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  • Julie Von Nonveiller Cairnes

Wandering In The Wilderness:

Updated: Nov 19, 2020

In A World Gone Half Mad With Grief And Outrage


“It’s our unexpressed sorrows, the congested stories of loss, that, when left unattended, block our access to the soul. It’s about how sorrow carves riverbeds in our soul, deepening us as it flows in and out of our lives.”

— Francis Weller, The Wild Edge of Sorrow


Mike Ko | Snoqualmie Falls, Snoqualmie, United States | Unsplash


Death & Dying & Our Grieving Ways

Opening up to the common wound

When the darkness all ‘round us is deep — in a world dangerously asleep, we suffer in such a world — we who’ve awoken to a different real. A separate reality.

This is not to judge the sleeping still resting within their comfort zone, but it’s harsh on those who wake up, like Neo, to the bitter truth of what this western world really is these days.


This is not to say we lived and died, exulted and grieved, differently in past lifetimes. Indigenous Celts, Norse and so on certainly had profound and deep rituals that reached into the very womb of the earth and the heart of the stars. But something dark happened in at least the past 200 years as we well know, and the good magic was slaughtered and the truth reviled. And thus resiled.


Yet still extant, the truth speaks from hidden places.


Although our almost unbearable sorrow may sometimes have no words, with no way to express the feelings, the swelling emotions from deep within, yet having a witness to hear, to listen to our grieving is endlessly and profoundly healing.


And so, we wait for the village to come to us as we suffer silently, or sob loudly, wailing or wordless in our grief.


And yet these days, it often does not come, our village simply does not come…


“I Grieve” | Peter Gabriel

The Shock of Grief

“To speak of sorrow works upon it moves it from its crouched place barring the way to and from the soul’s hall.” ― Denise Levertov

There's no doubt about it, the shock of grief places us in an altered state of reality perception. Grief is always around us, permeating the air we breathe and the environments our soul moves within.

Our soul has many powerful and deep longings in how we should live and how we could die, and why shouldn't we fulfil these?


The longing for love to surround us when we move into our period of transition, if we’re passing in a natural way and not through any violent wrenching accident that might takes us suddenly and unprepared.


We have that longing.


The longing for those of us who are left behind after such a loss to have a circle, a village, a tribe, a community, to hear us and for us to hear that we’re not alone, others are going through their own aching, painful emotions, finding it hard to be here but not wanting to go, such thoughts as these.

The building of a very new kind of relationship with the beloved one who has left us, rather than ‘letting them go’.


When someone else’s life ends so does ours — the life we once knew that felt so stable and solid is suddenly gone — our world pulled out from under our very feet.

We have another kind of ‘near-death-experience’.


Rachel Naomi Remen speaks of weaving the loss into and through our life, honouring and respecting the pain of our loss, no matter how large the loss or how small it may seem. And of not comparing the size of our losses, because all have experienced loss, everyone and all.


The need to find our own indigenous roots to succour us, and to believe that it’s not just the African or Native American who have such wonderful traditions, so too do the other indigenous communities.


It’s time for indigenous to mean all people, whether they feel they’re an alien from another world or from here from the beginning, ultimately we have all finally become indigenous to the earth.

Indigenous means ‘originating or occurring naturally in a particular place; native’. (Oxford Dict.)

Reclaiming our own Indigenous roots

“Indigenous peoples are the holders of unique languages, knowledge systems and beliefs and possess invaluable knowledge of practices for the sustainable management of natural resources. They have a special relation to and use of their traditional land.” — UN definition

Iwant to imbue these writings here with passionate com-passion — to somehow convey the urgency for this planet and ourselves to ALL see ourselves as indigenous — star-seeds, alien beginnings or not — for now we have all the earthly elements through and through our entire being, mind body and soul.


You may, as many do now, identify yourself with alien beginnings. But it’s seriously time to own our many lifetimes here. We are as old as the beginnings of time and matter, and yet even older still. We are as old as God. For that is our birth. Right.


