Last weekend I had the powerful experience of attending a grief ritual led by Francis Weller. It was an experience that has moved me in many ways. Many of which I am sure will continue to surface over the next few days, weeks, months.
There is something unspoken that happens when people come together as a community to express, or what Martin Prechtel calls “metabolize,” our individual and collective sorrows. It is unspoken though many attempt to put words on it, to give name to this unity that arises among total strangers. Perhaps the best word I can think of to describe it is communion.
In a ritual space, something is created that is greater than the collective energy of the people present. There is a tangible difference in the room when people are united for a single purpose in a sacred manner. The absence of this is one of the great sorrows of our way of living. It leads through the promises of individualism into the depths of isolation. When we attempt to carry our grief alone we create a world that is in peril like our world is now: one where the inexhaustible focus is “what will I get out of this?” A thought that spurs on a collective hunger through the material world that can only be satiated in the spiritual.
One of the things that most moves me about grief rituals is how a community of people you may have never met before will be willing to help you shoulder some of the sorrow that you have carried in your life. There is the awareness that for the briefest moment we are supported in ways we could never have imagined, by the most unexpected allies.
When we are in ritual space the lines become blurred between us. The space of separation becomes a fluid thing, one we can traverse to meet one another. Without pretenses and without masks. And in the witnessing of another person in their grief you learn how to open your heart and hold the weight of sorrow that is crushing so many people.
There is much more to say about these beautiful and powerful rituals. It starts by opening the space for them. Poetry is a powerful gateway to the wisdom of grieving. Here are a few poems that may help you start feeling into the healing ground of grief.
It's possible I am pushing through solid rock
in flintlike layers, as the ore lies, alone;
I am such a long way in I see no way through,
and no space: everything is close to my face,
and everything close to my face is stone.
I don't have much knowledge yet in grief--
so this massive darkness makes me small.
You be the master: make yourself fierce, break in:
then your great transforming will happen to me,
and my great grief cry will happen to you.
- Rainer Maria Rilke
I tell you, Chickadee
I am afraid of people
who cannot cry
Tears left unshed
turn to poison
in the ducts
Ask the next soldier you see
enjoying a massacre
if this is not so.
People who do not cry are victims
of soul mutilation
paid for in Marlboros
Violence does not work
except for the man
who pays your salary
if you could still weep
you would not take the job.
- Alice Walker
*Originally published as Inlak'ech Transpersonal Coaching