The movements of grief and tenderness that are ebbing and flowing through me (and, through us collectively) during this autumn season have been more pronounced than I can remember in a long time.
There are layers to my personal experience as I ‘be with’ all that is – from continuing to grieve the loss of a significant relationship in my life, to the tenderness of family stories resurfacing within this thin-veil time of ancestral connections and my mom’s death anniversary, to the invitation to surrender over and over to the limits of living with a chronic pain/fatigue syndrome that has flared, to the waves of grief, shock, numbness, rage and horror as we collectively bear witness to the genocide of Palestinian people, amidst the long historical and current suffering of Jewish people and all peoples of Gaza under state-sanctioned colonial violence.
Grief is part of our personal healing and collective action. Experiencing our grief is part of ceasefire, alongside protesting, signing, writing, praying, and using our collective voices. Grieving supports our capacity to not numb or turn a blind eye, or be immobilized in complacency and helplessness. Grief supports our capacity to acknowledge what is, to see clearly what is happening, and to be moved into action and response, each in our own ways.
Grief in itself is a type of prayer. Grief is a declaration that we will not lose our humanity in the face of systemic atrocities.
Do nation-states based in colonial and patriotic values of control and ownership, grieve? Do nation-states have a central heart that metabolizes old pain so that they may move forward from a place of humanity and heart?
The heart does not polarize. The heart does not know ‘us versus them’.
This is the wisdom that speaks through my heart and through ripples of bone-knowing, ancestral echoes, voices of land, and in the reflections of tears rolling down cheeks of other humans also feeling, together. This wisdom seeps through mystic memories across the warp of time, across traditions. This wisdom still whispers up from the earth, trying to pierce through the layers of hardening sediment buried under capitalist institutions and supremacy of all kinds. This wisdom begs to be re-membered by the whole body, my body, your body, the body of humanity, the body of this Earth.
Do nation-states have a body?
Genocide. Violence. War. These reverberate across space – to all the places that know this violence right now, but aren’t receiving the attention and collective focus, grief and action (Sudan, Congo, Ukraine, and more). These reverberations span across time – within our own ancestral lineages and peoples who have been in the violence of ‘us versus them’, on either side, sending echoes into our bones and heart and minds, here and now.
The heart does not know binaries.
Jewish safety and Palestinian freedom are not opposing – this is a false, and dangerous, binary.
So we grieve to honor life, to honor lives, to demand dignity for all, back and forth through time, and across lands, beyond the violence of borders.
For me, a tremendous resource is my contemplative and communion practices and group rituals that nourish me during these times of deep mourning. Connection with other humans and my animate community, seen and unseen, provide a ballast and steadying to support me to remain in a soft heart and to remain in my humanity as much as I can. And when I can't, to not stray too far before doing what I need to return to my heart, over and over. This is a practice. And it is vital.
I notice when I stray – my belly hardens, my energy become dispersed, I get busy, I feel a depressed energy thickening around me, and my mind starts to become rigid and in false certainty… perhaps it starts to become like a nation-state?… trapped in mine and yours, attached to my story and hurt, solidifying the pain, and severing me from my humanity (heart) and yours. My mind, untethered from my heart and body, can make all kinds of excuses and stories to avoid responsibility and to avoid feeling.
Responsibility. Response-ability. The ability to respond and feel our emotions is sourced in the heart, and held within the ground of our body and in connection to land and to others. It is held in deep relationship.
Do nation-states pause to listen to the land? To listen to the collective heart of their people?
This Samhain week has been particularly tender. I have been offering my tears and prayers to the ocean, alongside more of my mom’s ashes; ashes that hold legacies of my inheritance, in the beauty and the hardships, and are offered now as ancestral healing prayers. I have been in grief for the places my heart still yearns for connection with a beloved that is no longer, and the confusion and pain for how it happened; a pain that turned hard into anger in my belly, and is only now softening into deep heartache, months later. I am in surrender to moments, hours, and sometimes days of lying low, as my body speaks loudly through flows of fibromyalgia pain and fatigue.
‘What is happening out there is also happening in here’, my body whispers. My body and heart know of the interconnection of life, my life/our life, your life/our life, their life/our life. My body and heart know the feeling and sensations of love, personal and collective. My body and heart feel the disruption of these connections. How does your body and heart feel this?
I am reminded this is a season of descent; a slowing of movement towards the fecundity of fallowness.