We don’t need to learn how to be indigenous from the ancient stewards of this planet.

We ALL have an ancient heritage as deep and profound as the African or Native American. And sadly, often as bloodthirsty and violent, as well as spiritual and blessed.


However the ‘native’ people’s do have much to teach as many are still close to their rituals and medicine and sacred ways, where western man tore itself apart from this heritage.


But once you seek, you will find your shamans and prophetesses, priestesses and priests, medicine men and women, spirit dancers and sacred two-spirits — as an integral part of each and every culture.


Yours included. Whatever it may be.


The west forcefully turned its face and heart away from its own indigenous heritage, and others who remember have reminded us all by now. And it’s high time to turn back. To what is good.

To what truly feeds our soul and others and feeds the earth and the Spirits and our Ancestors.

Holding back the tears

“Depression is when your soul refuses for you to go any further until you have expressed all your sorrow, all your grief” — Weller

I’ve always seen some of the aspects of depression as an unconscious intention to hold a lid on a pressure cooker of emotions, which when loosened, release hot torrents of tears, anger and grief. The effort to hold this lid on such a bubbling cauldron of emotions is incredibly exhausting and debilitating.


But the fear of the pain, of what lies within, that it might be too unbearable for one soul to carry, is the fear that fuels that intention of avoidance.


And weeping and grieving is exhausting, the pain can feel overwhelming and unspeakable, but those who don’t allow such catharsis through, well, this can create ongoing emotional and physical health problems.


If the feelings are unable to be released verbally or through weeping, then metaphor is a wonderful tool — expressing deep and wrenching feelings through dance, art, writing — poetry and paintings.


These symbolic means of releasing powerful blocked emotions allow the natural flow to begin once more in what might be felt to be safer way by the individual, yet ultimately deeply therapeutic.

Solitude may be needed, as may the comforting arms or shoulder of a loved and trusted one, for a moment.


Yes grieving itself is tiring but it’s movement though us like a stormy river should not be dammed nor censored. Revelations arrive as the grieving is unlocked.


But this time of vulnerability holds a deeply innate medicine.


When tears and emotions are withheld, both the heart rate and blood pressure escalate, and the medicinal balm of tears return the body to a state of homeostasis, releasing a natural opiate from within our body’s system. This allows the person in grief to then rest and even sleep once more, as this internal numbing arrives after the release.


‘Some researchers have hypothesized that the release of stress hormones like leu-enkephalin [when weeping] may help regulate the body or bring it back to a homeostatic level.’ — Reena Mukamul


The weeping can be a turning point for a depressed person. But grief contains more than sadness, it holds our anger, despair, outrage, and other powerful reactions to the world. Are we grieving the loss of a loved one, or the dying of a world we love?


Is the grief we feel all about the person we have just lost?


Or does it hold all our griefs, brought together once more in a monumental realisation of what seem to be almost uncontrollable feelings? In truth our grieving is a labour of love, we give birth to understanding of what the soul really is, and what the body really is.


These realisations are awe-inspiring and terrifying — yet not.


And all these things are rememberings — because none of us are stupid. We know, so please don’t let anyone treat you like a fool, because you’re not, and such treatment is derogatory and a debasement of the majesty and grandeur of who and what you really are.


We’ve been ‘round the planet more than once, and even more than a few times.


Some of us choose to forget, but we need to appeal to our deep emotional and intellectual intelligence, our knowing and let the remembering begin. Of how it was, how it is, and how it could be again.


But the truth is we often don’t feel any immediate relief from weeping, for those who can, and in fact the opposite may feel true for a while, where we feel even more exhausted and dilapidated than before….


But just allow this process to continue in its own way and time-frame, as it is debilitating to grieve, but after a time, your energy will pick up again.


So the hidden metaphysical prescription within this process is this:

Give It Time.

Healing Circle | Artist unknown

Circles of Grief

“Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.” — Mary Oliver, Wild Geese

Azul Valerie-Thome speaks of composting the grief into something that brings life once more. Her experience in these groups are of immense quality of connection and heartful openings that last and last way beyond the event.


