A leaf floats, gently, down the stream –
belly up, veins exposed.
I want to be like this leaf
– why is it so hard? –
to offer my feelings, dreams, and desires,
belly up, to the ancestors in the wind;
and let them carry me along the river of life.
Why is it so hard?
The status quo of pushing and forcing, blocking and damming, is painful, exhausting.
Yet it offers the familiar comfort of believing I am in control,
fighting against all odds,
never changing course even when if it hurts me.
To let go is the scariest thing in a world where fighting is how we learn to survive –
To go belly up, trusting the current;
To stop fighting and surrender our course to the gods;
To dare to believe that they know what is best for us,
and that what we really want in our truest self
is to flow in alignment with the greatest good for all life.
This fall I attended two grief rituals facilitated by Sobonfu Some, whose book The Spirit of Intimacy I found very moving (I’m looking forward to reading her book on children, below). Sobonfu and the Dagara tribe she comes from believe that a person’s capacity to express grief equals their capacity to express joy. This gives me hope. Sobonfu herself is so full of joy and life that it might seem baffling to some people to find out that she had suffered so many deep losses – a testament to the wisdom of her culture’s grief practices.
The ritual is beautiful, providing a structure within which everyone expresses their emotions towards the altar, which is an offering to greater powers who have the capacity to hold and transform our anguish (so that we aren’t alone with our burdens, nor dumping them on each other, and so that we can release our resistance to what is happening in our lives and make space for joy to fill us again). Everyone had opportunities to hold space for others as well as be supported to fall apart. The whole time, everyone sang the same song over and over again, with the words Help, I can’t do it by myself, to a strong backdrop of drumming. There is little talk once the ritual starts – just singing, feeling, and supporting.
My intention going to the ritual, aside from grieving and reconnecting with my ancestors (esp. my 3 grandparents who died before I was born – I luv u Reg, John B, and Arlene!), was to be able to host such a ritual here at home. Anyone who looks honestly at what’s going on in the world is bound to come up with some grief, not to mention the obvious losses of loved ones, and several friends have recently expressed that they feel their grief is too large to handle alone. “No grief is too small – If a mother and child go to the altar and the mother grieves the loss of a loved one while the child grieves because he needs something in his belly, those griefs are equal,” Sobonfu said.
I found the whole process of the ritual very cleansing, and I’m certain it would be more-so if I had not been a stranger to most people in the room. My eyes felt lighter afterwards, I felt upwellings of joy and acceptance in the days after, and a renewed commitment to my life and my ancestors. I would like to try the ritual the way Sobonfu grew up doing it – 72 hours non-stop, people take breaks to eat or sleep whenever they need to, and drummers get replaced when they need a rest so that it can go on even through the night.
Although I feel I understand the format of the ritual, I hesitate to try to replicate it at home. I feel like I need more training to handle all that grief energy. For now I plan to attend as many as I can, and hopefully send friends also. Sobonfu’s next appearance will be at Breitenbush Hotsprings February 5-7th.
Ancestor Altar (above); Forgiveness Altar (below)