The real tragedy is that we have become people who can’t cry. As Francis Weller says in Entering the Healing Ground: Grief, Ritual and the Soul of the World, “we live in a flat line culture, one that avoids the depths of feeling” (p. 87). We avoid feelings because we are afraid to cry. This also keeps us from caring, because caring is a feeling that sometimes moves us to tears.
Have you noticed that whenever you really cry, when you don’t stifle the outflow of tears and snots and sometimes even dribbles of saliva, when you cry so that, as Martin Prechtel says in “Grief and Praise,” “You don’t look good when you are done, ” then you feel lighter? This lightness is required for us to take action on our caring, which is taking on the responsibility for healing the world. Without the lightness, we are lost in the heavy and the dark. It’s very difficult to act in the dark; one literally cannot find the way.
There must be some native story about tears becoming rivers that quench the thirst of the world.
Again, from Francis Weller, “We suffer, as I have said, from what I call premature death, where we turn away from life and walk with ambivalence towards the world, neither in it nor out of it, lacking a commitment to fully say yes to life” (p. 89).
It’s not just a matter of healing ourselves before we can do the work in the world. I am not sure if there is a real healing of ourselves without extending to heal the world. Moving through grief may be the indispensable component that compels and allows us to truly act.
Some native people knew this well. Sobonfu Some says that in the African village where she comes from, allowing grief breathing room to move about and express itself, so that its heft is no longer perched on one’s shoulders, was considered natural and necessary in order to live well as a human being.
The native wisdom of her village also knew that the Grief Work—and it is work—of not only acknowledging, but of moving through the grief—letting its powerful river flow out unimpeded by any dams—must be held in community. Her people had grief rituals somewhere in the village almost every day. Here is another tragedy of American culture: we usually suffer alone. Grief has been relegated to the small private spaces behind closed doors where we each struggle desperately to make sense of it.
Moving through grief instead of around it is scary business. Who wants to enter what feels like a dark tunnel alone, especially when we perceive that it might suck us in forever? Our immediate heartfelt and gut-wrenching feelings seem very private, as they come from the core of our beings. But giving these feelings permission to move about freely in the community without shame allows what seems like a dark tunnel to expand into a spacious healing ground. This ground is held by the support of the community, which ideally includes a shaman or an elder practiced in the art of navigating through the dark.
Since the causes of grief—whether it be the destruction of earth or the impermanence of human life—are universal even though they feel private, perhaps grief must exist in the community sphere. Not allowing it its proper seat there prevents us from entering the healing ground, both personally and collectively. In addition, keeping our grief behind closed doors separates us from each other and from the “other” of Nature. Releasing it from the shackles of privatization into open space might help to unblock the dams in the healing flows of the world—dams made bigger daily by our inability to take on full responsibility to act as sane, mature, and wise human beings.