The planet does not need more successful people. The planet desperately needs more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers and lovers of all kinds.
- Dalai Lama
Have you ever had the world pulled out from under you? One of those experiences where your idea of what your life would be suddenly comes crashing down? It can be an unexpected illness, the death of a loved one, the end of a relationship, or the loss of a job. It can be something more subtle, like waking up one morning to find that the life you are living no longer makes sense.
Each of us in our own unique ways have gone through extreme shifts in life that shake us up to the core. The kinds of unexpected experiences that ache to the marrow of our bones. What if we learned to see these things as an invitation instead of a condemnation? What if in the struggle that we encounter in front of us we are inspired to deepen our sense of who we are, whom we are connected to and what we are capable of?
These types of experiences invite us to grow our roots deep down into the Earth that bears us. They remind us that we are citizens of this world, not in the social sense that only includes humanity, but in the sense of being deeply rooted in something that is much larger, more vibrant and infinitely more important than our day-to-day comings and goings on the road of materialist living. When the world that we envisioned living in suddenly cracks open, we are asked to look into what deeply matters, what has heart and meaning. In these moments we have the ability to take up what Francis Weller calls an “apprenticeship with sorrow.”
In his recently released book The Wild Edge of Sorrow, Francis Weller says
I see this work as soul activism, a form of deep resistence to the disconnected way in which our society had conditioned us to live. Grief is subversive, undermining our society’s quiet agreement that we will behave and be in control of our emotions. It is an act of protest that declares our refusal to live small and numb.
We have all bought into what Weller calls a “flatline culture.” Which means that in our experience of life we have become conditioned to seek only the moments that make us “happy.” And that ephemeral pursuit of happiness has led us to accept the idea that happiness is fabricated in a warehouse somewhere in the world, where the latest clothes, gadgets, gizmos, cars and preassembled lifestyles are ready and waiting for you at the swipe of a credit card. And yet…
One day life throws something at us that cracks us wide open. A death, divorce, illness or loss of a job thrust us back into the awareness that life is happening regardless of whether or not we sprung the extra bucks for the luxury package on our new sedan. At these moments we are called to look at the way we are living and make a critical decision: Will we continue to live for that which breaks, withers, leaves or disappears? Or will we start living in rhythm with the world that gives us life and breathe that life into all of our relations?
We are at a critical point in the evolution of humanity. It is in the air, in the water, in the very ground beneath our feet. What we are being called upon to do is the work of developing a soul: one that is intimately enamored with the rhythms of the natural world, which we have somehow forgotten we are a part of. By learning to bear witness to the side of life that is so often shunned in our society we undertake this task of soul-formation. It is, after all, not a given that we are handed a soul at birth. All it takes is to look around at the world we live in to see this is so. And yet, soul-making has now become an imperative task if we are to survive as a species.
What exactly does this mean? What is soul-making? Mature cultures around the world have for thousands of years understood that the task of soul-making is more important than any other. It is the process by which people are initiated into an understanding of their relationship to all things. It is done through ritual. And these rituals are not easy. They require the commitment and cooperation of the entire village. Their outcome is to break open the adolescent that has yet to see that he exists to be in service of the greater whole, the entirety of Life, with a capital “L.” This is to say, my life is of value only if and when it is in service to the continuation of all live, human and more-than-human. This is a massive shift from the me-centered thinking of childhood and adolescence, and it places the imperative on each of us to become the stewards of what our children and our children’s children will encounter for generations to come.
When we live from a me-centered perspective we can justify our unabated consumption of everything that we desire. We live only to satisfy our hunger for more. And as we continue this way we feel the hunger grow while our satisfaction diminishes.
Grief is the sacred ground where we find our way back to our humanity and to our place in the greater scheme of things. When we share the experience of our grief with others we find that we are all united in deeper, more meaningful ways than we ever expected. Like laughter, grief is a universal language. Actually, both are equally important parts of THE universal language. To take one without the other is to create an imbalance in the scales which leads us back to the insatiable hunger so many of us feel for genuine connection to the world, both human and natural. We must gather around the council fires of what we have lost in order to remake a village where we all are home.
This takes courage, leadership and determination. It takes a type of vision that has been lost in our larger society, but which is beginning to emerge once again in the brave voices of those that would speak truth to the world. As we progress into this 21st century we see a sharp rise in the amount of people, both young and old, that are taking their own lives because of the immense burden of sorrow that they are attempting to carry all on their own. Suicide is on the rise and it is taking many of the wounded souls that have precious gifts to bring to us as a whole, but who cannot stand to bear the burdens of sorrow they have inherited and incurred in their lives.
What I am calling for is a return to what Weller has called the “soul of the world.” In collectively bringing our sorrows into community we learn to see the humanity in one another, and we strengthen our connections to the great spiritual and physical ecosystem that is this biosphere we live in. It is through having the courage to mend our hearts by diving into the deep waters of grief that we begin to understand once again what it means to be human. It is how we reconnect with the sense of home and of place that has been an unnamed source of massive sorrow in the hearts of many, if not all, of us.
My offering to you today:
Take the time to look at the people in your life. Find someone that is going through a difficult time alone, preferably something that you have gone through as well. And (here’s the challenge) bear your heart to them. Share with them the way you felt when you were going through what they are suffering now. Do it wholeheartedly, not simply with words but with emotions. Let them see your tears and hear your sobs. Invite them into the sacred healing ground of grieving and hold that space for them until they are soothed. I know this is asking a lot, and it may be frightening at first, but even if you extend your intention towards someone in need in that way you will be a massive part of their (and your) healing. We are all in this together, it’s time we start living like it.