Updated: Mar 3, 2020
There are so many feelings in the human experience that are possible and yet I feel that grief is one of those feeling that our western culture does not fully allow nor is able to hold. None of us are immune to it.
Many traditional cultures have rituals and ceremonies to properly acknowledge and allow grief. And in all those rituals the person that is grieving is never left alone nor pushed away from the group. In fact, because of the deep ties between members of those communities and tribes, grieving is often if not always a collective responsibility.
During my time in the Takayna (Tarkine forest of Tasmania), I attended a long weekend workshop of Joanna Macy’s work (The Work that reconnects). Joanna is 91 years old and has dedicated her life to this work of reconnecting to each other through what she describes as active hope.
One of the particularities of Grief is that is often wipe out the “hope” part of our emotional spectrum. We spiral into despair and hopelessness and often turn inward to an extreme level of disconnection with others, social alienation, and deep overwhelming pain. Our western society has few answers for grief aside from numbing medicine and rejection. We are as individuals not often equipped to hold our own grief and therefor hold someone else grieving.
We see grief as a broken state and not a necessary step into our empowering (gift revealing & resilience nourishing) process.
When Grief is suppressed, some level of anger will come out. And if unprocessed, our nervous system will cascade in trauma state of long-term numbness, and collapse of our capacity for empathy and connection.
On a collective level, this is where we are as a society. We cannot or do not want to feel the pain of the collapse of our ecosystems, the burned lands, the polluted rivers, the plastic-oceans, the extinction of species, the genocides of cultures, etc. It shows itself in the incapacity for some to see a tree as more than a source of paper, a mountain a source of rocks, a river a source of water, or another human being as a source of labor. We exploit, we extract, we take.
"This is a dark time, filled with suffering and uncertainty. Like living cells in a larger body, it is natural that we feel the trauma of our world. So don’t be afraid of the anguish you feel, or the anger or fear, because these responses arise from the depth of your caring and the truth of your interconnectedness with all beings." Joanna Macy
When we start to explore Grief, we might quickly feel overwhelmed by the tremendous amount of grief held in our communities and countries. So much that it is easy to reject any level of self-responsibility for what is happening. The refugees are seen as invaders and not suffering human beings. The forests are seen as resources and not an alive ecosystem in direct relation to us. The native cultures are seen as primitive and not a source of immense needed wisdom.
In Joanna’s work, we learn to allow the processing of the Grief so we can get into the right action and avoid the pitfall of angry activism. We can also get into the right work of service in spiritual work and avoid the pitfall of “spiritual silos” of isolation from “the others”.
Even in the spiritual community grief is not always fully allowed or held. As a student recently shared with me "You are the first teacher not shutting me down with this process, nor dismissing the depth of the work I have been doing with this and allowing me to take my space in the group and be visible and reflected. And just know that it is also taking a lot from me to allow myself to trust and show up that way after so many disappointing and hurtful experiences. That alone is big medicine."
Personally, I know I have not processed all of my own personal grief. From the death of my first Dog when I was 18 (after 15 years of shared life), to the death of my grandparents. I have not either fully processed the grief of my own birth trauma or sexual trauma. I have not fully processed the loss of dear friends while walking that path, nor the grief of seeing many of them trapped in the capitalistic system. I have not either allowed fully the grief of the loss of the ecosystems on this planet.
As I allowed Grief to be felt in my heart, Grief started to come out in the circles of students I work with. So much grief. In doing so we slowly and gently held each other, witnessed each other, and ALLOWED each other to feel our own grief. Rivers of tears. Tsunamis of tears.
"The sorrow, grief, and rage you feel is a measure of your humanity and your evolutionary maturity. As your heart breaks open there will be room for the world to heal." Joanna Macy
So I was diving deep in the “work that reconnects”, in the wilderness of the Tarkayna, we went for a walk into the ancient forest. The richness of interconnected life was blooming all around me. Depth of wisdom was singing in my heart.