Where we sit in circle and share what’s sitting heavily within our heart, the burdens of our soul.

Such communal grief-sharing groups can be held in the embracing warmth of darkness or in dimly lit spaces. And as Joanna Macy says, what people are most needing to hear is inside them — their own inner voice, their own inner knowing.


And yet as Valerie-Thome states with such heart, the human need is to not always be grieving alone, but to be witnessed heard and understood — identified with, even. In this, great healing is found.


In such a safe warm place, we can begin to tell the truth about our world — the world within us and without us — and my God we have such a right to grieve it all.

The outer world is all in such a mess, our inner world suffering so deeply. Why not weep for a time?

Michael Lerner, founder and director of Commonweal, speaks of a skilled and experienced person, someone who can skilfully hold the space, without attempting to do healing work and simply allow the talking stick to be passed around the circle and each one to be heard who has a need to be heard.


Or held.


A group of people all weeping simultaneously, is an incredibly powerful experience of sitting together in the ashes of what’s been lost. It’s the balm for the common wound, the shared unspeakable agony.


There’s a powerful natural magic in speaking our despair. Once voiced, we don’t remain in that place, it shifts the energy. When we lose the fear of our own pain and suffering and that of others, and of the world — then we’re empowered and freed of its grip.


This is the beautiful paradox.


Grief is a harsh initiation, a very rough road, we feel ripped and torn by its jagged edges.

But know and remember this — we are the medicine. So — be the medicine!

Wandering in the wilderness: mad with grief

“All is welcome here.” — Azul Thorne’s sign for Grief Composting Circle

The First Noble Truth of Buddhism about life is Duḥkha (Sanskrit:दुःख; Pāli: dukkha) — suffering… there is so much suffering, this is the first Truth. Although some say this translation doesn’t quite convey the very subtle meaning of the word and prefer to leave it wordless.


And isn't this the very nature of true grief and suffering, a wordless feeling that cannot be described, and should not be, even.


Grief is a storm.


A firestorm, or tsunami. Either way we can survive it, though we feel we’re either burning or drowning, held down in the depths by its merciless dark taloned wings.


And in fact, your grief may not in this moment be about the death of a loved one, but the loss of your home in a real firestorm or flood, the loss of a loved and needed job, the loss of a friendship, a heartbreaking betrayal, a razor-sharp meanness — it’s any loss that cuts deep.


But death — the death of another takes us on an unasked for journey into the unknown and the unseen.


And the truth is we’re all destined for the Promised Land, but we need to take this rout to get there. And it’s terrifying.


Let’s admit it.


The spectre of our own mortality and forthcoming death, at some unknown date, time and way, rearing up in our face, is also a large part of our grieving for the very real loss of someone’s beloved presence from our life.

When I die…RUMI Armand Amar & Lévon Minassian — “Araksi artassouken” (The Tears of the River )


When I Die

when my coffin is being taken out you must never think I am missing this world don’t shed any tears don’t lament or feel sorry I’m not falling into a monster’s abyss when you see my corpse is being carried don’t cry for my leaving I’m not leaving I’m arriving at eternal love when you leave me in the grave don’t say goodbye remember a grave is only a curtain for the paradise behind you’ll only see me descending into a grave now watch me rise how can there be an end when the sun sets or the moon goes down it looks like the end it seems like a sunset but in reality it is a dawn when the grave locks you up that is when your soul is freed Have you ever seen a seed fallen to earth not rise with a new life why should you doubt the rise of a seed named human have you ever seen a bucket lowered into a well coming back empty why lament for a soul when it can come back like Joseph from the well when for the last time you close your mouth your words and soul will belong to the world of no place no time

~ Rumi ~

It’s visceral, it’s the smell of dust on the rain

“Tearless grief bleeds inwardly.” — Christian Nevell Bovee

Grief holds us and wants us to travel alone. For a time. The pain of grief is visceral, not purely emotional. At times you feel it travelling like ice cold glass through your veins.


