Well, a lot has been happening since my last post. I started this article on January 10 2021, five days after the mob attacked the capital. Two months later I’m on it again.
Even as I’ve been diligently avoiding writing this blog, I’ve still taken time here and there to see what rings my bell most consistently out of the murk of my avoidance.
As is often the case with me, the subject that calls to me is the Power of Grief and the Power of Love. I suspect that many of you who have had losses of people you love, perhaps parts of yourselves you’ve lost, know what I’m talking about.
Grief and Love are inseparable. You can’t have one without the other. There’s a point where in our attempts to not grieve we can also shut down our love.
Put simply, if we allow ourselves to love, we’re gonna feel.
Bayo Akomolafe, the Nigerian professor, therapist and philosopher, and to me an important voice in the healing of racial and gender trauma, observed that Sanctuary is a place where we can be safe enough to feel unsafe. Safe enough to grieve. Safe enough to cry cleanly and ferociously without being judged, controlled-tamed. From that moist soil of vulnerability, the seeds of our next greening are germinated.
Ideally in our intimate relationships we can offer and be given that sanctuary, that safe place to be vulnerable and real. For the most part, we’re a long way from being able to do that well, but it’s a pretty worthy goal.
For me, a lot of my inner work is about creating space in my belly, heart and breath for the difficult emotions like grief and anger to, not only be felt, but to be invited into a sanctuary of belonging. Admittedly this sort of invitation is counter-intuitive to the way we’re wired to avoid pain, and it’s taken me a lot of years of practice, particularly in the midst of devastation, to be able to embody this sort of radical practice. But boy, when the frightened and judgmental ones inside of me get that not only is there a safe place inside of me for them, but that they are welcomed, their stories change.
Their stories change. That’s big. Befriended, their wild and primal energies integrate into the flow of life force.
It took a long time to get here, and it will always require a degree of conscious attention. And yes, this is a practice of Mindfulness.
I think this sort of practice is best approached a little bit at a time, and requires self-compassion and a great deal of patience.
With the rising popularity of mindfulness and meditation practices there are problems that are showing up with some people being re-traumatized by the mindfulness and meditation practices. For example, there’s an important part of mindfulness and meditation practice where it’s about staying longer with observing difficult emotions and thoughts. But if the one trying to meditate is a woman who is traumatized by the death of her baby a month ago, staying with the feelings can re-trigger the trauma and cause significant damage. Too much too soon.
There is a very real zone of tolerance within which what we can decently handle what’s going on. If we go over that zone of tolerance we enter into, in trauma terms, hyper-arousal. Fight. Flight. Freak-out. If we go below the zone of tolerance we fall into hypo-arousal. Freeze. Collapse. Appease. When there’s trauma, that zone of tolerance can be very narrow, and absolutely needs to be respected.
Basically, what I’m saying here is, as much as I’m extolling the value of the Love and Grief journey, be gentle. No need to push it. Fortunately, there is a growing awareness of the necessity of trauma sensitive mindfulness.
Returning to the Power of Grief and the Power of Love, what is the Power of Grief? It’s loving. It’s caring. It’s vulnerability and wholeness. It’s a universal shared experience of common humanity. Grief is unavoidable and necessary. Perhaps one of the most potent blessings of the Power of Love is this open, spacious place within, where there is a place of belonging for all that comes with the human experience.
I’ll end with this discussion about grief and love with two quotes.
“I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.”
– James Baldwin
“There are no words that will comfort you” a wise person told a grieving man. “but I will sit here with you. I will listen to you of you want to talk, and I will be quiet when you want to sit in silence. I am not afraid of your grief.
– Jeanie Miley