Walking deeper into the forest, with my deep ecology friends, we ended up reaching a patch of freshly cut (devastated) old growth. My heart was so overwhelmed by the feeling that no words could come out of me.
Here on the ground were crushed barks and trees. Exterminated ancient forest. Bleeding soil. And a daunting silence left by the departure of all wild birds. The grounds reminded me of the photos I saw of the Normandy beaches after D day. Covered with the red blood and pieces of human bodies. The folly of the sick human mind on display for all to see. Here nothing was left. Nothing that was gently living and thriving for the last 10,000 years was left. In a matter of a few minutes, 1000-year-old trees were cut and dropped dead on their bleeding mother.
What was happening inside the collective heart and mind of humanity, was on display here on the ground: Fear, pain, anger, separation, and grief. It was all there for us to see.
What would the one who allowed this and done this would see? Just a patch of cleared forest probably. Or the loss of an ancient temple of love? Probably not.
As we witness the Earth's sixth mass extinction event it is time we ask ourselves what we are going to do about it. We can either close our eyes and heart to what is happening all around us, or we can acknowledge and embrace the shared responsibility of the impact of our way of life.
To get into the right action, we need to be in our Hearts. If we do not heal our sick minds and souls, the solution and action we will create will come with other catastrophic consequences. They will come with more separation and anger. More fear and more pain. We need to first allow our grief.
This river of grief can only be received within a deeper container of gratitude. We need this container to stay grounded and stay hopeful.
This is how the work that reconnects is designed:
Coming from Gratitude
Honoring our pain for the world (Grief)
Seeing with new eyes
The seeing with new eyes is that part that creates the right action. The going forth is active hope.
What I love about this process is that it is deeply connected to the ancient wisdom of the Andean cosmovision tradition. A tradition where the first prayer is Gratitude, which allows processing Anger. The second one is Clarity, which allows processing confusion (you can call it seeing with new eyes), The third is unity, which allows dissolving separation (the Ego). The going forth is there. The annihilation of the idea of separation. The destruction of the colonized mind. The opening to the reality of the interdependence of all beings. This prayer land into the prayer of unconditional love. The home for all beings. The place where we are coming from. The place where we are going.
We can use those ancient maps for healing our self, our soul. Maps that were given to us through those ancient oral traditions. Maps that are embodied by every single being living in those ancient forests. And this is why we need to protect those places. We need places of reference that embody the collective prayer. Temples of nature remind us of how humanity can finally live in peace and harmony.
This is not a forest that we are cutting. It is our oldest teacher, our most wise teacher. Our mother. Our protector. Our guide. It is not a dead tree I am praying with, but my old grandfather, grandmother, who just died taking with her all the unseen and unheard wisdom she had for me.
As I was praying and playing music on and for her dead body, I felt her immense compassion and sadness. Her grief not for the loss of her life but for the loss of the wisdom she carried for me, for us. She was ready to keep giving, as she did for 1000s of years. And yet she was taken away by those who could not hear because they were too much in pain and fear of what they would hear in the depth of their heart. They would have heard a song of infinite unconditional love, a song that they probably never heard before and that they are searching for….
I grieve for this tree. I grieve for this forest. I grieve for those this land was stolen from. I grieve for all my relations who were stolen this knowledge. I grieve for my family who will never hear her song.
My power is rising in this collective grieving. A deeper sense of place into this magical universe. This beautiful planet. Connecting more and more deeply to the profound and everlasting connection that is there for me to experience. I will continue seeking. I will continue grieving. I will continue praying. I will continue loving.
"When you look at what is happening to our world (and it is hard to look at what's happening to our water, our air, our trees, our fellow species) it becomes clear that unless you have some roots in a spiritual practice that holds life sacred and encourages joyful communion with all your fellow beings, facing the enormous challenges ahead becomes nearly impossible." Joanna Macy
May we all join the calling of the ancient forest.
If your heart feels called to support the local activists who defend the forest, you can make a donation to the Bob Brown Foundation.