Malidoma Somé writes in The Healing Wisdom of Africa, that “challenge or crisis is cosmologically and spiritually symptomatic of a rise in fire. When someone is in crisis, regardless of the nature of the crisis, that person is said to be returning to fire.”
All of us at some time in our lives, return to the fires of grief.
When we think of grief we often associate it with death and dying. Whether it is the loss of a pet, friend or family member. In recent times, grieving has universal appeal as we suffer alongside those who’ve lost loved ones in natural disasters, terrorist acts, acts of violence at home and around the world. However, grieving is not just about death, we grieve a wide variety of losses throughout our lives including:
A loved one dies, be it a child lost in infancy, a spouse or partner from chronic illness, a dear friend who commits suicide, a parent, a brother, a sister or a family pet. Death comes to us all, sometimes unexpectedly, leaving us unprepared to face the loss. There is the loss of a relationship that ends through divorce, separation or relocation. Whatever the source of the loved lost, it brings us to the gateway of grief.
Some of the most famous words about dreams was uttered by Dr Martin Luther King in his 1963 speech entitled “I Have A Dream”. Lauded as the “dream that inspired a nation”, Dr. King inspired us to dream big, to dream of what is possible, despite it’s seeming impossibility. Dr. King went on to speak about unfulfilled dreams, declaring that “so many of us in life start out building temples: temples of character, temples of justice, temples of peace. And so often we don’t finish them.”
Not all of us have dreams as grandiose as the end to racism in America or world peace. Almost all of us dream of having good health, financial independence, more time to spend with our families or doing the things we love, less stress in our lives, more joy and personal fulfillment.
Dr. King continued to say that “life is like Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony”, as so often our dreams never come to fruition. So we grieve those dreams that continue to elude realization.
In a recent study, researchers found that Americans appear to have hundreds of friends on Facebook and email dozens of people within a day, but have no one to turn to when it really matters. In a sense, says a Washington Times reporter, “if close social relationships support people in the same way that beams hold up buildings, more and more Americans appear to be dependent on a single beam.”
It’s no wonder that Thich Nhat Hanh, Buddhist monk and teacher predicts that “the next Buddha will not take the form of an individual. The next Buddha may take the form of a community; a community practicing understanding and loving kindness, a community practicing mindful living. This may be the most important thing we can do for the survival of the earth.”
For generations, community served a vital role in terms of offering social support, a sense of identity and belonging. As our modern society moves faster and more detached from each other, it becomes more challenging to feel any sense of community, any sense of collective oneness and interdependence. This growing isolation leads to loneliness, depression and not to mention an increase in violent behavior and addictions. And so we grieve the growing loss of the collective bonds towards a shared survival.
Elder Malidoma reveals that in his tradition, “community is not formed only by the living, community extends to the realm of the dead.” This realm of the dead houses those who’ve preceded us, our ancestors and “as long as our ancestors are still suffering within us, we cannot be truly happy,” adds Thich Nhat Hanh.
Residing within each of us are the embers of our ancestral past, memories inscribed in our bones by those who’ve gone before us. For many of people, those memories inflict a “wounding of the soul” implanted by genocide, colonization, slavery, war, abuse – passing from generation to generation. These suppressed memories often manifest as rage, violence, abuse, addictions, illness, apathy, low self esteem to name a few.
Researcher Paula Noel Macfie, PhD., found healing from addictions and uncontrollable anger by reconnecting with her ancestral past. She discovered that “the search is over once we acknowledge that we come from Ancestors, we have Ancestors and they are within us, as we come from them. We have a history, lineage and language that is long forgotten, yet within us to remember. We must heal the memory of colonization and genocide within our genealogical tribal bloodlines, so that we can offer this medicine to restore our part of the balance in the world.”
There is joy in grieving.
Water is the element that counteracts the raging fires of grief within us and water rituals help to release the accumulation of pent up grief. “The distress of the person drifting toward or into fire is a plea for the radically reconciling introduction of water”, says Malidoma. “In my village, emotion is ritualized because it is seen as a sacred thing. If addressed within a sacred space, the emotions of grief can provide powerful relief and healing. Any time the feeling of loss arises there is an energy that demands ritual in order to allow reconciliation and the return of peace. These are crises that water rituals can resolve.”
He goes on to say that “in order to do a water ritual effectively, one needs a community. There are few personal water rituals, as the Dagara people don’t comprehend the idea of private grief. Grief is a community problem because the person who is sick belongs to the entire community. Just as a wound on your leg cannot be approached as the leg’s problem alone, but must be treated as a problem for the entire body, a person in a village who is sick with grief sickens the rest of the village. ”
The water of our tears provide the healing force for expression and release of grief. Western culture, however, is uncomfortable with outward expressions of grief. Many of us were taught that it is improper and perhaps, a sign of weakness, to wail, cry or in any way show our emotions in front of others. Yet, the healing effects of our tears and cries of grief will not be fully realized if it’s just a private or internal activity. Grief has an energy of its own, and without expression it can turn against us becoming toxic energy that affects our mental, emotional and even physical beings.
© 2014 Aamirah Branch, Ancestral Wisdom Bridge Foundation