A Story of the Courage and Healing
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. These stories comes from the Hindu tradition; they teach us about how to find courage and healing when dealing with grief and loss.
Hanuman and the Ripe Fruit
When Hanuman was a child, he was quite curious (as all children all). He saw an orange globe in the sky and decided it must be a ripe fruit! He began to reach higher and higher and was about to swallow the sun when the gods became quite concerned. To save the sun, the king of all the gods, Indra, struck him with lightening which hit him in the jaw deforming his face. What a mischievous monkey, trying to eat the sun thinking it was a ripe fruit.
Upon learning the news, his father Vayu (the god of the wind) was angry! In his rage, he stopped all of the wind from flowing. All of the people in the land began to complain; they felt as though they were suffocating, they couldn’t breathe. (Sound familiar?)
To appease Vayu, all of the gods came to make amends. In doing so they endowed Hanuman with many special gifts and powers. Yet, to avoid him from becoming too full of himself, Hanuman was forced to forget all of the strengths that were hidden inside of him…until he faced a variety of challenges in his life and he discovered his abilities.
A hero’s journey, isn’t it?
Hanuman and the Long Journey
Another well known Hanuman story involves his journey to Sri Lanka to ease the wounded heart of his dear friend, Rama who had lost his beloved Sita. In his journey across the ocean, Hanuman faces three challenges; challenges that are often set in motion by loss or trauma.
Hanuman’s First Obstacle
The first challenge Hanuman encounters is the seemingly 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. He felt hopeless and despairing. He felt he could not go on.
Without any reserves, his only choice was to let go.
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; that he must pace 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 serpent. He thought he might die…and in his grief he began 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. Now, he was small enough to squeeze out between her teeth, beyond her lips and escape. Sometimes it is only in this well of sorrow that we find our way through.
He could not avoid the truth and had to surrender. This was also the moment that he learned of his power to shape shift; to adapt the meet the demands of a difficult situation.
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 he 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.
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
In Hanuman’s story, we 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. However, in doing so, we also find our courage and strength that is often hidden deep within the recesses of our being.
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.
Build your Resilience
You might like The Post Traumatic Growth Guidebook. Within this book, you will find an invitation to see yourself as the hero or heroine of your own life journey. A hero’s journey involves walking into the darkness on a quest for wholeness. This interactive format calls for journaling and self-reflection, with practices that guide you beyond the pain of your past and help you discover a sense of meaning and purpose in your life. Successful navigation of a hero’s journey provides opportunities to discover that you are more powerful than you had previously realized. Click here to order the book on Amazon.
About Dr. Arielle Schwartz
Dr. Arielle Schwartz is a licensed clinical psychologist, wife, and mother in Boulder, CO. She offers trainings for therapists, maintains a private practice, and has passions for the outdoors, yoga, and writing. She is the developer of Resilience-Informed Therapy which applies research on trauma recovery to form a strength-based, trauma treatment model that includes Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), somatic (body-centered) psychology and time-tested relational psychotherapy. Like Dr. Arielle Schwartz on Facebook,follow her on Linkedin and sign up for email updates to stay up to date with all her posts. Dr. Schwartz is the author of four books:
- The Complex PTSD Workbook: A Mind-Body Approach to Regaining Emotional Control and Becoming Whole (Althea press, 2016)
- EMDR Therapy and Somatic Psychology: Interventions to Enhance Embodiment in Trauma Treatment (Norton, 2018).
- The Post-Traumatic Growth Guidebook: Practical Mind-Body Tools to Heal Trauma, Foster Resilience, and Awaken your Potential (Pesi Publications, 2020)
- A Practical Guide to Complex PTSD: Compassionate Strategies for Childhood Trauma (Rockridge Press, 2020)