I call myself a “soul activist” – what does this mean to me? It means that my motivation in life is to live deeply, feel deeply and provide others supportive opportunities to do the same.
In this dominant North American culture we are flooded with messages and means to numb out – to avoid pain, to ease discomfort, to perpetually chase after an elusive happiness with superficial ideals. This is at a great disservice to our ability to connect with ourselves, each other, to create community, and to our potential for leading deeply meaningful, wisdom-filled lives.
This is not a new revelation to any of us.
For me, a part of living a soulful and enriching life is being companion to my grief and nurturing those difficult places where transformation occurs. I am deeply committed to this.
I believe that embracing our grief, and re-learning the skills to help ourselves and others through it, is a form of soul-activism. When we embrace grief, we come to realize that our grief is a doorway into deep connection with all life around us.
It takes great courage to face our pain when we are steeped in societal messages that grief is a personal pathology. This is, quite frankly, bullshit and only perpetuates feelings of shame and weakness.
Historically, grief was never something done in isolation. It was always the community’s responsibility to care for a griever.
Our grief needs both our loving attention and the support of others to help us carry its weight and to transform it into renewed vitality.
I would like to tell a story of transformation - a metaphorical story that came to me and is continuously evolving the more I tell it. Grief often speaks the language of metaphor, so I share this story often with rooms full of people as I lead workshops and engage in public speaking events. Through this story we can relate to our own losses and those of others.
This story stems from an expression often used when we are faced with sudden loss or a painful reality.
The sudden pain we feel is like ‘a large boulder’ that has been placed on our shoulders, weighing us down, burdening and immobilizing us.
So here you find yourself with this heavy boulder placed on your back. Your legs are trembling under the weight, your shoulders are tight and pained under the pressure, and your neck is crooked and cricked.
You may hardly be able to stand under the immense weight, and all you can do is feel the pain and discomfort. Then, a little time passes and you notice that your legs have stopped shaking. You notice that perhaps your muscles are getting stronger, and by golly, you may even have some new muscles you didn’t even know existed!
And, maybe a few people in your life have come by and lent you a hand, propping up the weight of the boulder for a little bit. You find yourself with small pockets of energy. Slowly, you are able to devise a pulley and strap system so the weight is more evenly distributed, your neck is no longer cricked, and you are standing more upright.
One day someone comes along and says “hey – there is a piece at the back here that looks like it is ready to fall off – let me get that for you” and they pull out a small chisel and gently tap the boulder and a little piece falls off. They then leave the chisel with you as a gift. Eventually there are more bits of the solid boulder that loosen. Bit by bit you are able to reach up and chisel small pieces off.
Another person comes along and says “hey, I can empathize with having a boulder – I found it really helpful to do 15 squats and lunges a day to strengthen my legs to carry the weight”. Maybe you try this and it helps a little. Maybe you really don’t like squats, so you just do 8 lunges every second day, and it seems to work for you, strengthening your ability to hold the burden of the boulder.
Time passes and you weather storms, winds, hail, and a few sunny days here and there. The weather wears away at your boulder, polishing it off. And soon that boulder is noticeably lighter – it isn’t gone, but you realize you are carrying it differently.
And with more time, slowly, that boulder starts taking on a new shape – a polished statue perhaps, or a small carved totem. Or perhaps a beautiful crystal starts to be uncovered as the boulder pieces fall away. This new ‘something’, in its half ragged and half polished new form, becomes a source of strength and resilience.
Your transformed boulder is a marker of how far you have come through your pain. Perhaps it even becomes small enough to tuck away in your pocket, or to leave at home on certain days. You can now decide when to bring it out or when to share it with others.
Your boulder has become a source of compassion.
You realize your boulder has gifted you strength, empathy and the ability to be with others who have a newly placed boulder on their shoulders. You understand that to help another doesn’t mean to reach over and try to lift that person’s heavy boulder off them, because it is not just a burden for a while, it is also a potential for transformation.
Everyone has a right to experience their boulders and its potential shape-shifting transformation.
And you don’t ignore their boulder and pained bodies shaking underneath its weight. Instead you say – “here is my hand, let me walk with you awhile –perhaps I can leave you with my chisel”...
To be there for ourselves and others through difficult times is to not turn a blind eye to the boulder heap upon each others' shoulders. To not try to knock them off and bury them, but rather to see the boulders, acknowledge them, and to know them for their sorrow and joy.
To companion is to walk alongside another who is carrying a heavy boulder, and to lend a hand for a while – to do a few lunges and squats together.
Our pain and the difficult times in our lives are a great source of transformation and connection.
The more we are willing to be with our own boulders and take the courage to carry them and see them through to their potential for shape-shifting, the more we are able to be there for others to do the same with their boulders.
For the most part however, our society encourages us to take those boulders, dig a hole, hide them away, and to never look back. This perpetuates shame and myths of weakness and personal pathology.
I will never forget what a young man shared with me while in a youth group I was leading. He told me that for years he had buried his boulders deep into the ground. Many were stashed there. But recently, because he was experiencing community and more supportive people in his life including his girlfriend, he felt he had the courage to go back and start digging up those boulders to carry them and to allow them the opportunity to transform.
We all have boulders, and we all need supportive companions to help us carry their weight and offer moments of solace. This is our soulful right.
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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