I remember when the earth was wild. I remember green frogs that were friends. Bees and snakes that allowed me to hold them and did not sting or bite. Cockroaches that I loved, that other people did not understand, and tried to eradicate, kill, destroy.
I remember seeing California clear cuts for the first time. Copper mines in Utah. Oil rigs in Florida. Oceans too poisoned to swim in. Beaches of plastic. Rivers of trash. Land butchered and divided, the life blood drained from it.
My deepest grief is the loss of connection with the natural world. The loss of the wild. The loss of old growth forests, streams full of fish, skies darkened by birds. My deepest grief is the loss of connection with family and community, torn apart from a sense of place. The loss of the village. The loss of home. The loss of belonging. These losses are not just mine.
Grief has been welling up in me for a lifetime. I’ve been holding it down, because I didn’t know if I could stop crying once the floodgates were down. There’s been no place to take my tears. Our culture doesn’t honor grief. Weeping and wailing in public is unacceptable behavior. We have to keep it private, take a pill, pretend all is well.
So when Francis Weller came to Point Reyes recently to give a workshop on “Entering the Healing Ground: Grief, Ritual and the Soul of the World” I signed up. I had recently read his book of the same title, and was ready to dive into the well of grief within my own soul.
Francis spoke of the relationship between joy and grief. How a renewed space for joy and gratitude arises when the heart welcomes the dark sorrows of the world and our lives. “The deeper the sorrow, the greater the joy” writes William Blake. The journey to connect with each other and the natural world is filled with joy and sorrow. It is not possible to feel one without the other. They are interdependent threads weaving the human heart and soul.
What has become clear to me is the powerful role grief plays in enabling us to face what is taking place in our lives, our communities, our ecologies, families and culture. Through our ability to acknowledge the layers of loss, we can truly discover our capacity to respond, to protect and restore what has been damaged. Grief registers the sorrows that befall everything that matters deeply to our souls. Our hearts are kept flexible, fluid and open to the world through this closeness with loss.
The grief gathering integrated writing practices, poetry, singing and concluded with a simple, but intensely powerful, communal grief ritual. It was the first time my sorrow felt held and heard. Most of us were strangers, but by the end of the gathering we were family.
When we do this work together, as a community, our connection with each other and the living world becomes so much more vital and alive. Grief work deepens our connection to each other, to nature, to the world. Sorrow ripens the soul. It makes us more human.
When we are more human, and more responsive to grief, we are more responsive to taking action from the heart. We cannot afford to close down our hearts in these uncertain times. We cannot afford to forget or go numb, we must awaken to pain and grief. The world needs us to come alive, to participate fully in life with an open and flexible heart, to actively contribute to cultural change, the Great Turning. There has never been a greater need for communal grief rites.
The message is this: invite sorrow into your life. Bring your friends together and say “tonight we are going to talk about loss and sorrow.” Notice how the sorrow moves into joy, how sharing grief brings us closer together in our hearts. Learn to develop an apprenticeship, a living relationship with this landscape of loss. Come into right relationship with grief. Welcome sorrow as your companion. Learn from others who are bringing this work into the world. And then let it become your work too.
With gratitude to Francis Weller.