The Mohawk people, in their indigenous wisdom, practiced condolence ritual, “where they tend to the bereaved with an elegant series of gestures, wiping tears from the eyes with the soft skin of a fawn.” This poignant image and so much more from an interview with Francis Weller, author of The Wild Edge of Sorrow: Rituals of Renewal and the Sacred Work of Grief. He told of the Southwest Pueblo tribe with their “crying songs to help move grief along.”
For sure I’m no expert here, just life slapping me upside the head on a regular basis, confirming that denial and avoidance and distraction is a one way ticket to flat line living. When we don’t feel grief and fear and despair, we don’t feel joy and love and compassion. Key phrase: we don’t feel. The losses suffered in my early tender years were dealt with in the American Way. My family didn’t know any better. They too had been cut off from traditions handed down through generations from time immemorial. As a young child I mastered the twin skills of bucking up and moving on.
Now you might be thinking, Debbie Downer is at it again. If so, you’re a good fit with the current feel good at all cost culture where being cheerful, staying optimistic and avoiding the dark is rampant. In the face of loss, this culture prefers us to go it alone and then expects us to get over it, get on with it, get back to normal. But in the long history of the world, this is way off base and Prozac for the multitudes is like something out of Brave New Worlds. No thank you.
We’ve all lost. We lose what and who we love, we lose our health, we lose our way. It’s part of the planet package. When it comes to losing people, societies have a wide variety of communal rituals for moving through, some more, some less effective. “If we have both an adequate level of companionship in our sorrow and periods of solitude that aren’t about distraction or avoidance, then grief will transform itself into tender melancholy…the ability to be present with the bittersweet reality of life, which always includes loss.” So we can avoid it OR we might use grief as beautiful and powerful transformative experience.
And that brings us to tribe. I did a lot of personal work reconciling the losses of the first fifty years. Good work, no regrets. Yet it wasn’t until I started moving this grief in an embodied way in community that I first began to savor the taste of “tender melancholy…bittersweet reality…joyful sorrow.” There is head-in-the-sand denial and we can exist there for a long time. Then there is intellectual understanding and we might believe that we have finally dealt with it. But beyond denial, beyond mental gymnastics, there is the healing salve of embodied awareness in the cradle of community. And I’m pretty sure there is no substitute.
Sometimes I wonder what we are doing out there on the mat, on the dance floor. I doubt the value, I lose my way, I fumble. And then I remember: embodied awareness in the cradle of community. Come bathe in this medicinal balm. Many cultures have an annual day of remembrance in the Fall, a communal appointment to let go just like the leaves, a time to let the grieving process continue. November 1 is All Soul’s Day, the Christian version. Latinos call it Dia de Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. In Thursday Waves we’ll utilize the bones of 5Rhythms to explore ritual and release. Sunday Sweat Your Prayers will feature an altar to place images of those who have passed, to feel them with us, to remember, to practice embodied awareness in the cradle of community.
We are so very fortunate to have this type of tenderly evolving container. It is sorely needed in these hurry up times. Thank you for being there with me….bella