These are notes from a talk I offered at the Illuman Men's Rites of Passage May, 2022.
This was preceded and followed by powerful ritual experience.
Howard Thurman: "There is in every person an inward sea, and in that sea there is an island and on that island there is an altar and standing guard before that altar is the ”angel with the flaming sword.” Nothing can get by that angel to be placed upon that altar unless it has the mark of your inner authority. Nothing passes ”the angel with the flaming sword” to be placed upon your altar unless it be a part of ”the fluid area of your consent.” This is your crucial link with the Eternal."
The rites of passage that you are participating in invite your active consent…
Here on this day of Grief we actively exercise our hearts for the next time they are broken.
Grief happens to us… (at table with pastors…) Passive … We don't choose grief … but we are invited in a way to say Yes to life and loss. This yes is a turning, with compassion, the reactive NO! into a creative YES!
Who is this for: ask men to stand…
We may affirm: My soul trusts in the Lord; and yet my mind sometimes doubts; my heart sometimes fears. And every fiber of my being sometimes says No.
Made my MROP in 2018 in Illinois … 30 years as a Presbyterian Minister and 25 SD
Throughout life the high notes have been celebrated: (Consolations… Bank them)
And then comes what is generally perceived as the low notes… not to be celebrated, perhaps even sources of shame: (Desolations)…
In these times, these desert times, what often goes through us are all-too-human thoughts: "Why me? Why now? Why this? How could this happen to me? Why is it happening to me? What do I do next? Will my friends still love me? Will they avoid me? Who is going to take care of me? Nothing in life has prepared me. No one understands my situation. … How do I live while I am diminishing, dying?"
I'll weave the threads of my journeys through grief in a moment… first spread out the canvas through which we pass the needle and thread…
Brothers we are together (whole creation is groaning…) on the threshold of transformation… Masculine energy is that of being in control or at lease the illusion of…that is why active lament and surrendering to loss, consenting to grief is so hard! Active participating in Life… Only 1/2 the equation.
Our culture invests billions of dollars to delay, suspend, and ultimately, to try and deny the inevitable… everything we love we will loose. In a death-denying culture of youth, self-sufficiency and competence, how does one enter with intentionality into all phases of life, including the process of diminishment? To find the Yes to loss, aging, dying and death - as a part of life -with their own purposes and graces? And to continue to be life-giving, self-giving to the world?
The "passivities" of our lives that which is undergone… or perhaps gone under… form at least half of the human existence - this means quite simply, that which is not done by desire or effort - which again is so offensive to masculine energy.
Seen from one point of view, the active occupies first place – the place of prominence -- because we (especially men) prefer it and because it offers more opportunities to satisfy our acquired program for happiness. (Keating: survival/security, affection/esteem, and power/control.)
What if we were born to have our hearts opened as widely as possible? What if transmuting our grieving hearts into hearts that are wide-open with compassion is the work we took human form to accomplish? (2x)
(Denise Levertov) To speak of sorrow works upon it
moves it from its crouched place barring
the way to and from the soul's hall.
Where can we speak of our sorrow that our hearts might be open to Love?
Where do men learn to grieve? How we learn the language of loss?
\Who were your teachers?
What happens when we do not learn how to grieve?
What do we sacrifice when we pretend we are in control, seduced by all our stoic grasping?
How can we enter an apprenticeship with sorrow?
Ah, Grief, I should not treat you
like a homeless dog
who comes to the back door
for a crust, for a meatless bone.
I should trust you. I should coax you
into the house and give you
your own corner,
a worn mat to lie on,
your own water dish....
Denise Levertov, from "Talking to Grief"
Grief is the guardian dog of thresholds, the faithful companion of change, the sentry of the territory between places, identities, roles, and seasons. Grief is always, in some way, accompanying us, like a "shadow or a friend" for the journey.
There are times when the presence of grief is intense: a partner dies, a home turns to ash in a fire, a marriage dissolves and we find ourselves alone. These seasons in our lives are intense and require a prolonged time to honor what the soul needs, to fully digest the grief. And yet, grief is a sustained note in the song of being alive.
To be human is to know loss in its many forms, loss of a dream, of health, of .… This should not be seen as a depressing truth. Acknowledging this reality enables us to find our way into the grace that lies hidden in grief.
THE WELL OF GRIEF
by David Whyte
Those who will not slip beneath
the still surface on the well of grief,
turning down through its black water
to the place we cannot breathe,
will never know the source from which we drink,
the secret water, cold and clear,
nor find in the darkness glimmering,
the small round coins,
thrown by those who wished for something else.
We are most alive at the thresholds where we experience loss and revelation; threads of sorrow and joy, each weaving the way for a new encounter.
