It's Time to Set a Place for Grief and Loss at Our Community Table
By Rose Diamond
With COP26 in full swing in Glasgow, Scotland, I invite you to join me in these few pages to take a look at why it is important to consider grief when we are thinking of solutions to our climate, ecological and humanitarian crises.
Here's why I believe we must do so:
1. Grief is a natural response to the multiple, interwoven, deeply rooted problems we are all facing.
2. One of the underlying root causes of the behaviour that has led to climate change is a profound sense of separation from life itself and the sources of renewal within us.
3. Grief is easily covered by avoidance behaviours such as distraction and psychological numbing so that many people are not aware when they are experiencing grief. Nor do they have the language or the confidence to express and explore their grief.
4. Grief that is not named, expressed and attended to becomes a heavy burden which weighs us down, blocks the flow of life force, deprives us of our full power, and negatively impacts our well-being physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.
5. When given space and the encouragement to explore our grief in community, a more vital connection to self, to others, to life, and to new creative possibilities, emerges.
Here's a presentation Rose made to Pivot Projects
Grief that is not expressed, that cannot find a voice, that is not seen and witnessed - grief that is held in, locked down, swept under the carpet - tends to separate, isolate and debilitate.
In isolation grief turns to doubt, to feelings of inadequacy, to shame and blame, hopelessness and despair. Meaning, purpose, confidence and motivation ebb away.
The emotions of grief can be so intense, so raw, tender and vulnerable, so overwhelming, it is difficult to find the words to tell one another what we are experiencing, or to find any meaning within ourselves. This is true whether it is a personal grief such as the death of a loved one; news of a life threatening illness; a response to the loss of wild nature and environmental well-being; or the heart-break of humanitarian crises such as that in Afghanistan. Even between close partners and family members failures of communication and feelings of separation can be difficult to bridge and may become compounded with resentment.
Grief scares us because it can open us to non-ordinary states of consciousness. The shock of a sudden death, catastrophe, or loss, can throw us out of the everyday habitual reality of doing, getting and managing, into a more mysterious, boundary-less and timeless space. This upsets the applecart of “normality” and renders us fragile, disoriented and confused about what is real. For some, this mysterious dimension of consciousness can open into a sense of the sacredness of life and reveal the interconnectedness in which our lives are embedded. This in turn leads to insights and gifts which make us wiser, more resilient, more compassionate and more courageous. Once we have realised the interconnectedness of life and our place within it, there is no other sane choice but to serve that interconnection by choosing to align with life’s natural creative momentum.
Grief remains the dark stranger in our midst
I was born and raised and have lived much of my life in secular Britain and that is one of the cultural contexts which informs my perspective. Here, there have been no communal rituals to mark death, other than the funeral. Most working people may be given a day off to grieve the death of a family member and then told to “pull yourself together” and hurry back to busy-ness as usual. Staying “too long” with raw feelings and delicate emotions, or taking time to rest and turn inwards, are judged as self-indulgent.
When we are encouraged to supress our grief what happens then? Where does the energy of grief go? Where does grief live in the body and the mind and the spirit? And how does unattended grief affect us as we go forward?
The first funeral I attended was for my maternal grandmother when I was twelve years old. I remember travelling back from the service with my mother, father and brother. My mother was crying and attempting to stifle her tears. I felt a strong desire to reach out and take her hand, to comfort her. But I held back because we didn’t do that in my family, we didn’t touch each other or say “I love you”. I regret to this day that I did not break that taboo but I was frozen. That is how many people are around grief – we don’t know what to say or what to do, we are awkward, clumsy, embarrassed, afraid. Perhaps we want to shut other people’s grief down because we can’t bear the discomfort of feeling our own.
Although this cultural frozen-ness is slowly thawing, still grief remains the dark stranger in our midst that we are too afraid to embrace. Isolation, separation and judgmentalism around grief persist.
