archives, yoga

Want to Build a Better World? Grieve.



By Robert Wolf Petersen.

At first glance, it might seem a little strange for a Yoga teacher to be advocating grief. Are we not supposed to be a little more, y’know… peppy?

That is arguably the case. Personally, however, I find that while my asana practice certainly does enliven me, it also brings me ever more intimacy with an increasingly broad and vivid range of emotional experience.

The term yoga, after all, is generally understood to refer to the yoking, or union, of mind and body. For that union to be meaningful, it seems to me that it must, by necessity, encompass the darker spheres of existence as well as the lighter ones… which means, at times, grief. Deep, wrenching grief.

Grief over lost loves and missed chances. Grief at the state of the planet I call home. Grief at the injustices of neo-colonialism and the massacres and invasions carried out in the name of humanitarian intervention or national security. Grief over dead children, dying species, and decaying languages. Grief at the uncertainty and confusion that comes as part and parcel of living in a rapidly changing world.

And, sometimes, grief simply because life hurts people, and no one gets out of it alive.

And that is okay. In the face of competing impulses to shut down and to blame others for the complexities and challenges of living, I find that grief exerts a humanizing influence, softening the heart and breeding the compassion necessary to enact real change.

If we refuse to grieve, we are reduced either to defending the status quo or becoming embattled in the attempt to topple it. Neither can succeed. Change is upon us. Personal change. Political change. Ecological change.

As Arundhati Roy puts it: “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”

If we wish to give birth to her peacefully, however, we must comprehend the full enormity of that statement. Being open to a new world requires that we accept the death of an old one, whatever that means for us personally. It could involve saying goodbye to a beloved grandparent or pet. It may necessitate a stark reassessment of our country’s role in world affairs. It might mean simply accepting that some cherished plans for the future will never come to pass.

Whatever world we are losing, feeling it die will be like letting go of a love affair whose time has come: necessary, yet achingly painful. If we wish to bid the past farewell with grace and dignity, we must allow a sense of grief and loss to permeate our souls, and deep wellsprings of sorrow to be fed by our tears.

Then we must arise with new eyes, and play our parts in the unfolding of a new day.


RobertWolfPetersenRobert Wolf Petersen teaches and writes about the soul of Yoga. With more than a dozen years of experience as a freelance writer and editor under his belt, and almost as many of asana practice, he seeks out the precious moments that make a life and a practice worth living, and strives to communicate them through the written and spoken word. For more of his work, you could visit his website, check out his Facebook page, or follow him on Twitter.


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