Feeling Grief + Dreaming Another World
Grieving is an innate part of being human. It is as natural as springs that seep upward in heavy rains. As a species, we have always made space for grieving. In song and silence, chants and wails. Grieving not only had a space in a healthy and functioning existence, it created space. To be in grieving was to be in a state of separation, a place unto itself. A time where you weren’t expected to make any great changes, or birth your next brilliant idea. Grieving was a space where you could retreat behind the veil and simply be in the sacredness of your sorrow.
To grieve is to allow a veil to come between you and the world. To give yourself a time of close gazing and swaddled softness. A period of simplified perspective and inward healing. A sacred sanction to withdraw until you feel safe enough. Strong enough. Clear enough to engage with the world again.
In the past month this country, and this world, have been shaken by violence. Orlando, Istanbul, Baton Rouge, Minneapolis, Dallas. The continued unmasking of racism, extremism, the still fresh ripples of colonialism, slavery and greed. And if you’ve been listening, then you are probably hurting. If you’ve been thinking, feeling, engaging with what has been flashing across the news, then grief has most likely descended upon you like a curtain, with very little knowing of which way to move.
Grief manifests in many guises. Anger, fear, numbness, rage. It can even manifest as guilt. Guilt that you aren’t doing enough, guilt that your own family is safe, guilt because of your privilege, or the color of your skin. In truth, guilt is just grief about our own selves— our smallness, our perceived ineptitude.
If you are an empath, a sensitive, a feeler in any sense of the word, than you probably have felt a potent cocktail of all these emotions. Something fiery and devastating, halting and heavy at the same time. Whatever you are feeling, it is valid. More than valid, it is vital. Because the only way to heal through grieving is to feel it, deeply. When we open to the naturalness of our grief, in the face of violence, in the face of fear, we open ourselves to the healing that has to happen within. We are invited to tend the innermost wounds, the ones that are normally ignored, in order to be effective agents of change in this world.
Emotions do not lie, they are intimate portals into what is preoccupying our hearts and minds. If we want to understand where we are, and what our deepest selves are trying to communicate about our needs for healing, all we have to do is embrace our emotions honestly. Our feelings are our deepest guides. When we feel our feelings we begin to crack open the shell of our thoughts, the beliefs that have become too small for us. We have breakthroughs, we ignite our ability to radically change. We awaken the DNA of what is possible. Grief will break you open like an acorn and make it possible to become an oak in the strong and healing reforesting of this world.
For the past few weeks I’ve been struggling to heal from a deeply mysterious bout with bronchitis. No one I know has been sick and I honestly cannot remember the last time I was taken so low. It began the same day I heard about the shooting of Alton Sterling. And then Philandro Castille. And then the five officers in Dallas, the then the three officers in Baton Rouge. And then… Soon I felt helpless, strangled by everything I couldn’t say. Couldn’t fix. Couldn’t feel. For the first time in my life I literally, physically, lost my voice.
In Chinese medicine grief is thought to be held in the lungs. Like the everglades surrounding the palace of our hearts. When we grieve, our lungs are flooded with heaviness and emotion. They are the swamp lands through which we process everything on its way to be released. And as I languished in bed day after day and day. Glued to the news, glued to my computer screen, glued to the dark shutters of this world I finally felt I had something constructive to give to myself, to share with all the sweet kindreds who read this blog.
I’ve always been a feeler. A deeply emotional person from my earliest days. Maybe you are too? And if you are, then I hope what I’m about to share will be helpful to you. This post is for my fellow HSPs (highly sensitive people), introverts and empaths. All those who have felt stymied, shipwrecked, devastated by the deep upwelling of grief in these times.
This post is for those of us who are allies. For those of us who aren’t necessarily on the front lines of trauma and loss. For those us that don’t necessarily experience daily prejudice just because of who we are or what we believe.
What I have to offer is this, a sacred task for myself and an invitation to join me. A call to feel the sweep of sadness that has blanketed our world. The racism and ecological destruction, the fear and hate. To feel our sorrow fully, fully and deeply. To say look at everything it is asking us to see, shift, and healing within ourselves, and then release to it. To move past the grief in any way we can, to become strong for those that are hurting even more. To become strong enough to hold each other. And strong enough to begin to envision, and be a part of birthing, another world.
In Celtic lore there is a world just beyond our perception, just beyond the thin filament that separates all things. This world is the Otherworld. As in many rich spiritual societies, in Celtic philosophy the world that we actively experience is seen as only a single facet of reality. Just beyond what we think of as “the real”, are entire universes of other possibilities. In traditional Celtic stories it is said that the membrane between this world that we experience, and the Otherword, is as thin as a veil. Normally, in our day-to-day existence we walk around willingly veiled. Unable to perceive what lies just beyond. But on special days of the year, during times of powerful movement and transformation, the veil can be lifted. And we can access a vision of an other world.
We are in one of those times right now. All of the pain, all of the tragedy and horror has created a kind of tear in the universe. A powerful moment in which another world can be glimpsed. Can be dreamed into existence. Can be felt.
And so I truly believe that this is what we must do. Those of us who have the privilege of safety. Those of us who have the privilege to day dream and create whenever we feel. We must move through the grief, that grief that helps us to see just how much we care about the healing of this earth, and begin to actively envision another world.