This night will pass, then we have work to do. Rumi
Let’s be clear, Grief and loss touch us all, arriving at our door in many ways. It comes swirling on the winds of divorce, the death of someone dear, as an illness that alters the course of a life.
For many of us, grief is tied intimately to the ravages we witness daily to watersheds and forests, the extinction of species, the collapse of democracy, the senseless dying and suffering in Ukraine, and the very unraveling of civilization.
Left unattended, these sorrows can seep underground, darkening our days. It is our unexpressed sorrows, the congested stories of loss that, when left untouched, block our access to the vitality of the soul.
To speak of sorrow…
To be able to freely move in and out of the soul’s inner chambers, we must first clear the way. This requires finding meaningful ways to speak of sorrow and to feel loss deeply in our bodies. It requires that we take up an apprenticeship with sorrow. Learning to welcome, hold and metabolize sorrow is the work of a lifetime.
Rohr: transform or transmit… unattended, metastasizing grief causes havoc
Francis Weller invites us to apprentices to grief. Our apprenticeship begins when we come to understand that grief is ever-present in our lives. Through this practice, we become able to welcome the pervasive and encompassing presence of grief.
The cloth is spread… now to I to weave my own story of grief into Five archetypical thresholds, gateways, liminal spaces…(Francis Weller) Grief is the work of "holding" the energy of letting go long enough to let come…
Gate One: What we expected that we didn’t get. ‘Between a Story too small and an opening to Reality’: Nathaniel … You are a child of God, and always will be, even when you don’t believe it.
Parker Palmer speaks of “the power of heartbreak,” and when we can allow our hearts to be broken, we become very different people. And as many people have said, the only heart worth having is a broken heart.
Many of us live in a virtual reality of the way we think life SHOULD be. The result of living in a too small story is huge deep wound in this culture. So many of us are walking around feeling empty. I think of industrial civilization and consumer culture as a perpetual “emptiness machine” or a black hole of meaning and purpose. People under the spell of separation are really emotionally and spiritually at death’s door because they feel so vacuous. And nothing can fill this up except a sense of connection with the Divine, each other, the Earth, and ourselves all the same thing really… in other words an abiding relationship with REALITY!
Gate Two: Everything We Love, We Will Lose (Roger-Dad) Impasse: mid 50s BHAG: November of my 63rd year Prostate cancer - Resign from church (I am not in control) Mortality awareness
Every lover, every parent, every child, every pet, every career, everything I have ever created. My health. My life… Die before we die…When we are able to metabolize this, it keeps our hearts open and soft, and we are less likely to take anyone or anything for granted. This compels us to appreciate every relationship we have with everyone and everything. Who doesn’t love the feeling of being in love? Who doesn’t long to love and be loved? And yet, anyone and anything we love, we will lose.
Gate Three: The Sorrows Of The World… Between an ecstatic transformative MROP experience…and the messiness of your life. Threshold…of this experience…. Inconsummation: Rahner
We are called to actively consent to the sorrows of the world…. This is one of the reasons that some of you are here. You are deeply grieving the loss of our planet. We are all in deep, deep grief about this and also realizing that our own species is in great jeopardy and teetering on the edge of extinction. But here again, the power of heartbreak is our friend.
When we allow our hearts to be broken regarding the plundering of our planet, we are not only humbled and softened but also filled with compassion. I believe this heartbreak can guide us into our mission and purpose on the planet. And whether or not we survive as a species or not and whether or not our activism in the world is “successful,” what really matters is that we allow our heartbreak to guide us and that we act from that place.
Gate Four: The Places That Have Not Known Love
I experience this in my body… in my sexuality… These are the parts of us of which we are ashamed or embarrassed and that we experiences as defective and try to hide from the world. Whenever any part of us is denied, we are living in loss.
For some people it may be their sexual orientation or gender identity. For others, it may be an addiction. For others it may be their anger or their fear.
In this culture, it is less acceptable for women to show their anger than their fear.
And it’s more acceptable for men to show their anger than their fear.
As children, we may also have had to send away what Jung called the “bright shadow” or the parts of us that are creative, humorous, or compassionate.
5. Gate Five: Ancestral Grief
Story of Nathaniel's blessing
To be fully alive in this time is to honor our heritage whether it’s good, bad, ugly, or anything in between. Many of us come from abusive families, and many of us come from families where not only were the children in the family abused, but the culture of our ancestors itself may have been abusive. Whatever their shadow, we carry it in our own psyches, and that is a huge source of grief.
And then there is another gate that I’d like to mention, a kind of Sixth Gate which has to do with regrets and remorse for things we have done in our lives that harmed others and harmed ourselves.
Lament…So whatever your grief, know that every aspect of your grief is connected with every other aspect, and it is ALL welcome here.
