After losing our Soul Animal in a traumatic fire, I entered into that sort of heartbreak and grief that only comes from real love… you know the kind that never goes away? I knew I was being asked to write. So, I wrote. I wrote blindly, without knowing what the outcome would be. It has taken me two years to write about the unfoldment of what was, perhaps, the most gnarly experience of transformation that I’ve ever been through. I’m almost done writing, but there are a few things I wanted to say about grief.
We like to think that God will save us from those tragic experiences of life, but it’s often God who is at the very center of those experiences. God is good, but God is also totally gnarly. The word gnarl means knot, and the gnarls or the burls on trees are thought to be the result of trauma. Sometimes the gnarls are the result of an infection, or a lightning strike, or maybe they’ve survived a fire. The tree directs all of its resources into healing that area — and in doing so it creates a knot, a burl, or a gnarl that contains concentrated genetic DNA. Often, new trees will sprout from the knot because it contains so much life force energy.
For the entire first year after the fire, I didn’t know if I would ever feel okay again. Grief was so present that I began to think of grief as a person. I imagined Grief as a homely, heavy-set, weepy, bag lady. Interestingly enough, in dreams, bag ladies are often symbolized as carriers of new consciousness. The divine uses many disguises to enter into our lives in hopes of recognition. I knew that Grief was very likely a goddess or an aspect of the divine feminine… because she is connected with salt water (tears) and the fact that Grief can easily overwhelm us and drown us connects her with the ocean.
Journal Entry: “Grief is difficult to live with. She moves in at the worst time, and she takes up a lot of space… she leaves room for little else. When she comes, she occupies most of our time, and she demands our constant attention. She’s kinda needy. She sure has a lot of baggage… she’s a heavy packer… even she herself is heavy. Why is she so heavy? She wakes us up all hours of the night. She doesn’t let us sleep… or think… or get anything done. How long is she going to stay? When she comes… it seems like she is never going to leave.”
Journal Entry: “Grief has a lot of sisters. They have weird names… like… denial… anger… and bargaining. Grief and her sisters are a lot to deal with… and some come with energies that are quite foreign to me… energies that I would rather ignore or push away. But it is against the rules of hospitality to not invite them in, while at the same time trying to keep them from destroying my house (psyche). But then again… it was the destruction of my actual home and the loss of my Magic cat that put me in contact with Grief. She announced that she was moving in and wanted me to become acquainted with her. No one wishes to become acquainted with grief.. which is why I imagine she is so pushy. She made it clear that she wants to be known. To know and to be known belongs to the dimension of conscious relationship and this is redeeming and the key to transformation. “
Journal Entry: “Losing our buddy has probably the most painful grieving process that I have ever consciously felt and been through in real time. The only thing that might come close was when I was fired from being the youth pastor of the church that I grew up in and then forced to leave, for reasons I could have never understood then. Church was all I knew. It was my reason for being. I found myself without job, without community, without purpose, and cut off from my young people that I so love. I felt like God had broken up with me. That was my first heartbreak; it wasn’t because of a boy or even a girl. It took me about three years before I could say anything without crying. I was totally rejected. That’s a different chapter though… yet, it’s relevant now because of what I learned about grief and loss and its potent transformative power. I couldn’t see it then… but getting kicked out of the church was a necessary and integral part of my Soul’s growth… it was almost as if God himself kicked me out… or somehow orchestrated the whole thing. I had to fall out of containment of religion, so that I could find the God within. I had to listen to what my heart knew about God—rather than some doctrine or theology. Many people can probably relate to that… I am astonished at those things in life that seem like the very worst… that turn out to be some of the most important transitions in our lives. It was within that wound, that I found the God within my own depths. I listened to my heart, and I discovered that there was a place within me that I could really trust. That is what is known as Soul-Making.”
Journal Entry: “Why does grief feel so heavy? When we lose something we love… shouldn’t it feel empty? Those who are bereaved are often described as being “heavy with grief” or “carrying their grief.” Whenever we come across Paradox, it’s like a psychic sign post pointing us in the right direction. …And I love that it’s our body… our matter… mater… mother who is the chosen vessel to bear this paradoxical message of being heavy with loss. There is no process of growth that does not demand a sacrifice. Could it be that grief is a sort of initiation? Could it be that loss and grief are really the process of giving birth. Is there a connection between having a heavy heart and being heavy with child?”
Grief is potent raw energy, it’s a powerful force, and it isn’t something the heart can hold onto for very long. Grief is far too powerful to be classified as a mere human emotion, because it isn’t typically something that we can get through with our own strength. It can easily drown us, totally overwhelm us, and completely crush us; and the strength needed contain it is far beyond our frail human abilities. It doesn’t seem to be something that originates from the human realm of emotions and experiences; only God has that much power. If grief belongs to God… then why do we share in it? The only answer that I could come up with is Love. Because we have the capacity for divine love… we also have the capacity to contain divine grief.