Surrender and listen to your heart. Regenerate. Surrender and let the tears fall. Rejuvenate. Offer your grief, your exhaustion, your rage, to Earth, to our humanity, as your dedication to be with what is. Reclaim. And then act in ways that you are best made for these moments. Repeat.
As my beautiful soul friend Carly Forest says, informed by Taoism, “the heart can hold the 10,000 joys and the 10,000 sorrows”. Will we allow this capacity of our heart to be a collective priority? A personal priority? This is a practice, to return to the wise heart that only stretches and deepens and expands beyond us in more expansive love, rather than break into binaries, fragments, and disconnected pieces.
The heart unifies.
It is our birthright and need to actively seek out joy, beauty, connection and pause during times of pain, so that we can also be with the pain, be in witness, metabolize and act from a place of, and for, dignity. Where are you finding beauty and connection in your day to day? Where is love being offered that you have yet to recognize? What are the moments that offer grace and joy to you?
It is in the individual that collectives are made, and it is through collectives that individuals are shaped. Let us be in this deeply reciprocal dance in a heart-full way; in a relational way. This is our power, our place, and our practice.
This is my prayer towards liberation, inner and outer, for all.
What happens when you email the government in Canada? Here’s how it can help:
Social Change Ecosystem - what role matches you?
Deepa Iyer created this framework as a tool to clarify values, identify roles, and support our commitment to solidarity, justice, and equity. It identifies ten roles that people and organizations often show up in (such as weaver, builder, and storyteller) when they are responding to crises and participating in social change movements; it offers a path to engage in social change efforts more effectively, collaboratively, and sustainably.
Open letter from Jewish Writers: Critiquing the State of Israel is not Anti-Semitic
“We refuse the false choice between Jewish safety and Palestinian freedom; between Jewish identity and ending the oppression of Palestinians. In fact, we believe the rights of Jews and Palestinians go hand-in-hand. The safety of each people depends on the other’s.”
At the heart of ritual is relationship and reciprocity.
I am a ritualist and animist and one of my areas of healing focus is grieving. Because of these proclivities, I have been observing for many years how ritual healing has been taken up within modern wellness spheres, and specifically within the field of grief, bereavement, and nature therapy.
Living within a dominant culture that values and perpetuates hyper-individualism and stoic self-reliance (among many other things), means that many healing modalities in Western therapeutic fields of practice, from psychotherapy to nature-based healing to wellness coaching, are also born within, and greatly conditioned from, this context.
Healing can become overly focused as a self-defined and self-designed endeavour.
Any google search on ‘healing grief rituals’ will populate many articles focused mainly on death and bereavement and suggesting an assortment of remembrance and release rituals including wearing your loved one’s clothes, writing a letter addressed to the deceased, meditation, journalling, burning candles and incense, working with symbols to 'activate' your healing, calm your mind, and heal your grief. Many will nod to inviting in the Sacred, however the focus is on personal healing resolution and a one-directional goal of support (to me).
Much academic research also focuses on personal bereavement rituals to support release of attachment, cutting ties, individuation after loss, and restoration of self. Just take this excerpt from a grief therapy study on rituals of letting go:
In rituals, bodily qualities and physical actions are particularly relevant in bringing emotion, thought and intention together so that a feeling of stepping out of the mundane and ordinary is experienced more deeply [Kavanagh 1990; Parkin 1992, Rando 1985, Turner 1967,]. The act of actively doing something can mitigate passive victimization following loss [Hoven et al., 2008].
Ritual here is seen to integrate an individuals' emotions, thoughts and intention, so that ultimately, they feel agency rather than victimized in their grief. The ritual is an act of self-help to attain “a feeling” that is conducive to healing integration. Some grief therapy rituals support continuing bonds with your loved one, a ‘theory’ developed by Ken Doka. As Terri Daniel writes in her thesis:
According to Doka, rather than seeing a funeral as a one-time activity, we should develop new and continued rituals over time throughout the mourning process, which can extend the therapeutic value of a funeral or memorial service. He also identifies various types of rituals that mark different milestones and serve different purposes, such as continuity, transition, reconciliation or affirmation in order to meet the specific needs of the griever.
Again however, the ritual is purely for therapeutic value of the griever, focused on their internal relationship to the memory of their loved one and their own needs, rather than including the deceased directly and their needs (more on this in Part 3: Ritual as Rite of Passage). The rituals are still self-oriented.
