Okay. I said it was mind blowing-- check. Did I say that I felt cracked open like an egg? That Breitenbush is an incredible place? Remote, beautiful, clean, well-run, a kind of temple dedicated to the healing powers of hot water specifically and living close to nature generally? No? Well: check, check, and check.
Now, about Sobonfu Some: I'd never heard of her before, but when I asked my friend Kim Scanlon-- a fantastic singer/teacher in Seattle who has co-taught some grief workshops with a man named Francis Weller (Wisdom Bridge), she said wonderful things about her experience with Sobonfu. Even with those accolades and the bits of information sent to us before the workshop --("Please bring your grief, a few items from your home altar, some colored cloth, candles, flowers, and some things that you will NOT bring home to represent your loss, sadness, anger, resentment, etc..." "Bring your own bedding, flashlight, source of caffeine. Leave all intoxicants and glass containers at home...")-- I had little to no idea what to expect.
Friday we arrived just as it was getting dark-- about 5:30. Found our way to the office, then our cabin, then the lodge for dinner. We had a short orientation for us BB newbies, then we met our fellow Ritual Grief Workshop-pers. Sobonfu--as you can tell if you look up any of her videos on Youtube-- is engaging, fresh and deep. She told us that her wisdom comes from her village, and that we were to be the village for one another for this weekend. We went around the large circle (66 of us!) and said our names (to which Sobonfu and every one else replied enthusiastically,"Welcome, Your Name Here!" It sounds kinda 12 step-y but felt so much more , uh, welcoming then that. Boy, I hope this whole post doesn''t turn into one of those you-had-to-be-there kind of things...) We each gave a short sentence or two about what brought us to this workshop. We had everything from "a life unlived," to the suicide of a wife and mother, to a sense of disconnectedness to, yes, me and my Stage Four cancer.
Sobonfu speaks to us about her village's understanding of grief. (She comes from the Dagara tribe of Burkina Faso in West Africa.) She said that while in the west we have the concept of personal grief, her village understands that all grief is communal grief. Griefs can be simple (something just happened to you, a loss, or hurt, or failure of some kind-- it is fresh and direct, you know the cause) or complex (any grief that has sat unattended or of which you do not know the cause). All grief is communal grief, because all grief is too heavy for one person to carry alone. And any untended grief will eventually cause problems for the whole community. Doing the work of grieving is part of being a good citizen-- just like we expect our neighbors to handle their garbage properly so that it does not pollute the whole neighborhood.
Her village sees anger as a form of grief. They believe that unattended grief manifests in many, many forms: depression is grief, apathy is grief, despair is grief, numbness is grief, lack of compassion and joy is grief, violence is grief, crime is grief, war is grief. She says that unreleased grief is toxic. Eventually a person who does not or cannot grieve will become masochist-- causing themselves pain, even committing suicide. Left unattended grief can make some become sadistic: Grief must be expressed, if you cannot find a way to release it yourself, you might need to act it out on another person-- basically experiencing grief by causing pain to somebody who can feel it.
And there are also many categories of grief:
- Ancestral Grief-- grief handed down from generations who could not/did not handle grief in their own lifetimes. This can include grief for the actions our ancestors perpetrated on others as well as things that happened to them.
- Cultural Grief-- I see this as two-fold: Grief for the culture or village we do NOT have or have lost, for our gifts that are not seen, appreciated or needed in our culture; and grief for the culture we DO have, and for the grief it causes now and has caused historically.
- Planetary Grief-- Again this seems two fold to me: Our grief for the damage we have done here to the earth that sustains us--which is grief for our own actions; and direct grief because we see/hear/experience the pain of the planet itself.
That's a lotta grief, y'all... And a brand new way of looking at it for me.
We Grief-ers called it a night. My little band of three searched out our cabin, put on our robes and armed with only one flashlight and a nearly impenetrable map sought some comfort in the chilly darkness. The route was circuitous and pitchy-black, but the rewards of a pool of hot mineral water lined with river rocks in a meadow with a view of the stars was well worth it.
The next day, we split into small groups-- many people who arrived together, my band included, choose to split apart, so most groups are made up of five complete strangers. We have about an hour to tell our individual stories in more detail. My group includes a hospice nurse who was physically abused as a child; a woman who grew up feeling unlovable because she was adopted, who then put her own baby daughter up for adoption 24 years ago; a man whose loss of his father brought him to a grief workshop a year or more ago, but whose life is now spiraling out of control and who is back for another dose: a woman who just lost the very center of her life's warmth and joy-- her mother, who died at 90-something. And then there is me.
This morning Sobonfu spoke about how difficult it is for some spirits to come into bodily form here on earth-- to put on what she sometimes refers to as "the meat-suit." Coming from a place of pure spirit, squeezing into these limited bodies can be painful. She says you can see this is some babies who seem inconsolable to be here-- they have not yet forgotten what it is like to be in the other world, the world with out the meat-suit. She also says that at this stage if some trauma happens to the infant, it is easy for the spirit to split from the body. Sometimes this causes death. Sometimes it results in the kind of person of whom her village says, "Their spirit walks at some distance from their body." (Gosh, haven't we all seen people of whom we might say that?)
If this split happens, the child's body and spirit can not inhabit the same space again unless the conditions change, and whatever gave rise to the trauma which threatened the spirit of the child is resolved. I asked if this could be the arrival of another child, who could then take the trauma on themselves. Sobonfu said yes, of course. Something huge shifted gears in my consciousness, and something else fell into place like a hand in glove.
I am wrote out for today. To Be Continued...