Francis Weller, author, psychotherapist, and grief ritual practitioner, recently released his new book, The Wild Edge of Sorrow – Rituals of Renewal and the Sacred Work of Grief, in which he writes eloquently about grief, community, ritual, and spiritual employment. In poetic words, he emphasizes the need for a ‘village response’ to our grief and pain, and describes the cost of living in a society that instead makes grief a personal pathology.
Westernized culture is obsessed with rugged individualism that strongly dictates that grief be done in isolation and behind closed doors. It is easy to feel shame in the midst of cultural story-lines that tell us to always be strong, be in control, and to hurry up. We may feel like a burden if we tell our stories to another.
Yet, grief is vulnerable, messy, and moves at the pace of a sloth. Our stories of pain and loss need to be told, and often retold many times, as we live the transformation that grief invites us to embrace.
We are in dire need to reclaim our ancient wisdom for participating in grief ritual within a ‘village’ setting – expressing our grief while surrounded by others. It is only in the container of the community that grief can truly be expressed and then released and transformed.
When grief is ‘privatized’ it strips us of our capacity to be in community and be intimate with each others’ pain. This is a great detriment to us as individual grievers, and a detriment to our larger community, friends, and family.
For grieving individuals, privatizing our pain only allows us to hold on to it, to contain it, for excessive amounts of time. Our societal conditioning forces us to carry our pain within our minds, bodies, and hearts, when it was not meant to be carried there for such a long time. Unexpressed grief is detrimental to our health – mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual.
For community, friends, and family of grievers, privatizing grief does not allow for them to respond in a caring way and to fulfill their soulful obligation to be of service to those they love and care for. This comes at a cost to our relationships and connection to others.
Pain is meant to be a visitor within our hearts; it is not meant to set up home there. Our pain seeks freedom from the cages of our chest. It seeks to be released and transformed.
Our capacity to be present to pain is something that we all innately know, and yet have become disconnected from. We have lost our village. Many of us no longer feel secure in our ability to share our grief with others. And, many of us no longer feel secure in how to respond to the grief of others.
Historically, an individual’s pain was always a part of the larger village, and it was the community’s responsibility to care for the griever. The griever needs the village to compassionately witness and hold space for them. The village needs the griever so they can fulfill their own spiritual employment – to respond to the griever in caring and nurturing ways.
To be spiritually employed is to fulfill our birthright as compassionate and loving people and to respond to a person or community in pain.
This creates the grounds for intimate connections between people. And it nurtures those vulnerable spaces out of which wisdom and love grow.
I believe in all of our hearts and bones there lies an ancient ‘knowing’ that grief needs community to keep us in healthy balance as emotional, physical, social, and spiritual beings. We have the right to reclaim this knowledge.
I have experienced the detriments of societal conditioning in my own life. I spent years holding on to pain accumulated from early life experiences and losses, believing that I was somehow at fault and weak for not being able to get over their impacts.
Being strong and independent kept me distant from my pain, and kept it locked inside my chest. My pain nested in my body and I carried it around as dulled, achy, and ever-present sorrow for years.
I still struggle at times to ask for help; to feel vulnerable in my grief. And, the more I create experiences for myself to grieve in community, witnessed by others, the more I trust in the healing necessity of grief that is shared with others. From this place I am able to create genuine intimate connections with others and offer compassion and forgiveness to both myself and others. And from this place I am now able to experience more inner joy and freedom.
I take comfort in knowing that by asking for help, I am also inviting someone else to step in to their soulful right to be spiritually employed.
We need more opportunities to grieve surrounded by others holding the container for us. And, we need more opportunities to be spiritually employed to others, witnessing their pain and stories, and offering a container for them to release and renew their vitality.
Let’s re-create the conditions that allow us to live in intimacy with each other in our grief and spiritual gifts.
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