We shake with joy, we shake with grief. What a time they have, these two housed as they are in the same body. Mary Oliver
The nature of these thresholds is not "one and done"…
Melanoma Some' who taught y teacher Francis Weller … Dagara tribe: weekly ceremony…followed by celebration Grief and praise. If you can't grieve you can't praise
BROTHERS, we are all preparing for our own disappearance, our one last breath. It is difficult to pick up the thread of grief and hold it in our hand to weave into the tapestry of your one wild and precious life.
Each of us is fated to leave this shining world, to slip off this elegant coat of skin, to release our stories to the wind and return our bones to the earth. Saying goodbye, however, is not easy or something we give much thought to in our daily lives.
How do we say goodbye? How do we acknowledge all that has held beauty and value in our lives—those we love, those who touched our lives with kindness, those whose shelter allowed us to extend ourselves into the world? How do we let go of sunsets and making love, bumble bees and walks in these beautiful woods amongst these great trees?
And yet, we must. We must release the entire fantastic world with one last breath. We will all fall into the mystery. We are most alive at the threshold of loss and revelation.
Brothers, I encourage you to enter fully with a sense of abandonment into this day of grief. Trust the gravity of the situation… trust your grief…the grief
Know that grief that is un-metabolized is so toxic to your body, to those you love and to the collective body of the earth.
How Surely Gravity's Law, Rilke
How surely gravity's law,
strong as an ocean current,
takes hold of the smallest thing
and pulls it toward the heart of the world.
each stone, blossom, child---
is held in place.
Only we, in our arrogance,
push out beyond what we each belong to
for some empty freedom.
If we surrendered
to earth's intelligence
we could rise up rooted, like trees.
Instead we entangle ourselves
in knots of our own making
and struggle, lonely and confused.
So like children, we begin again
to learn from the things,
because they are in God's heart;
they have never left him.
This is what the things can teach us:
patiently to trust our heaviness.
Even a bird has to do that
before he can fly.”
Charles Eisenstein shares wisdom regarding Money and Economics. Directed and edited by Ian MacKenzie
There aren’t many stories of transformation among neo-Nazis, but the journey of Christian Picciolini is a remarkable exception.
As the Jan. 6 insurrection unfolded, I was shocked but not surprised. In March, 2016, eight months before election day, I published “Will Fascism Trump Democracy?”—and we’ve been in the foothills of fascism for the past four years.
I remain committed to civil dialogue across the lines that divide us, as I know is true of many of you. But that kind of bridge-building has never been easy—and it will get even harder in the near future, now that the MAGA president has disgraced himself.
I’m not talking about dialogue with a guy in a horned helmet, carrying a spear, painted up as if he were in a Mel Gibson movie. That’s above my pay grade. I’m talking about dialogue with people of the sort you and I have regular access to—colleagues, neighbors, friends, and family members who embrace MAGA beliefs. They aren’t violent people, but even in polite silence they shore up a movement that endangers all of us in ways I don’t think they understand.
Then, of course, there are online strangers. In response to my last post on this page, one reader replied with “Go to hell!”—not the first time I’ve been given that kind of travel advice since 2016. I admired her editorial brevity and exemplary spelling, both of which are rare these days. So I replied in kind with, “Already there.”
We all have vital local roles to play in restoring democracy—even the best leaders can’t do the job without us. But our task must be done from an inner place of nonviolence. For me, at least, that means a steady search for inner peace, even as I seek ways to bring peace to the world around me.
As I’ve been working my way thru a lot of inner agitation—the kind that comes to some of us when democracy and the rule of law are attacked—the words of my longtime mentor Thomas Merton have helped settle me. As I settled, I found a question that’s helping me hold what’s happening in a life-giving way. It reminds me to look for possibilities, not just problems, as I pick thru the wreckage of Jan. 6: How can I creatively engage family members, friends, folks online, and other MAGA adherents in the urgent questions of this moment, when democracy itself is on the line?”
That question puts me between a rock and a hard place, which feels like an honest place to be. On the one hand, I don’t want to miss the good that’s in most people, no matter how toxic their politics may be. On the other hand, I cannot play the game of “false equivalencies,” as if conspiracy theories like QAnon and “election rigging” are in the same league with demonstrable facts. Gray areas abound in life, but some things are either true or false, right or wrong.
At the moment, I have no clear answer to my own question. But because it feels life-giving to me, I’m not going to lay it down. I think it’s a question worth “living into” and maybe (to steal from Rilke), find myself one distant day living into an answer.
In the meantime, companionship and a sense of humor help!
December 11th, 2020
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Recent teaching videos
Here is a selection of teaching videos recently recorded for a variety of settings. Each video addresses an aspect of the Journey.
An overview for Illuman National Gathering: Soularize
An Introduction to the 2nd threshold on the Journey: Impasse
Impasse as a point of no return
Notes for the Way
This is a space for Journey Guides to post "field notes" and observations along the path.