I was there when the sun began to pour its light into the land this morning. Birds gossiped and celebrated amongst trees combed clean of dross in last nights windstorm, trees that now whisper and dance in a softer breeze. The air is clear and soft, the light golden and luminous. Crisp air chills my lungs but enlivens me softly. There is a delicious comfort to pulling my wrap closer around my neck and stoking the fire before taking my tea onto the deck to behold the stirring of the land. It is autumn in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada in Northern California. All is parched and yearning for the kisses of the rain people in this harvest time, but this is a holy moment of transition from summers intensity to winters enclosure, and all around me is a beauty that I drink in with long, slow breaths and deep, quiet, reverence.
The land is always beautiful, but today this beauty is especially clear in a remarkable way. There is a special sheen to the light of the sun on the oak leaves and pine needles. There is a special staggering romance to the songs of the birds and the chill through my wrap. Today my heart aches with grief, and today this grief and I are ripe to feast on all of its difficult riches. All seems lit from within, though my eyes are swollen and sore from a long night and an early morning of heavy tears, and my bones are weary with exhaustion.
Today, I am in the lucidity of grief.
Who among us that has lived even the briefest moment would say that the roses of life grow on a bush with no thorns? To behold, even vaguely, the life of the world, is to behold a tapestry woven of beauty and horror, brimming with insane violence and maddening banality alongside the most staggering and rhapsodic wonders of all kinds. This earth, and this experience of living a human life, is simultaneously a madhouse and the most gorgeous Eden conceivable. Grief is one of the natural responses to being even the tiniest bit sentient and present to the magnitude of it all. It visits every life, regardless of whether it’s wanted, welcome, timely, or tidy. It is natural, it is healthy, and it is the inevitability of being a creature who loves.
Grief is often regarded warily when it visits, though its visits to a life are as assured as breath and could therefor indicate how utterly normal it actually is. But the feeling of that cold rain in the bones that so many people experience and call grief has a lot more to do with how grief is met than with what grief actually is; I would call that despair, personally. There’s a distinct and important difference between the two. Despair is what grief becomes when it is unintegrated.
This is something I know with the whole of my being that is so often misunderstood: grief is a potent, vital power woven of sorrow and care, one whose gentle and insistent invitation is to a full embodiment of the exquisite and difficult miracle of being fully alive. When grief is actively met and integrated, it hides nothing and gives all as soul nourishment. It feeds creativity. It deepens the capacity for love to flow through a being. It enriches the heart and soul of a person with a sweet and biting fullness like the flush of a great wine on the tongue. Grief, when met openly and allowed to inform the development of a life, brings us into exceptional intimacy with the truth of living.
It would follow then, that to become literate in the ways of grief and grieving is an art and skill worth cultivating.
Unfortunately, we live in a determinedly grief illiterate society, the fact of which is the cause of unfathomable suffering. In North American society the social emphasis is on positivity, productivity, maintaining good outward appearances, and carrying on with business-as-usual no matter what holy force has walked into the temple of a life. Because of this, grief – a very holy force indeed – is most often hounded, manipulated, medicated, rejected, denied, feared, and misunderstood at the expense of the griever receiving the soul-enriching and deepening medicine that it carries as its inherent and sacred gift.
Grief is not tidy, you see.
It won’t coddle our concept of ourselves and our identities any more than it will the status quo of societies colonial profit model that insists – often through sharp, bared teeth – that the show must go on, feelings be damned. Grief is of the soul, not the spirit, and definitely not of the mind, so in a mental society that values the bright heat of spirit far beyond the darkly luminous depths of soul, grief is actually threatening and treated as something to be managed and subdued as efficiently as possible. But grief is an alchemizing force whose presence in a life is meant to transform through deepening, and it is a force that is altogether immune to control. Because of this, to attempt to control and diminish it is to ensure that it becomes a slow poison in the heart and manifests as unintegrated behaviors whose aim is to draw healing and loving attention towards the grief by any means necessary.
This is the cost of grief illiteracy, and it is high.
To let grief in will disrupt our status quo. There is no haggling with that. The important thing to hold close is that that disruption is beneficial to the development of our souls as whole beings and true, full humans. When done with care, love, patience, skill, and support it is an incredibly good thing. It will pull back masks that constrain us. It will suddenly reveal how little we can breathe in the cages we have decorated so well for ourselves. It will invite us to the freedom of actually living in the truth of our own experience and letting the profundity of living actually affect us instead of trying to “keep it like it was” and “run the show” all the time.
It’s a good thing to be rocked in the right way from time to time. It’s a good thing to have a wild and holy force come singing through your whole experience in a way that clarifies and heals if you can bear the discomfort and answer it’s messages. It takes skill and it takes deep courage, and it is oh, so worth it.
So my invitation is this: when grief comes unexpectedly into your days, turn towards that uncomfortable yet holy visitor with curiosity, presence, and welcome, so as to invite its singular and miraculous gifts into your life. Settle into the discomfort of actually experiencing it instead of the agony of attempting to avoid it. Allow it to do it’s slow alchemy of enriching and deepening you. And do not welcome that ancient power alone. Grief suffers terribly in isolation. Solitude is good, isolation is crushing. When grief comes one must be held in at least one loving, patient set of arms besides their own, by a person who can allow the grief to be and move without trying to “make it better”. Seek out the help you need without shame. Allow yourself to be seen. There is no shame in grieving. All beings grieve, it is an act of love. It is so utterly natural and true. It is one of our most profound shared experiences as humans and we need each other in those times. To be held in it, or to hold someone in it, is one of the most profound ways to share love in this life. Let it be seen, and let it be supported. Be sure that it is. When grief comes, move slowly, breathe deeply, listen completely, and behold the shimmering of the world when your eyes deepen with that sacred fire. Let it affect you. Let it change you.
Grief is one of the many gifts woven into the tapestry of Life. Allow yourself to receive its blessings and then live those blessings as your own gift to Life.