My dear friend Milla recently turned me on to a speech by legendary sci-fi writer Ursula Le Guin at the National Book Foundation’s award ceremony last year. At the ceremony, she said something that struck me deeply: Now, it is the task of the young writers and sci-fi creators is to start dreaming up a new reality. We need writers who can remember freedom. Not the dystopian future we all dread and that fuels box office funds. But a bright future, a healed future. A truly utopian future. This is the task at hand. To begin dreaming it into existence, starting with every small detail.
It is up to us, those of us that have the immense blessing to be able to bridge out of grief. Who have the immense privilege of being able to hold space for those who have actively lost so much. It is up to us to move beyond the veils that separate this world from the next. It is up to us to use the power, and privilege, we’ve been handed to actively dream into a new world.
Anyone who has followed this blog for a while knows that spirituality is at the heart of how I think, what moves me and ignites my passion for being alive. In the past few weeks I’ve seen a deep struggle in the spiritual community. An inner tension of that central allegiance to a perspective of positivity and love coming into direct conflict with the reality of the violence that is perpetrated in this world. I sat with this every day for the past several weeks of being shuttered in with bronchitis and, for me, the truth is this:
We are here to live in both worlds. Both are equally valid, both are important. We must actively hold and acknowledge this world where racism is incredibly real. Where injustice is incredibly real. Where fear explodes out into violence again and again. We must acknowledge this at the same time that we continue to grasp the reality of the otherworld. To inhabit the bone deep knowing that there truly is no “other.” That we are all waves in a single vibrant ocean. That love is the ultimate reality.
To see beyond a veil isn’t to leave one world behind for another. It is to take away the separation and see that it is all real. To do the sacred work of confronting the needs for inner healing your own grief illuminates, and hold this world in even greater compassion, in even greater care because of the ways you have said yes to your own wholeness. To give of yourself, in action, in words, in prayer, to the healing of the wounds that are bringing sickness to us all. And to dream and invoke and actively envision ANOTHER WORLD.
Because another world is possible. It is being created, right now.
So if you are ready. If the grief inside you has fulfilled its purpose, I invite you to send it back home. To release your grief and start envisioning, in every detail, what another world could look like. To use your connection to what is beyond the veil to call it into being. To take action in both worlds.
If you would like a small sailboat to help bridge you into this work, keep reading for my simple grief releasing ritual below, and for the links I’ve complied that offer some ways to connect into the waves that are moving through this world. As always, find your own way. Trust where your inner heart leads you and begin, right now. Today.
Start creating another world with every fiber of your deeply creative being. In movement or action, or writing. In music, in speech.
Remember that simply through the innateness of who you are, you can become an emissary of this other world.
Move into solidarity by beginning to dissolve your ideas of what is possible, and take into the center of your being the radical hope that healing is the collective destiny for us all.
Let it start right now. Because, truly, it has already begun.
“ Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”
– Arundhati Roy
<< Grief Releasing Ritual >>
Find a quiet day when the heaviness in your heart feels ready to be given back to the earth as good compost. When you have faced all the inner mirrors that this grief has asked you to gaze into, and you are ready to enter a new era of personal strength and power. Engage in this ritual when you are ready to become an active part of seeing and creating another world.
1. Find a cloth that you are willing to bury. Choose one that feels particularly sweet or close to you. I love to cut up old, much adored, dresses for this purpose.
2. Collect pieces of paper, or other biodegradable mementos, that can hold the tragedies, people, feelings, and events that weigh most heavily on your heart at this time.
Write down names. Get personal. If you are grieving the deaths or oppressions of those you do not know, weekly magazines often have pictures to clip so you can connect on a more personal level. If this kind of acknowledgement feels powerful to you, collect these photos in prayful care for your parcel.
3. When you have collected everything you want to acknowledge, put everything into a basket and bring it out to a private place in nature. (the edge of your backyard can work wonderfully). Feel free to include any stones, herbs, or small gifts of healing care and love. In the same moment that you will be releasing your grief you will also be amplifying a deep prayer of transition and healing for all those you hold.
4. Dig a hole. If you are feeling particularly raw you might even want to dig with your hands. Let this be a cathartic process.
As you dig let yourself experience every single swing of emotions. Every edge of realness and sorrow. Feel it all, all over again.
5. When the hole is ready, place your cloth on the ground and one-by-one, place each item into the center of the bundle and speak to every grief. Call out the names, the places, the wounds.
And with every item you place in the center of your cloth, give a prayer….
“Philandro Castille. I honor your life by releasing this grief to go home. I release this heaviness in my heart so I can be an active part of creating a new world”
“To the people of Nice. I honor your lives by releasing this grief to go home. I release this heaviness in my heart so I can be an active part of creating a new world”
“ For the non-human communities who are devastated by strip-mining… For the three officers who were killed in Baton Rouge… For anyone who preaches hate and division… I honor your lives [or the lives that have been affected by your wounds] by releasing this grief to go home. I release this heaviness in my heart so I can be an active part of creating a new world ” etc.
6. When you transitioned every item from your basket into the bundle, when you have cried enough, prayed enough, sung enough, wrap your bundle up with a piece of natural string and place into the ground. Feel free to place any last offerings to help these emotions and prayers move to where they need to go, and cover the hole back over with dirt.
7. When you are done take some time to lay like a child for several minutes over the burial spot. Curl up into yourself and imagine the earth moving into you with an endless well of support. The earth never forgets how to forgive, how to transform. Give everything over to the soil. Run the dirt over your face and arms. Feel yourself becoming empowered with a new strength and whenever you are ready, move on. Lift your face to the sky and walk back into your place as an active dreamer in the coming of a new world.
<< Links to Learn + Be a part of the Healing >>