Grief feels like a pressure cooker in your chest. The pressure that builds is so immense, that without understanding of what is being cooked… we unintentionally interrupt the process. We will use whatever mechanism, whether it be blame, control, denial, bitterness, or refusal to acknowledge grief in order to let out some of the pressure that has built up. However, trying to avoid grief is to abort the process, and whatever it is that is brewing inside never gets cooked… it never gets transformed. The raw material is never broken down into something that we can assimilate and thereby gain nourishment from. So, the grief stays, but in a different form… one that we cannot assimilate and cannot transform.
There is no better example of untransformed grief than the Wicked Stepmother in fairy tales. The Wicked Stepmother is so cold, and so cut off… that we do not tend to think of her as a bereaved woman. In fact, the word “step” as in stepmother comes from the word steif, meaning bereaved. She is almost never the recipient of human compassion and empathy. It isn’t that we haven’t heard her story… It’s just that her story is usually told in a context (by parents to children)where there isn’t the capacity where it’s safe to let down our boundaries to see from her perspective. We keep a healthy psychological distance, for good reason. No parent wishes to relate to her or be compared with her. No child’s eyes fixate on her as their role-model. No one wants her at the party. Yet… she still shows up uninvited… angry at having been forgotten. The Stepmother in fairytales does not refer to the courageous people who raise other people’s children. The stepmother is an archetypal energy, she is actually a cut off and disowned aspect of The Great Mother. Whatever we reject, disown, and cast into outer darkness… remains unconscious. Darkness is a metaphor for whatever we are not conscious of, just as Light is a metaphor for consciousness. She comes out in our unacknowledged and untransformed grief. She emerges from our unresolved painful losses and the deepest unloved, untouched, unseen aspects of our psyche.. Wickedness seems to be unacknowledged grief that is so profound that it results in Soul Loss.
By Soul Loss.. I’m not referring to the fundamentalist belief that lost souls burn in hell for eternity. The fundamental fallacy is to take what belongs to the symbolic and make it literal. My background was rooted in fundamentalism and we took the Bible to literally mean what it says, in its most concrete form, even when it led to some barbaric conclusions, such as God sending people to burn in a seething lake of hell fire for all eternity. If you know love… and by extension, if you know God… your heart knows the answer. You don’t even need a bible to know the answer… you just need to know Love. And if you dare ask your heart… you will know, Love doesn’t do that. You can spend all day looking through the Bible in attempt to keep spiritual questions of this sort purely in the sphere of intellectualism and do all the mental acrobatics necessary to prove your point and never get to the heart of the issue.
The heart is the organ of spiritual perception, not the intellect. We cannot think our way to God. We can only know God by heart. Only the heart has the capacity to contain God. It’s within our heart where we can feel God’s presence and where we can hear God speak. It’s the heart that has the ability to know God, relate with God on an equal basis, and it’s through purity of heart whereby we can see God. Hell is whenever we are living outside of Love… it is a state of disconnection from who you are. Because who you are is Love, Love is where we come from, it’s who we are in the deepest core of our being, it’s Love that always calls us back to itself, and it’s where we will always return. If there was any message that Jesus tried to drive home… it’s that there is No Separation. There is no separation between us and God and there is no separation between us and other humans beings. God isn’t a being…as in a noun, but God is a verb the dynamic action of being and becoming that we all share in. In whom we live and move and have our being. Once we recognize that… then we can truly understand that there is no separation… not even in death. Because Love is stronger than death. By Love… I don’t mean something that is trite or cliché…. I don’t mean sentimentality. Sentimentality is not Love. Sentimental people refuse to suffer… Real Love takes us far beyond ourselves, Real Love breaks our hearts wide open. When we truly love… we open ourselves up to devastating grief. Death and True Love seem to have an affinity for each other. I’ve spent the last two years trying to understand this… but here is what I gather it to be in a nutshell.
“True Love demands sacrifice, because true Love is a transforming force and is really the birth-pangs of union on a higher plane” -Recapitulation of The Lord’s Prayer
When we truly Love we are totally vulnerable. When we lose that which we love… we cannot help but grieve and yearn for that which lies beyond the grave. In other words we begin to yearn for that which is eternal. I should rephrase what I said earlier about Love and death having an affinity for each other…. it’s more that true Love and the eternal are inextricably bound. Love and grief or yearning… when they are combined open us up to the possibility of a continued deeper relationship with not only that one we lost, but with Oneness itself.
When I began writing, I thought for sure that grief was my subject. It turns out that grief was not my subject; she was my midwife.