Grieving is Medicine

Everything seems normal here. 

I can hear the guy who lives across the street fixing up the garden shed he’s been working on for months. 

The sparrows are a riot in the tangled threads of Russian Vine spilling over into our garden from next door. 

I’m just back from taking my youngest to school, all excited with his new friends. 

I’m also sipping my decaf coffee, but that’s where the unease hits me. Yes, I got my milk from supposedly happy cows who live just up the valley. But the coffee itself has come from half way around the world, and I cannot shake the sense of unease about that. It’s not really OK with me any more. I know too much. I know that the destruction of the natural world is a horror unfolding beyond the scale of what I can imagine, and I know that my nice shiny pack of coffee is part of the problem, fairtrade or not.

I take another sip. 

The headlines in the Guardian this morning: a third of acute beds in some children’s wards are filled with kids who are not ill, but just don’t have anywhere else to go. The care system here is completely breaking down. 

This story gets to me way more than my coffee. When children are getting hurt, it’s about the most profound ‘wrong’ I know of. 

As Stephen Jenkinson asks, what sound would we expect from someone awakening into full consciousness at this time? A gasp of awe and wonder at the beauty of life and the magnificence of creation? No, right now, it would be a sob. 

A sob of grief. For me, grief is never very far away right now, and that’s coming at a time when I’m happier in myself and in my home than I’ve ever been. But I cannot look at what’s happening without something breaking in my heart. The breakdown is heartbreaking.

We are (I am) so solutions-focused: immediately the question comes, what can I do? What can I do to help? 

What if we can’t solve this with the same kind of thinking that created it? What if it’s solutions-focused thinking that has got us where we are today?

In that case, instead of looking for solutions, we could stop. Stop and feel. Feel the grief. 

That’s a big ask. Grief is not just sorrow, it’s more than that. It’s a feeling-state that mixes intense sorrow with pain, despair and rage and anger, with good doses of fear and consequent denial mixed in; a mélange that is underpinned by the love of all we hold dear. Maybe it’s more than feelings too, including perceptions such as “There’s no way out”. 

What if that’s the truth? What if there is no way out, and we’ll have to go through? Through the pain of everything we’ve depended upon and loved being mashed up in the maw of the biggest tidal wave this world has seen since the dinosaurs left?  

Through the agony of knowing that we’re collectively responsible. 

But if grief is a feeling-state mix, what is grieving? What does it take to grieve? What if it’s more than allowing the feeling to be felt, more even than allowing it to be expressed? What if grieving was an art — a gesture of loving generosity, that is in itself medicine for the times that the grief arises from?

“Turn your suffering into art” Gabrielle Roth used to say, and I agree. We can turn grief into art on the dance floor, and I guess everyone who’s been to a workshop or two with me knows how to do that. 

But we have to go further than that. We have to find ways to give out there in the world. To create a little beauty in the midst of breakdown. We have to learn how to grieve as a way to give. 

To feel the feelings is the first thing. To let them come through us in the moment so the grief shows, that’s the next step. But the third step is to let the grief move us in the world somehow. My writing today is my attempt in this moment. I’m going to find other ways, too. It’s not enough to tend to our own feelings. The world needs us. There are so many people out there who are in agony. You probably know some of them. 

What can we do to help? What can you do? How can your grief find expression in a way that is generous? Even if it’s only heard by your local woodland, that’s great. I do that often, taking my movement practice to the forest, I grieve there, and I’m sure I’m heard. 

What about you? 

The wave is breaking. We’re on it, and there’s no escaping it. 

Mars? Dream on. I don’t think so. The grief of living on Mars as a pioneer would be an echo of the grief that the early settlers in America carried with them, having run from their uninhabitable homelands in Europe. That undigested grief of those settlers has partly fuelled the very destruction that’s now ravaging the whole planet, and on Mars, it would surely be unfathomably greater. Who has the emotional depth and maturity to go through that loss? Not many of us, if any. Not Elon Musk, as far as I can tell. 

The wave is breaking, and we’re falling. Better learn how to surrender. Better learn how to grieve with everything we have, and more. Better learn how to submit to the truth that we are not in control, and hurting beyond anything we have the capacity to think our way out of. That we’re hurting because we love what we’re destroying. We love this earth, we love our children, and we’re damaging both.

Grief is real, because the destruction is real. The destruction is real. It’s happening. We’re losing too many of our forests, and we’re losing too many of our children. Grieving can be medicine, because it opens us to the strange paradoxical beauty of our humanity with all its tenderness and creative wonder. And this is the breakthrough that’s happening alongside the breakdown.

The new growth is in our common humanity and our willingness to cherish that. Grief is the doorway through, from the breakdown to the breakthrough. We have to learn to grieve. Together. For the sake of the children. Not ourselves so much as the ones who are coming next. To open our hearts to the pain and beauty now, and grieve for what we love. 

My coffee has gone cold. The unease remains, though a little more focused for having managed to write to you. Thank you for reading this far. Really. Thank you. Go well… 

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