How can this be different?
I’m motivated by a belief that truth telling and grieving together, in community, can be life affirming and healing. If we look back into history, we can see that our ancestors had practices that supported grieving in community. Look into most any cultural background far enough and we see that we used to have a place to take our heartbreaks.
From my experience in decades of leading Joanna Macy’s, “Work That Reconnects,” I’m a firm believer in the value of encountering our heartbreak in warm, receptive community. When we sit together to express and hold our collective losses, we have the ability to stay with it, to feel the window of welcome for expressing grief widen because there are others there to hear us, to catch us when we fall.
Let me describe a scene to you from day 3 of the NLSJ intensive last year, a gathering of 70 people with a wide range of race, class, age, LGBTQ+ and every other identity. We had already hit some seriously hard stuff. We had made and witnessed microaggressions and mistakes. There was a lot of defense in the spaces between us, and trust was shaky.
That’s when we started our collective grief circle. We opened the circle with a video called, “Cultural Ways of Healing,” with Jerry Tello. It is a deeply moving piece. The feel in the room got real and started to deepen. We asked each person to write on a piece of paper what breaks their heart. One by one, people stepped into the circle and read what was on their sheet, giving voice to one place of heartbreak.
As each person spoke, everyone else in the room sat or stood in witness, allowing themselves to be moved by what they heard. A palpable field of compassion started to grow as each heartbreak was acknowledged, and it continued to expand with each person who stood to name their personal or collective heartbreak.