It is Winter. The waters are frozen. The trees are bare. The heart is still as the season of death descends and the sound of grief echoes in the quiet sleeping garden of the soul.
Winter is characterized by water, the healing water of tears. We invite the ancestors in the Fall and in the Winter we allow our grief to swell and emerge.
Not just any tears, but the sacred tears of measured grief offered to the ancestors once and for all. This is the essential lesson of the Winter season.
It is our practice of the small deaths that prepare us not only for Death, but for Life itself.
In Africa regular and communal grieving maintains the sanctity of the village. According to Sobonfu Somé of the Dagara people:
In Africa, you never ask if one has finished grieving, but rather if one needs to grieve. Like asking yourself if you need to eat, or bathe, or clean-up the house. What might life be like if we regularly asked ourselves and each other, “Do I (you) need to grieve?” and we knew our need to grieve would be met, not with disdain and avoidance, but with open armed support and assistance, sincere acceptance and even gratitude.
According to Sobonfu, grief is not personal, but communal. When we allow for grieving we create healthy vibrant and free communities.
Martin Prechtel writes about grief from the perspective of his time living in, and being initiated into, a small Guatemalan Village:
…true initiations would be impossible until the modern world surrenders to the grief of its origins and seeks a true comprehension of the sacred… That hunger is an emptiness that should be wept into, grieved about, instead of blocked and filled up. (Prechtel, Long Life, Honey in the Heart, p.356)
I was at a talk recently about Depression and Amino Acid Therapy. After an initial appreciation of the possibility of decreasing depression with a simple protocol of targeted amino acids, I started contemplating it in the context of Winter and the lesson of grief.
What would I do without my grief, my connection to despair and melancholy?
I might be more happy and successful. I might feel more comfortable and accomplished and outgoing. But I would also miss something. It was then that I had an epiphany. What if the increasing epidemic of depression, stress and overwhelm is an expression of our lack of grieving?
What if our brain chemistry suffers when grief is held in the body unexpressed?
This is not to say that Amino Acid Therapy is useless, but rather it is a temporary therapeutic relief measure. Perhaps until we get to the underlying grief, we will not free ourselves or our world from the stuckness of depression, the lashing out of overwhelm, and the decrease in human resilience resulting from stress.
Even the bible speaks to the healing power of grief:
Thus says the LORD of hosts: “Consider and call for the mourning women, that they may come; and send for skillful wailing women, that they may come. Let them make haste and take up a wailing for us, that our eyes may run with tears, and our eyelids gush with water . . .” (Jeremiah 9, v 17-18)
It goes on, “Yet hear the word of the LORD, O women, And let your ear receive the word of His mouth; Teach your daughters wailing . . .“ (Jeremiah 9, v 20)
If we are called to be mourning women and to teach our daughters grieving, how do we do it without wallowing, being overwhelmed or socially awkward? How do we open the door to grief in a way that actually helps our children?
Five Ways to Get Started
The Five Minute Rule: As you journey through your day leave space for grief. When you see or hear something sad, resist rushing through the sensation of grief, but offer it a full five minutes. Let your tears well up and flow. Trust that your grief will show you the way, that your tears will open the doors of the Palace.
Build a Grief Altar: Choose a small spot to honor the water of grief. Print out the image at the top of this article and put it on your Grief Altar to remind yourself of the sacredness and healing power of grief. Ask your children to help you add things that symbolize tears. Talk to them about how crying is necessary and that is helps pain go away.
Honor the Tears of Others: Give space to those who offer their vulnerability and tears. Stop judging and fearing them and learn how to sit with intense emotions. Let your friends know you are there for their tears, and reach out and share your tears sometimes too.
Share this Article: Introduce the idea of embracing grief and allowing it to pass through you. Research the healing power of grief and share this article. Let’s show the world that the mourning women (and men) are not lost, but available and busy with the tears of the world.
Cry in Public: Start by noticing your tendency to hide your tears and grief. Once in awhile allow your children, your family and friends, and maybe even a few strangers to see that you are or have been crying. Be prepared to teach others the Wisdom of Weeping.
This kind of grieving is not crying over spilled milk, nor is it any other kind of weakness. Rather, it is a Weeping for the World that is accessed through our own personal pain and our empathy with the pain of others. When we really allow ourselves the right to grieve it is transformed into a river of healing leading right to the feet of the Divine.
The Well of Grief
Those who will not slip beneath
The still surface on the well of grief
Turning downward through its black water
To the place we cannot breathe
Will never know the source from which we drink,
The secret water, cold and clear,
Nor find in the darkness glimmering
The small round coins
Thrown by those who wished for something else.
Join me in opening to grief, its depth, its wisdom and its healing. Join me at the feet of the Divine in the Palace of Weeping and let’s dream up a new world.
* This article was originally published in 2012, Rhythm of the Home