Saturday afternoon, evening, and Sunday morning, inside the safe, hallowed ground of Oakwood Retreat Center near Selma, Indiana, I sat in circle with six other elders plus one beautiful young man who used to work as a hospice nurse until it was corporatized. Andy calls himself a “grief-monger,” and has been thinking, dreaming, and digesting grief ever since the defining year of his life, when, in an evangelical Christian boarding school in East Africa, one of his 12 dorm mates was killed by a crocodile during spring break — and the dead boy’s parents told them how happy they were that their son was now in heaven. By the end of that semester, of the original 12, only 4 remained. The others had all been kicked out because of the destruction they unleashed on the door, breaking furniture, punching out walls and windows.
How much of our culture’s tendency towards violence is an unconscious projection of buried, festering grief? And not just personal grief. Ever since European invaders genocided millions of Native Americans, does not it appear that we have tried to repress, deny, ignore, trivialize the enormous grief buried in the collective unconscious?
As we sat there, circling round and round through personal stories — our own stories of death, dying, grieving and near-death experiences — the crossroads each of these sacred nodes reveals, how the soul’s purpose unfurls itself in this life — the linguistic and spiritual space we opened continuously widened and deepened, as one by one, profound giving and receiving of deeply intimate and vulnerable stories that are usually not welcomed by others poured out and left us changed.
Our time together felt magical, endless; it was over in a flash. Time stopped, expanded into meaning. The atmosphere felt charged, deeply alive. Something shifted during our brief gathering; something mighty and mysterious. We await what might be birthed through our group process.
Then, after a walk to the river with friend and fellow participant Ted, I started the two-hour drive home, expecting to use that time to begin to emotionally process our weekend together — until I foolishly turned on the radio, and was rudely interrupted by the announcement of the Panama Papers, latest shocking massive disclosure of the deeply corrupt and secretive economic structures that we, as a civilization, have engineered to divide the strong from the weak, the rich from the poor, and all humans from our natural Earth home.
And, most likely, once again, our deep, unrecognized grief over how humans have so betrayed the better angels of our nature will be acted out unconsciously, into anger, violence, and war.
When will we stop, turn around, and look within? When will we slow down enough to consciously feel our revulsion, and all the other deep feelings? When will we dare to descend into the maelstrom of our “need for revenge,” our “hatred,” our “futility,” our “loss,” our “dread,” our “depression,” to the point where space opens within ourselves for compassion? When will we move our full, embodied awareness down into the hidden springs of our forbidden painful feelings, so that we may learn to sit there with them, be present to them, witness their seemingly continuous or sudden shocking eruption; be with their dreaded ghastly sucking of all that is beautiful into hell on earth; when will we learn to actually stop, sit, breathe into the roiling energy of our feelings, no matter what? When will we gain the courage to move with our grief, open up space for our grief, open our hearts, allow the joy that percolates up to move us, change us, compost us, carry the aliveness of regeneration into all of creation. When?