We are in the grips of an epidemic of unprocessed grief and a tsunami of loss
For the last 21 years I have been studying, as a whole person educator and author, the inner psycho-spiritual shifts in consciousness and the cultural transitions and transformations we are moving through collectively. Six years ago this exploration deepened into exploring grief – my own and the grief of many others. Although I have read deeply and given and received thousands of hours of personal, professional and spiritual training, this has not been an academic study. I have gained understanding and knowledge from the inside out by becoming aware of my inner, psycho-spiritual world and then working closely with the inner worlds of many others. I’ve held some 150 recorded conversations with “ordinary extraordinary people” - it’s one of the things I most enjoy - and I’ve also initiated many forums for deep conversation in community. It has been my privilege to bring people together in intentional groups where we can discover a common language to express and explore our experiences of living through these tumultuous and ever challenging times. Through this process we find a treasure trove of solace and inspiration together. These conversations are testimony to how the sadness and heartache of loss can draw out some of the finest aspects of our humanity. I am always surprised by the wisdom, intelligence and insights that come through when two or more people hold the intention for open inquiry and discovery. This points to a hunger for this kind of meaningful connection as well as to a higher consciousness that is readily available when we take the time and space to be present and listen.
Through this exploration of sitting with death and choosing life, I have come to the conclusion that we are suffering an epidemic of unprocessed grief that is, in all likelihood, just as life threatening as covid. What collective liberation might arise if grief was given the same air space in the media, in government, boardrooms, community meetings and in families, as has been given to the pandemic?
Loss is a natural part of human life and comes in many forms
When I speak of grief I am not talking only of bereavement at the death of a loved one. Here are some of the losses we are facing collectively at this time:
· The loss of any sense of safety and basic security as the ice caps melt, the seas rise, the rivers flood and the forests burn;
· The rapid erosion of civil liberties and personal freedoms we have taken for granted as we disappear behind masks and into lockdown, as we are kept apart from our dying loved ones;
· The loss of the welfare state, the right to free health care and affordable housing;
· The loss of secure livelihood and any sense of being a valued member of society;
· The loss of personal control and a sense of the reliability of life as petrol becomes unavailable, planes are grounded and holiday destinations are out of bounds; all of which undermines our plans and makes it difficult to envision a future.
· The loss of hope and humanity as witnessed in the migrant crisis;
· The heart-breaking loss of natural habitat and wildlife, for example, the destruction of the Amazon rainforest and the indigenous cultures and animals who have had their home there for centuries;
· The junking of the seas; the poisoning of the rivers; the mass extinction of species;
· The loss of freedom to walk the streets for fear of the brutality of racial injustice, violence against women and fundamentalist terrorist attacks ;
· The loss of justice in the growing gap between rich and poor;
· The loss of truth and inspiring, trustworthy leadership in politics;
· The loss of belonging to community, to land and to ancestors; including the loss of cultural diversity and language;
· The loss of belonging to something much bigger, more mysterious and sacred than the pursuit of individual goals and material desires.
And this, of course, is not to mention the personal losses that happen in any life. How do we bear all this? What do we do with our feelings in response to the overwhelming tragic losses and destruction in our world? Where does our emotional energy go if we don’t allow it and release it? How can we move forward if we don’t speak our grief to others? How might our consciousness change if we were safely held and witnessed in our personal grief and in our grief for the world?
Even for those of us who are committed to living a life of service and creative contribution - who are intent on being part of the solution rather than part of the problem, who aspire to embody the inner peace, wisdom and compassion our world so desperately needs
- it takes a strong intention and the support of others on a similar path to maintain a state of equilibrium through these times of repeated bad news..
At the root of the climate crisis and the extinction crisis is a profound disconnection from the source of life. In our Western culture, over the centuries we have become progressively divorced from our connection with nature, community, body and soul. Our governments, armies and industries have then spread this dis-ease of fragmentation by destroying other cultures who have had a deeper knowing of how all life is interconnected and the ecosystems which support us. This disconnection, which has been conditioned in us over centuries and is deeply embedded in our psyches, includes disconnection from self – from feelings, from heart and soul, from our own sense of agency, power and truth and from the body; disconnection from others – from empathy, compassion, fellow feeling, care, community; disconnection from the earth and the other beings and miraculous eco-systems with whom we share the earth; disconnection from a sense of the sacred, from a bigger meaning, purpose, sense of belonging and wonder.
This essential alienation from life, when combined with overwhelming inequality and poverty and the ever widening gap between the super wealthy minority and the majority who struggle to survive, mixed with fear of otherness, ignorance and aggression, is a lethal combination which now threatens us all. This lethal threat is now waking us up to the urgent need to change our ways.
