I’m grateful to Dan who joined us for the half day on line workshop on December 18th and then sent these reflections on his first shared grief tending.
Grief Tending – Dan’s Experience
When’s the last time you listened openly to other people share their grief, without giving advice or solutions? When’s the last time you witnessed someone else, in their truth? Why do we not do this more? Why is this not part of our culture? Part of our cycles?
When we allow others to ‘see’ us, and we take the time to ‘see’ other people, we are able to ‘see’ patterns, resonance, and deeper truths. What I learned, or perhaps remembered, while Grief Tending was that there is great wisdom inherent in suffering and grief. Just as there is great wisdom in a virus telling an individual’s body to slow down, sleep more, and eat more healthy. Grief is a natural, and healthy response.
On December 18 I attended a Grief Tending workshop, which was facilitated by a team of experienced practitioners. This was my first time attending a workshop like this. At the beginning of the workshop I was a little bit nervous and uncomfortable, but also curious and excited. As we were gently guided to introduce ourselves, and connect with the other members of the group, my nervousness went away and I began to feel more connected to the group, and subsequently more comfortable.
There were about ten of us in the group. When the first person started to share
their grief, my inner-voice was telling me “we are really going to listen to each person, this is going to take forever.” I was not used to just sitting and listening. It felt uncomfortable. My brain began its normal patterns – to think and come up with a response – and then I realized that it did not need to. I surrendered, and began to listen, with my heart. I began to really hear what the person was saying, which led me to also feel what they were saying. This was not about me. This person’s reality was very different than mine. This person was much older than me, and at a very different stage in their journey. But, this person was experiencing grief, just as I do, and relating to broader areas of life, which were very similar to the areas that were causing me grief.
After a seemingly long silence, I chose to speak second. The most recent grief I felt was while watching Ava Duvernay’s documentary, When They See Us, which chronicled racial injustices in America. While watching this I was crippled with grief, helplessness, shame, fear. It seeped into my everyday and forced me to deeply reflect. I shared the grief of finding Love after Love. The grief that I felt for my nephews and nieces starting their journeys in the unhealthy systems of education. I shared the grief I felt being part of systems that are rooted in violence and extraction. Only the initial grief came from my intellect, the other griefs intuitively surfaced as I was speaking. Had it not been for my sensing of time, I imagine more griefs would have surfaced.
It felt good to hear people share that they heard me, felt resonance with my grief, appreciate me, etc. I felt lighter. My heart felt softer. My face loosened. My gaze became more genuine, present, and kind.
The circle continued. My heart continued to open. I saw myself in other people’s grief. I saw my friends and family members. I felt deep compassion and care. I felt love. After that last person shared, there was no longer a sense of time, or an impatience, I was completely immersed in listening and expressing my care. I was reminded of how similar we all are, regardless of our differences. I was reminded that life is full of suffering. I was reminded about how important, and healthy, it is to simply voice our grief. To voice our needs. To ask for support.
There is so much suffering that the world is experiencing at this given moment. There is so much separation, violence, loneliness, divisiveness. There is so much intergenerational trauma and grief. All of this suffering manifests, and is manifested by, our ways of interacting with ourselves and our communities. In large part, this suffering is a product of our culture(s).
The hopeful thing is that culture is generative and that this suffering has a home. It is simple, often indirect solutions, that have the real potential to solve the complex problems (i.e. racism, climate change, war on drugs). It is communing with these problems, not fighting and othering them, that is needed. Spiritual traditions all over the world have had different forms of Grief Tending as a part of their teaching. Acknowledging the suffering, is the first step in struggling with it, and working to transform it. This can be called Truth and Reconciliation. Some people describe this as a process of ‘composting’ their shit.
Grief Tending is a skill that has the potential to support us to develop compassion, make sense of the world, and to enable the natural process of ‘composting’ to occur. It was clear that the facilitators, Sophy, Sarah and Dita, were experienced and well-trained in the practice. At the beginning of the session Sophy acknowledged and expressed gratitude to the elders, and researchers that supported her. I deeply feel that there is a deep need for Grief Tending to become part of our monthly routines, and to become an embedded practice in our cultures. There is great need for apprenticeship and eldership to pass down these practices with the integrity, wisdom and sensitivity that the practice requires.
As Bayo Akomolafe urges, the times are urgent and we must slow down. Before we can move past it, we must first acknowledge and work with our ‘shit’. We must remember. The practice of Grief Tending has the potential to enable us to transform our perception, live in harmony and evolve our cultures from degenerative, to regenerative. This practice has the potential to enable us to heal, as individuals and communities. The practice of Grief Tending has the potential to support us in becoming happier, healthier and more connected.
Images of water and nature from Sophy