of the importance of rest, slowing down, and the careful pacing that is needed to when moving through the disorientation of trauma or grief.  This story also suggests that we cannot outrun or avoid reality as it is. Despite our need to feel powerful and in control there are life events that we have no control over. We cannot bring back a loved one who has died. We cannot reverse time. In these moments we are asked to surrender. There are also times in which we are asked to find our courage and strength. When dealing with grief and loss there is benefit in turning towards the pain, to feel what we perceive is unbearable, even if we are afraid that we will break in two. In these moments we may discover a new found strength, our courage, and a new sense of self more capable of living in this unpredictable yet exquisite life.

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