Grief as Soul Medicine: Honoring the Need to Grieve


Something missing in my heart tonight
Has made my eyes so soft,
My voice
So tender,

My need of God
Clear. — Hafiz (translated by Daniel Ladinsky)

It’s ok to grieve.

It’s ok to be sad.

It’s ok to feel the empty spaces of life.

To grieve is to feel. To grieve is to be human with open, tender heart. To grieve is to heal.

Dominant American culture urges us to suppress feelings of sorrow and emptiness, and sees these feelings as pathological and weak. It considers such vulnerability a problem, a shameful secret to hide, a threat to its fantasy of power and control. It would have us smother our interior depths and fill ourselves with things that do not satisfy: more stimulation, more possessions, more drama.

This manic denial of sadness and loss leads to profound emotional disconnection from ourselves, others and the Earth. If we forget how to cry and grieve, we forget how to feel and connect. Unattended grief clogs the pathways of the soul. Sorrow shunted to the backwaters of our minds and culture festers, and its healing tonic turns into toxic, fetid sludge.

Grief asks us to admit our pain and limitation and let ourselves descend. Grief is an essential aspect of who we are, deserving respect and attention. It asks for gentle holding, heartfelt listening, and dedicated time and space. It knows that we are all in some way wounded — and that there is much to mourn.

For we live in a time of many losses — economic loss, habitat loss, species loss, soul loss. Loss of our living link to the land and the ancestors. Loss of meaningful community. Losses of loved ones, of relationships, of hopes, of health.

Grief is a healthy response to the individual and collective losses of our time. Grief honors that which is hurt or gone, even as it prepares us to receive fresh perspective and new life. If we deny our grief and resist being stripped to the core, we lose a precious opportunity to dissolve soul-strangling illusions, reclaim subtle inner treasures, and renew our relationship with our beautiful, troubled world.

Caring for grief
In everyday life, caring for grief can take many forms. It might look like making a date with yourself where you unplug from electronics and social obligations and patiently allow yourself to feel whatever wants to be felt, breathing softly into the raw sensations in your body that reside underneath the story of your sadness.

Caring for grief might involve spending time with the natural world. The spirits and energies of nature help liquefy and liberate frozen feeling, and many find it strangely soothing to speak, sing or moan their distress to a rock, river, or tree.

Yet another way to take good care of grief is to communicate directly with it, as if it is a being with its own intention. You might greet and speak with the hurt parts of yourself and ask if they want to tell you anything about themselves. Be prepared to listen.

We need solitude, space and time to properly welcome and tend to the pained pieces of ourselves. We also need kind, trusted others who can hear and support us as we wade through grief’s cold, murky waters. If you engage in any of the processes above, you might want to schedule a date with a friend or support person to share your experiences.

Listen to your grief
If you care for and listen to your grief, you might discover that it induces a kind of alchemy in the soul, transforming wounds and errors into compassion, gratitude and empathetic connection with all life.

You might discover that grief thoroughly felt, metabolized and released becomes a flowing inner river that inspires beauty, joy and psycho-spiritual regeneration. And while this process may not exactly feel good, grief is not pathological — it is the sacred heart opening to life, blessing us with its light.

Grief is soul medicine. Feel it in your body. Invite it to teach you about life and about love. Let it remind you who you really are.

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Pierre MacGillis
Pierre MacGillis is a writer, teacher, and explorer of nature and the spiritual mysteries. Contact him at [email protected].


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