“Expressing grief has always been a challenge. The main difference between our society and societies in the past is how private we are with it today. Through most of human history grief has been communal.
The Pueblo people of the Southwest, for example, have ‘crying songs’ to help move grief along. The Mohawk traditions have the ‘condolence ritual,’ where they tend to the bereaved with an elegant series of gestures, such as wiping tears from the eyes with the soft skin of a fawn. The healers in those traditions know it is not good to carry grief in the body for a long time.
But now we’re asked — and sometimes forced — to carry grief as a solitary burden. And the psyche knows we are not capable of handling grief in isolation. So it holds back from going into that territory until the conditions are right — which they rarely are. The message is ‘Get over it. Get back to work.’
Again and again in my practice clients come to me with a depression that is more of an oppression: a result of so many years of sorrow that have not been touched with kindness or compassion or community. You’re left with an untenable situation: to try to walk alone with this sack of grief on your back without knowing where to take it.
In traditional cultures people were often given at least a year to digest a major loss. In ancient Scandinavia it was common to spend a prolonged period ‘living in the ashes.’ Not much was expected of you while you did the essential work of transforming sorrow into something of value to the community. The Jewish tradition observes a year of mourning filled with observances and rituals to help the grieving stay connected to their sorrow and not let it drift away. Most people today might get a week of bereavement leave, at best, and then everything should be fine.
In this culture we display a compulsive avoidance of difficult matters and an obsession with distraction. Because we cannot acknowledge our grief, we’re forced to stay on the surface of life. Poet Kahlil Gibran said, ‘The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.’
We experience little genuine joy in part because we avoid the depths. We are an ascension culture. We love rising, and we fear going down. Consequently we find ways to deny the reality of this rich but difficult territory, and we are thinned psychically. We live in what I call a ‘flat-line culture,’ where the band is narrow in terms of what we let ourselves fully feel. We may cry at a wedding or when we watch a movie, but the full-throated expression of emotion is off-limits.”
“The Geography Of Sorrow - Francis Weller On Navigating Our Losses.” The Sun Interview: by Tim McKee, October 2015. https://thesunmagazine.org/issues/478/the-geography-of-sorrow
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