Being with Our Grief



By Justine Corrie / 12.29.2016

Taking Heart In Tough Times

The most radical thing any of us can do at this time is to be fully present to what is happening in the world. – Joanna Macy

Witnessing events and devastating suffering unfolding in Syria, exposure of yet more corruption in US politics, mass starvation in Yemen, the latest reports on the runaway ecological impact of the human species of our planet, it’s no wonder that this also gets accompanied by a mass attempt to understand, know, work it out and have a fixed answer.

Once found, we often want to pit our own fixed answer against another’s fixed answer and anyone else who disagrees.

I’ve seen lots of that this week, social media threads that turn into all-out offensives against anyone who questions or disagrees. We all cling on so desperately to the need to know, understand and be right. Maybe then we can fix it?

The hardship in the world can be hard to bear and you want to fix it.

Overcome with Grief

Watching my own process unfold in this way and the accompanying urgency to figure it all out, I start to feel disorientated, stuck in my head, lost and with an utter sense of hopelessness for the world.

That’s when I remember at times of such overwhelm it’s more important to “feel into” rather than try to grasp it all with my head. I’m reminded of Joanna Macy’s wise words:

Refusing to feel pain, and becoming incapable of feeling the pain, which is actually the root meaning of apathy, refusal to suffer, that makes us stupid, and half alive. It causes us to become blind to see what is really out there. We have a sense of something being wrong, so we find another target and project our anxiety onto the nearest thing handy.

You can’t shut your eyes and refuse to see the pain that exists in the world.

Stop, Connect, Feel

Most of us have plenty of other targets, whether it’s Assad, Russia, lying western media, “fake” Syrian children, Muslims, Zionists, Trump, people who disagree with us on Facebook, our neighbours, our partners, our children, and so on.

What about if we just stopped for a moment to actually feel what we are feeling? Again, Joanna Macy says on this:

The most radical thing any of us can do at this time is to be fully present to what is happening in the world.

Let your heart break open and there will be room for the world to heal.

Let Your Heart Break

For me, the price of admission into that present is allowing my heart to break. To be completely with the grief and despair I feel for the world, for those suffering and for the future of my children. Just to be with that grief and despair and hold it as tenderly as I would a young child.

And, when fully felt, despair transforms, in the face of overwhelming social and ecological crises, into a clarity of vision, then into constructive, collaborative action. Again, Joanna Macy:

I look at the path we’re on, to the future, as having a ditch on either side. We have to hold onto each other, not to fall into the ditch on the right or left, which are, on one side panic and hysteria, and on the other side is paralysis and shutting down.

Reconnect to yourself, to the pain of the world and to each other.

Embrace the Pain

I can’t recommend Joanna Macy’s work enough, in times such as we are in I don’t see any other way forward but to find ways to reconnect – to ourselves, to the pain of the world and to each other. My sense is that it’s through embracing our very disconnected state that we can ultimately find true connection and healing in the world.

Don’t apologise for the sorrow, grief and rage you feel. It is a measure of your humanity and your maturity. It is a measure of your open heart, and as your heart breaks open there will be room for the world to heal. – Joanna Macy

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