Ironically, grief is a way back to connection. Grief connects us with what is real and true. Our losses show us what matters and pull back the veil of habit and conditioned thought to reveal a shared, vulnerable and interconnected humanity.
“Grief also reveals the undeniable reality of our bond with the world. Whatever fiction we carry that allows us to feel separate and insulated. The overwhelming suffering we feel during events such as the Gulf Coast oil spill and the World Trade Centre tragedy – or any violation to our local community or the land we love - reminds us of our intimate connections. It is grief that offers us a way to respond in situations such as these. It is grief that moves us in the direction of contact, toward the helping hands and embrace of others. We need grief in order to heal these traumas and make sense of a world turned upside down. Remembering the wisdom of grief allows us to cultivate faith in a deeper pulse within the soul… Through this we are able to lean in to the world and trust the deeper currents that move through all things.” Francis Weller, The Wild Edge of Sorrow, North Atlantic Books.
Exploring Creative Solutions
Through the explorations of grief I have been initiating through The Sitting with Death and Choosing Life Programme, I have come to the following hypotheses regarding how we may move from the debilitating and potentially life-threatening effects of unattended grief to renewed creativity and positive action for change:
· The skills for transforming loss are very simple and natural and yet, as a culture, we’ve moved away from the simplicity of knowing how to be with ourselves and with each other when we’re hurting. Whereas indigenous cultures grieve in community, in the western world much of the work of healing and transformation has typically been a very private and personal affair. We have disappeared behind closed doors with a therapist or groped our way, blind and alone, slowly through pain and suffering back into light and expansion.
· When we face into loss and make space for grief, we can find within ourselves new strength, endurance, forgiveness and compassion. Loss can awaken in us the motivation to transcend our limitations, free our higher potential and open us to the full range of our human experience. This, in turn, enables us to live more fully and to experience more joy and connection with others.
· Grief is an energetic, whole-person process which unfolds in its own timing and can’t be hurried. Each person’s grieving is unique and individual and yet there is also a process at work which is transpersonal and part of our shared humanity.
· Most of us don’t grieve well because we don’t know how. We haven’t been taught that grieving is an important part of healing and essential for our well-being. Perhaps we don’t fully understand the natural process of healing or how to allow and release the powerful energy of the emotions in safe and appropriate ways, so that it may flow through us and complete its momentum. Many of us see emotions as troublesome and unpredictable eruptions that need to be controlled, rather than as an expression of the creative life force with powerful work to do. When we suppress our life force, over time, suffering is inevitable and we become mentally and physically unbalanced and progressively unwell.
· To support its natural unfolding grief requires space, intention, encouragement, understanding, community and skills. 1
· Grief that is not expressed and released remains in the body and the mind and can block the healthy flow of our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being and creativity, causing stress, ill-health and addiction. 2, 3, 4, 5
· When people are brought together in small, safely held groups with the encouragement and permission to explore death, dying, grief and loss through inquiry and conversation, the dense energy of grief can soon be transmuted into the uplifting energy of confidence, inspiration and creativity. 6,7
Such groups become little islands of coherence in a sea of chaos; a sacred space where we can replenish ourselves before we take our next step into creative action.
“Small islands of coherence in a sea of chaos can lift the whole system to a higher order.” Barbara Marx Hubbard. 8
Based upon these hypotheses I have created, and am now running, the Sitting with Death and Choosing Life Programme9 . The foundation of our practice is Deep Discovery Conversations. Our inquiries from a state of presence are one of many similar practices emerging over the last two or three decades invented by thought leaders such as David Bohm (dialogue); Peter Senge, Otto Scharmer, Joseph Jaworski and Betty Sue Flowers (presencing and Theory U); Arnold Mindell (deep democracy); Craig Hamilton (the “we space”); Tom Atlee (co-intelligence); John Heron (co-operative inquiry), David Cooperrider and Diana Whitney (appreciative inquiry), Juanita Brown and David Isaacs(World café), Sandra Janoff and Marvin Weisbord (Future Search) Patricia Albere (mutual awakening), Jeff Careira, (collective emergence) Thomas Hubl (transparent communication), and many more.
All of these slightly different methods of inquiry and dialogue have grown out of the growing awareness that:
As a conscious, choice-making species, we need intentional spaces in which we can access our deepest collective wisdom and co-creative possibilities.