Similar within certain nature-based contexts, rituals of connection have focused on nature as a therapeutic tool that offers beneficial value to the person. Rituals center around what can nature do for me, what the benefits of forest bathing are for me, what nature offers to heal me? Nature is instrumentalized to support the therapeutic relationship between counsellor/practitioner and client. This is a starting point into re-connection, but again, a one-sided relational pathway. Eco-therapy is starting to take this one step further in a more relational direction:
What makes ecotherapy different from an attempt to “mine nature for its beneficial effects,” Chalquist explained “is that we have to give something back.” He tells students that if they want to experience the full value of ecotherapy, they can’t just go touch a tree; they need to come to care about that tree and help preserve it for future generations.
Let me be clear - all these examples I name above can be very supportive to our healing; I am not arguing against that. I have been on the receiving end of healing from similar invitations, and I personally love nature therapy, agree that we need to center our connection to the natural world more, and have learned a lot through different models within the nature-based field that support learning, growth, and choice.
However, what is shared above are not rituals, at least not fully. They are intentional personal routines for self-care and therapeutic strategies for a person’s internal healing process to support their emotional and psychological integration, connection, and well-being.
Many of these healing and therapeutic practices are influenced by a dominant cultural value of transactional relating; what do I get from this in my healing journey? In the nature-based example, the psycho-therapeutic frame to nature connection doesn’t inherently extend, or teach about, the personhood of Forest, Tree, Moss, or the Spirit of a Place, and that we too are a part of this reciprocity of connection and have a place (and responsibility) to offer our generosity, care, and presence to them. The rituals of connection hasn't included the value inherent in being in relationship with ‘nature’, outside of needing something for oneself.
If we are not careful, the very healing rituals that are prescribed to stave off isolation and loneliness in any healing journey, instead deepen a sense of aloneness and disconnection.
The rituals are one-sided and self-focused; they have been stripped of their relational essence. We do not receive the ritual's healing balm of knowing we matter inside a deeply relational community of beings, or within a relationship that continues with the deceased and supports their rite of passage of death. Rather, we have received an affirmation that we are moving forward in our healing. We may receive a sense of self-efficacy and agency that we can do something with our own pain, grief, and disconnection, which is an important part of healing. And yet, it is not the full story - something is still missing.
Ritual is deeply relational and inherently about reciprocity - reciprocity with Others, whether those others are friends, family, community, Spirit, ancestors, recently deceased, deities, plant ones, tree elders, animal spirits, the animate ecology, spirit of place and land, cosmic movements and beyond, that we are embedded within.
When ritual is held in its fullness of relational reciprocity, it takes us out of self-focus and instead right-sizes us in the belonging of things, which is inherently a healing experience of our wholeness and interdependence. It both minimizes our self-focus while in the same moment affirms our significance.
In this way, our personal healing needs are met as part of the reciprocity. We may offer prayers, song, food, beauty, witnessing, and presence to ritually honour and relate to Others while at times also ritually asking for healing support, which might include offering our grief as love to Other. Our ongoing relationship is the focus, the central ritual intention, and from this personal healing is but one beneficial aspect.
In the fullness of ritual, we human people are reminded of our inherent worthiness as members of a broader community of animate beings and within cyclical living/dying story lines. Ritual-as-relationship is what reminds us we are not alone; that are held in the larger stories and ecology of inter-relationships that influence us and that we influence. We are reminded to extend our connection to Others who also need and value our presence, attunement and capacity to see and know them.
Ritual reminds us that we are always connected to, and changed by, a rich and diverse ecosystem of beings, all participating in the ongoing belonging and unfolding of life and death alongside one another. Our well-being is rooted in the reciprocity of this embeddedness.
Design for Rituals of Letting Go: An Embodiment Perspective on Disposal Practices Informed by Grief Therapy. Corina Sas, Lancaster University, Steve Whittaker, University of California at Santa Cruz, John Zimmerman, Carnegie Mellon University
Rituals and Ceremonies for Grieving: Turning Pain into Power. Terri Daniel, DMin, CT, CCTP, San Franciso Theological Seminary.
The Nature Cure by James Hamblin, article published in The Atlantic
Shauna Janz, MA is a teacher, mentor, and facilitator at the crossroads of grief, trauma, ritual and ancestral healing. She is the founder of Sacred Grief offering immersive online programs for folks interested in deepening their skills in these areas.
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