“Grief is subversive, undermining the quiet agreement to behave and be in control of our emotions. It is an act of protest that declares our refusal to live numb and small. There is something feral about grief, something essentially outside the ordained and sanctioned behaviors of our culture.
Because of that, grief is necessary to the vitality of the soul. Contrary to our fears, grief is suffused with life-force.... It is not a state of deadness or emotional flatness. Grief is alive, wild, untamed and cannot be domesticated. It resists the demands to remain passive and still.
We move in jangled, unsettled, and riotous ways when grief takes hold of us. It is truly an emotion that rises from the soul.” Francis Weller
IMAGINE, with the animal of your body, a valley that opens out beyond a thick tree line. Feel the way your body knows such an opening. An opening that tugs at your inhale of wonder and attention, pulling at the alertness living between your fascia and muscle. As if this place were a womb enveloped by a sea of stars gently pressing in so as to drink the liquid fire and burning rain soon to pour from surrendered eyes. Ravens perch where tree transitions to grass, and branches touch the pregnant space between things. You can’t tell what time of day it is here. Converging upon and within you are all the world’s stories, and in such a place time collapses.
If you knelt down to the ground, exposing the back of your supple neck, and pressed your ear close enough for spider or worm to crawl through one channel of your listening, you would hear it. Steady. Rhythmic. Vibrating your insides. As if all the ancestors, human and more-than, were beating a drum in synchrony. A memory begins to seep through the cracks of jostled cells, and your eyes once blue or brown or green are now a golden-yellow. Pupils dilating, you can’t help but sink. Your whole body pressed against the grass that tickles your sense-abilities awake.
You now find yourself cheek rubbing the land, and digging your fingers into the composted body of those who have come before. Grass squeezes between your knuckles. Your spine begins to undulate as your breathing grows heavier. You feel the memory, having crept inside your bones, lift you to all fours. Streaks of dirt running across your cheekbones. You hunch your body, canyoning your chest, as you feel an ache grip at your heart and intestines. All of your hair stands on end, as if electrified by a coming storm.
Rather than out of body, you are more in your body as the sense of yourself entangled with everything else pervades.
And just as the last ounce of resistance has dissolved, it happens. Your tongue has been humming with anticipation, and your jaw unhinges the way a serpent readies itself for a voluptuous meal. Sounds of belonging crash like waves upon the unsuspecting shoreline of your knowing, and pull your certainties into the depths of Mystery’s multiplicity.
Immersed in the amniotic waters of lamentation, you are now being swept toward the land of the unknown where the de-formity of you waits in the shape of a million possible dreams.
Invocations of Chthonic Belonging
“The reason, I think, most… grief goes untended and left to other generations to mitigate is because people don’t trust the world they live in to hold them in those times, and let them be messy and unusual long enough for grief to happen.” ~ Martin Prechtel
“There are countless ways of expressing emotion because countless ways are needed. No one is supposed to repress emotion. If death disturbs the living, it offers a unique opportunity to unleash one of the strongest emotional powers humans have: the power to grieve.” ~ Malidoma Some
Grief is not just a passageway for the cathartic, nor is it just an emotional experience of our animality. It doesn’t just affirm love and loss, nor does its presence only periodically show up. Grief is a creature of chthonic inspiration crawling and clambering along the edges of our peripheral awareness. An ecological force that enables a reshaping of the world through capably rendered bodies. Bodies that feel small in necessary ways when confronted with Grief’s presence.
A kind of smallness that perceives the weight of Grief’s gravity bringing it closer to the Earth; down to the knees, and perhaps all the way to the belly. A kind of prostration to the divine envelops the senses as one begins to remember something very important: that they belong to the world. Not a human world devoid of more-than-human awarenesses, but a world that knows all the ways, secret and otherwise, of our feral creature-ship with the rest of life. Such a memory of belonging runs bone deep, and has the capacity to sweep away most, if not all, notions of certainty. For Grief carries us further out along the ground of not-knowing, to a place where its watery and fiery intonations de-form our once fixed shapes. Our boundaried selves become porous, and our defenses disabled.
Beloved answers and solutions perpetually worshipped for their solidity begin to disintegrate, and flow through a newly birthed chasm. The world notices the crack that’s opened within us, and follows the musk of sorrow to the places where we are entangled with all of life. That’s where Grief resides, in the meeting place between things that one might call “relationship.” The quivering web of our entanglement invokes Grief through it’s tremblings, as tear-dropped incantations cast otherworldly spells of trans-formation.
We become the mountainside met by cascading Sky tears that carve out miniature arroyos, and drag branch and rock to lower encampments. Or a landscape met with the volcanic rush of lava-like fury burning away the green foliage that once adorned us. Grief is a terra-ing force; a world-making imperative because of the ways it disfigures our embodied narratives. Narratives that guide the ways we dream with, love with, birth with, die with, honor with, and conspire with the world.
“...grief is one of the most powerful forces there is -- powerful enough to shatter the self we’ve carefully constructed.” ~ Miriam Greenspan
“Grief is an opportunity not for “resolution,” as in the popular parlance, but for transformation: a wholly new awareness of reality, self, beloved, and world.” Miriam Greenspan
The disorienting magnitude of these times we have each been born into, and some might say born for, is summoning our full-bodied participation. A participation that expresses itself through devotional acts of submission to the divine immensity before us that we might feel our smallness as a seed of immense possibility. A seed that is nourished by our ululational affrications of Grief's ancient incantations spoken through our tears, screams, moans, howls, bent spines, curled toes, whipping limbs, and susurrated throats.
Worshipped in personified forms through cosmogonic narratives*, and recognized as an earthen birthright, our ancestors and more-than-human kin understand the ways Grief enables our storying-with the world. For Grief pulls us back like an undertow to ever-renewed places of belonging. A kind of belonging that longs for disfigurement, and understands its essentialness for birthing a holy and yet-to-be-known story of the world. What was once fixed begins to move, and those movements, like hooves to wet soil, shift the shape of what was toward something that might be.
Grief is then an agent and ally of our entangled emergence.
This essay was published originally through The Mythic Masculine Network as a contribution to their New Moon Theme for the month of December 2021.