“Last night, through the thunder, storm and lightning, a bird sang with unbridled joy and courage. I want to be that bird.”
- Arun Sardana
My father committed suicide while I was asleep. That was over 33 years ago but the intense grief and pain attached to this loss lasted for almost 28 years. It clung to me like a layer of my skin in which my entire being was encased. I tried grief counseling, psychotherapy, journaling, and anything that anyone would suggest but nothing helped. Prayer brought some solace but even that was temporary. Then slowly, over the last five years or so, something changed.
I was listening to a translation of the first sacred scripture of the Sikhs called Japji Sahib. The translation was being done by a deep thinker and a philosopher named Bhagwaan Rajneesh, also known as Osho. He offered a metaphor of humility that has stuck with me since then. It was this metaphor that ultimately helped me get rid of the deep darkness of grief that I was engulfed in. He said that during a heavy storm, the tree that fights the strong wind, rain and flood is sometimes uprooted. However, grass that yields to the storm survives and continues to thrive after the storm.
As my meditation practice got deeper, I began to truly understand the profound meaning of this metaphor. This was a way of life and the choice was mine. Whether to struggle or to surrender. Paradoxically, struggle was easy and surrender was far more difficult. Struggle continued to reinforce the “I” or my ego and was, therefore, a natural process. That’s what I had done all my life. Surrender meant that I had to give up much of “I, me, mine”. A lifelong habit of clinging to my sense of self wasn’t going to dissolve that easily. So, I started contemplating more on this metaphor and what I understood over the last several years has finally brought to a state of acceptance and a sense of partial peace - a far cry from the violent outpouring of grief that I was immersed in. Here’s what I have learned.
Grass, in its humility and flexibility to yield to life’s forces becomes stronger and fuller. I believe it does so because it understands and accepts the fact that it is just as part of nature as the storm. As such, they are one and the same. While the tree, in its lofty stature and strength, fails to identify itself as a part and parcel of nature. Its ego becomes its downfall. At best, it loses its branches, leaves, fruits and flowers in a storm. At worst, it is completely uprooted. In the grass’ humility lies its beauty and strength. While in a tree’s strength lies its downfall. In the grass’ humility lies self-compassion. While in a tree's uprooted strength lies self-pity.
This understanding of the difference between self-pity and self-compassion was the primary trigger for my journey of healing. Self-pity brought attention to me while self-compassion ultimately brought focus on the pain of others. Self-pity made me utterly selfish while self-compassion sowed the seeds of selflessness. Self-pity created intense agony of envy because everyone else seemed so much happier. Self-compassion allowed me to witness and to be with the pain of others. Magically, witnessing the suffering of others dissolve through selfless compassion brought light into the deep crevices of my inner darkness. The storm gradually began to recede and I finally understood something even more profound.
I realized that grief had saturated and enriched the soil that was fueling my life. I was simply channeling and wasting that energy by struggling against my pain. When I began to surrender, life started to become joyful again.
I finally realized my ultimate truth - the storm of grief gave me an opportunity to reach the depths of my roots that a light rain of joy simply could not. As a bird, I began to gather the courage of singing through a storm. It’s not always easy but it is getting easier.
A humble disclaimer: I am neither a teacher nor a preacher. My human struggles are the same as yours. That’s the bond that connects all humanity. The wisdom of enlightened beings, stoic philosophers, poets, gurus has been with us for millennia. I am learning and growing with you. For this writing, I am a student in the role of a messenger.
About the author:
Arun Sardana is the founder of karuna, a social enterprise committed to making this world a happier place by empowering women, youth and children and, in the process, breaking the vicious cycle of poverty and abuse. Learn more at www.accesskaruna.com.