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  • Stefanie Cohen

Navigating Deep Waters

Here in Michigan, during the past few weeks, we’ve experienced variations on wintry weather including biting January winds, snowfalls, and a sense of frozenness that would lull us into believing that all is still and lifeless. A time in which, bereft, we might somehow doubt that anything living might ever return. But it’s here, at this midpoint between winter and spring, that that which has died, invisibly, generously gives way — yielding in support to new birth in the coming season.  It is in this time that we might experience, as Gershon Winkler offers in his book Magic of the Ordinary : Recovering the Shamanic in Judaism“… the simple unity we experience happening during winter when everything has become as one, in its emptiness, deathness, peacefulness; when all has gone below to unify toward further renewal of life above”. p.56

In this relative quiet darkness, concealed, under the layers of frost, the earth vibrates with potency. 

Last week as I sat, willingly inviting my artist daughter to poke at my arm repeatedly with a needle for several hours on end, (in service of receiving my first, gorgeous tattoo — itself a nod to the life cycle of a dandelion), we played episode after episode of the 2001 documentary series The Blue Planet.  With the British natural historian and broadcaster Sir David Attenborough’s soothing narration as balm to the stings to my skin, I marveled at the beauty and the sheer oddness; of the incredible array of colorful and iridescent creatures living largely obscured in the far depths and the darkness of the oceans.

Many of us accustomed to the climate of western culture consider grief as a vast sea.  An untenable state. We imagine it as endless.  We fear, by wading into its waters, we risk being pulled down into its wake. We fear becoming undone and overcome such that we may never resurface. In so many ways, too, our grief is itself compounded by a lack of access to the communal rituals that were designed to hold us in it.  We were never meant to experience any of it alone.

In his exquisite handbook, The Wild Edge of Sorrow: Rituals of Renewal and the Sacred Work of Grief, psychotherapist and ritualist Francis Weller returns us to appreciation and mourning for our losses of connection with our technologies of grieving.  “Grief is subversive”, he states, undermining our society’s quiet agreement that we will behave and be in control of our emotions.  It is an act of protest that declares our refusal to live numb and small.” p.9

In clamping ourselves closed, emotional muscles held taut against our feelings, we deny access to the brilliant aliveness within us. We fail, in essence, both to do honor to our own human nature as well as to the value we hold for that which we love(d) so much to be worthy of mourning. Grief and love, sorrow and joy as the prices of one another.

Although held for us by our bodies, grief is not something to expel or exorcise from them, but a pool to wade and dwell in. Informed by traditions of our forebears, we can create new rituals.  We can step in to the tide with one another. We can walk gingerly, tenderly over the rocks and shells, (each containing their own eons worth of history and wisdom), and hold one another waist deep in the salt waters of our shed tears.

If we are capable of reaching out to others, if we become willing, even for a moment, to soften and yield to the ocean of feeling, we may find that we are more easily upheld by it than we imagined.  We may find that these sparkling waters within are home to the most unimaginable treasures, the most exquisite life forms; and to wellsprings of joy and gratitude. 

This post appeared in A Bright DrewTopian Future blog on 2/2/24

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