Saturday, 2 February 2019

Grief is a Doorway

It's 3:23 in the morning and I'm awake because my great great grandchildren won't let me sleep, My great great grandchildren ask me in dreams; "what did you do while the planet was plundered? what did you do when the earth was unraveling?"—Drew Dellinger

"An apprenticeship with sorrow offers us the chance to build our capacity to stay present when the intense feelings of grief arise. Through meaningful rituals, a community of friends, some time in benevolent solitude, and effective practices that help us stretch into our bigger selves, we are offered the opportunity to develop a living relationship with loss. We can recover a faith in grief that recognizes that grief is not here to take us hostage, but instead to reshape us in some fundamental way, to help us become our mature selves, capable of living in the creative tension between grief and gratitude. In so doing, our hearts are ripened and made available for the great work of loving our lives and this astonishing world. It is an act of soul activism." The Wild Edge of Sorrow, Francis Weller

For many the only sane reaction to the news (or the 'not news', as so many broadcasters and newspapers are steadfastly refusing to report on it) of the 6th mass extinction and global heating/climate change - is grief.  I have always referred to grief as "the left hand of love" - for we do not grieve what we do not love.

It is widely acknowledged that there are a number of stages to the process of grief. The first of these is denial - which is where the majority seem to be right now. Perhaps the thinking is "if we ignore it, it might go away", because we don't want it to be true. Ever fibre of our being wants our world to be full of all the beauty there has ever been; all the diversity, all the colours the flavours the different kinds of beingness - all those who are currently dying at a rate of 150 to 200 every single day. It seems inconceivable that one day we might wake up to a world where there are no Polar Bears, Gorillas, Sea Turtles, Orangutans,  Snow Leopards, or Tasmanian Tigers - oh no, wait, there are no Tasmanian Tigers, they've gone. A world where the intricately woven web of life is broken. A world that is so radically changed that it cannot support the lives of those with whom we are consanguine, and it cannot support our lives. A world of famine, and flood. Desertification and starvation.

After denial comes anger. "ANGER is the deepest form of compassion, for another, for the world, for the self, for a life, for the body, for a family and for all our ideals, all vulnerable and all, possibly about to be hurt. Stripped of physical imprisonment and violent reaction, anger is the purest form of care, the internal living flame of anger always illuminates what we belong to, what we wish to protect and what we are willing to hazard ourselves for. What we usually call anger is only what is left of its essence when we are overwhelmed by its accompanying vulnerability, when it reaches the lost surface of our mind or our body’s incapacity to hold it, or when it touches the limits of our understanding. What we name as anger is actually only the incoherent physical incapacity to sustain this deep form of care in our outer daily life; the unwillingness to be large enough and generous enough to hold what we love helplessly in our bodies or our mind with the clarity and breadth of our whole being.

What we have named as anger on the surface is the violent outer response to our own inner powerlessness, a powerlessness connected to such a profound sense of rawness and care that it can find no proper outer body or identity or voice, or way of life to hold it. What we call anger is often simply the unwillingness to live the full measure of our fears or of our not knowing... in the face of simply being alive and loving those with whom we live.

Our anger breaks to the surface most often through our feeling there is something profoundly wrong with this powerlessness and vulnerability… Anger in its pure state is the measure of the way we are implicated in the world and made vulnerable through love in all its specifics.

Anger truly felt at its center is the essential living flame of being fully alive and fully here; it is a quality to be followed to its source, to be prized, to be tended, and an invitation to finding a way to bring that source fully into the world through making the mind clearer and more generous, the heart more compassionate and the body larger and strong enough to hold it. What we call anger on the surface only serves to define its true underlying quality by being a complete but absolute mirror-opposite of its true internal essence." David Whyte on Anger, from his wonderful book 'Consolations'. 

The original model for the stages of grief comes from the work of Elisabeth  Kübler-Ross and David Kessler and was specific to the grief felt by someone who loves someone who is dying or is themselves dying. In this model anger is followed by bargaining, depression and acceptance - these pre-suppose that the final outcome is unavoidable and acceptance, therefore, is the only sane destination. As this model relates to our grief for our Earth and for the lives of other Earth-dwellers, ourselves and our descendants - the outcome is not necessarily certain, and at the same time completely, unavoidably, definitely certain. We will all die - there's no getting round it. The Earth will die one day. BUT, we're not dead yet, and now, although the diagnosis is bad and the prognosis is not much better, what's happening is not yet a terminal diagnosis. We haven't been given a date to organise our funerals by, we've been given an opportunity to carry on and become very ill, very fast, or change our ways now and have a future which might include an ease-full old age.

So out of anger - righteous, heartful anger - needs to come the bargaining that finds it's expression in action. Action right now. Actions that change the way we live, not only on a personal scale but on a national and international scale. We, the humans, have the power to make a difference to how the next century looks for all of life on earth. But we must do it now.  Or get used to the idea of depression, followed by acceptance, followed by death for the majority of us, and sooner rather than later.

We have everything to gain and nothing to lose but our sense of powerlessness.

Related Poem Content Details

In a dark time, the eye begins to see, 
I meet my shadow in the deepening shade;   
I hear my echo in the echoing wood— 
A lord of nature weeping to a tree. 
I live between the heron and the wren,   
Beasts of the hill and serpents of the den. 

What’s madness but nobility of soul 
At odds with circumstance? The day’s on fire!   
I know the purity of pure despair, 
My shadow pinned against a sweating wall.   
That place among the rocks—is it a cave,   
Or winding path? The edge is what I have. 

A steady storm of correspondences! 
A night flowing with birds, a ragged moon,   
And in broad day the midnight come again!   
A man goes far to find out what he is— 
Death of the self in a long, tearless night,   
All natural shapes blazing unnatural light. 

Dark, dark my light, and darker my desire.   
My soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly,   
Keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I? 
A fallen man, I climb out of my fear.   
The mind enters itself, and God the mind,   
And one is One, free in the tearing wind.

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