Bringing up any old pain you’ve put to the side, anything you haven’t dealt with will arrive, along with the mountain of pain you’re already feeling, like iron chips to a magnet.


It all comes in like a howling wind that cannot be escaped.


And as the Earth and Heavens do when a great and humble soul leaves, they often put on a show.

When someone we love dies, the relationship is not over.


It just changes. We speak in different ways now. Silently from our heart. And they hear and answer in often surprising ways. They visit us in dreams, or connect through songs on the radio.


Birds fly suddenly beside us for a time as we travel on the highway. For some it’s butterflies.


You just know. Messages come.


And when someone dies suddenly, often part of the grief can be about the unresolved business in the relationship.


With seemingly any opportunity for any resolution gone.


But this is not really so.

Grief has its own time frame.


Never let anyone tell you how long you should grieve. Don’t let them pathologize your pain. It stays and goes in its own time. With no predictable rhythm or rhyme. We do not grieve in straight lines: grief denial anger acceptance.


No.


It’s no linear process. We go around in crazy circles and cycles. We cannot see where the light is or even the tunnel.


But our life continues inexorably and we finally learn to laugh and live again. In our own way and in our own time.


A deeply personal process.

Hungry Souls and Angry Ghosts

“The Lord said: It is the men of sinful actions actuated by their previous misdeeds who become ghosts after death. Please listen to me, I shall tell you in detail.” Garuda Purana, Vedas, verse 2.22.

Buddhist, Taoist, Hindu, Sikh, and Jain texts all describe wrathful demonic entities who are certain dead folks cursed with an insatiable and ravenous hunger or thirst, tortured and tormented with cravings to be ever unsatiated. This manifestation of such an evil afterlife for them came about through their misdeeds in life, and is karmic in nature, according to these scriptures.


Dwelling in dim and shadowy realms they obsessively seek the type of food in accordance with their karmic debt, their hunger never to be fulfilled.


In Japan the Jikininki are cursed to eat corpses and the Gaki to eat fecal matter, and in Christian lore, the Grigori are tormented creatures with no mouths, displaced souls eternally wandering and seeking nourishment they can never devour.


The Chinese spirits of certain dead ancestors become Hungry Ghosts ‘compelled to return to the earthly realm during the seventh month of the Chinese Lunar Calendar in August. These ghosts can eat human food, and offerings of cake, fruit and rice are commonly left out for them, while amulets are worn and incense is burnt to protect against those with evil intent or insatiable need.’ (Heaphy)


The living are warned about these wandering dead spirits whose intent can be to steal the Chi — the life-force — of the non-vigilant and unsuspecting human.


Their relentless cravings are spoken of as never able to be satisfied, and can also be intent on stealing the actual body of any weak-willed human — kicking out the residing soul, in order to possess it and live within it. They’re not immune to feeling frozen by icy cold or burnt by scorching heat, so it seems their existence is an eternal hellish torment.


The difference between the damned and these suffering creatures is that they dwell in the world of the living, whilst the damned are confined to dank subterranean domains.


The Hungry Ghost in Buddhism is an analogy, a symbolic representation of those who are ‘following a path of incorrect desire, who suffer from spiritual emptiness, who cannot see the impossibility of correcting what has already happened or who form an unnatural attachment to the past.’ (Heaphy), and can also indicate a seemingly uncontrollably addictive nature, including drugs and alcohol and so on.


The Western Hungry Ghost arrives with the thinning of the veils in the time of Halloween, when not only do the souls of our beloved loved ones come through, but this crack between worlds can also allow in more malicious spirits with evil intent.


Placing candles to guide the loved ones back home is also designed to repel and ward off the more nasty spirits that might seek entry.


But all is not totally lost for these sad and broken creatures — they can be saved and it’s the living who can help them in this way.


Offerings made to them in ritual, including pouring water on their graves can assuage their terrible hunger and thirst, and this loving kindness can eventually lead them to the light once more.

The 5 Gates of Belonging | Azul Thome


Francis Weller: The Five Gates of Grief