A practice, which aligns individual desires, values and actions with the well-being of the greater wholes of which we are part, is essential for the next stage of our species evolution and for our survival on planet Earth.
The challenges we face cannot be solved by individuals or even by select groups coming up with answers for the rest of us – this is the old paradigm approach of top-down, “power-over” which has produced the current devastation of the natural world and maintained social injustices within the civic world.
In the emerging new paradigm culture, individual expertise and skill have their parts to play and are applied within a shared understanding that each of us is part of the problem and of the solution. We all carry within us sparks of creative genius which can transcend and transform our problems.
We can find ways to engage in discovering - together - some of the solutions that are needed.
Empowered, creative action is hopefully the end result of our coming together for this adventure.
This year the Sitting with Death and Choosing Life programme is supported by a grant from the Emergence Foundation 10. My intention is to use this support to connect with people who feel a resonance with the work and who would like to become facilitators of our various courses. I am currently gathering a group for Deep Discovery Conversations, Awakening Community Wisdom for a New Era. Go here for more information: https://www.tribeintransition.net/deep-discovery-conversations-awakening-community-wisdom-for-a-new-era/ and please contact me about this now if you are interested in participating. Or, if you would like to support in other ways so that we can see the spread of this valuable resource to those who need it the most, I would love to hear from you.
Rose Diamond: My own inquiry into how to grieve well began following the death of my closest friend, Woods, in December 2015; and then six months later, the passing of my brother, David, my last family member. My work in transforming grief and loss draws on 25 years’ experience as a gestalt therapist, as a trainer of counsellors and psychotherapists, and as a whole person educator. I have also initiated innovative approaches to training community and health practitioners in the skills for resourcefully and humanely participating in a changing world. A lifelong fascination with the creative process, a passion for writing and the process of personal and collective liberation have motivated me to approach life as a creative and spiritual adventure. I currently live in Wales, UK https://www.tribeintransition.net
1. Support for grief: https://www.helpguide.org/articles/grief/coping-with-grief-and-loss.htm
2. Grief and community: “It is almost indescribable the way grief shifts in the moment it is expressed out loud. In that brief encounter, one's grief becomes the world's grief. Although pain-staking and lonely, grief is an invisible thread that connects all of our hearts. It has the power to redefine humanity.” https://www.huffpost.com/entry/grieving-in-community_b_9371060
3. Grief, stress and addiction. One example of is the link between grief/stress and increased alcohol consumption during lockdown. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/alcohol-consumption-and-harm-during-the-covid-19-pandemic/monitoring-alcohol-consumption-and-harm-during-the-covid-19-pandemic-summary
4. “Almost every loss, no matter how expected, will be accompanied by stress and disorientation. In the words of a report from the National Mental Health Association, "The loss of a loved one is life's most stressful event." https://consumer.healthday.com/encyclopedia/depression-12/depression-news-176/grief-and-stress-646074.html
5. Grief and ill-health. Grief increases inflammation, which can worsen health problems you already have and cause new ones. It batters the immune system, leaving you depleted and vulnerable to infection. The heartbreak of grief can increase blood pressure and the risk of blood clots. Intense grief can alter the heart muscle so much that it causes "broken heart syndrome," a form of heart disease with the same symptoms as a heart attack. https://www.webmd.com/special-reports/grief-stages/20190711/how-grief-affects-your-body-and-mind; https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/ss/slideshow-grief-health-effects
6. On Community and Creative Leadership: See Margaret Wheatley, https://medium.com/together-institute/10-principles-for-healthy-communities-by-meg-wheatley-6466fe1d070d
From Twenty-Four Principles and Practices of Presencing for Leading Profound Change, . https://inclusive-solutions.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/24_principles.pdf
7. Grief and Creativity. “Turning to creativity has been proven in extensive research to relieve both stress and anxiety. Creativity also helps lessen the shame, anger, and depression felt by those who have experienced trauma.” https://www.verywellmind.com/how-creativity-positively-impacts-your-health-5113162
8. Conscious Evolution, Barbara Marx Hubbard, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8LzJr0zAdG8
9. The Sitting with Death and Choosing Life Programme: https://www.tribeintransition.net/the-sitting-with-death-and-choosing-life-programme-overview/
10. The Emergence Foundation: https://emergencefoundation.uk/