Grief walls

Being present means practicing forgiveness

Chelsea Rustrum
6 min readOct 31, 2016

Grief walls. Grief walls. Grief walls.

These words are echoing in my mind.

New phrases seem to conjure up a sense of understanding that wasn’t there before, as if language is a proxy for the untangling of what our souls already know, but can’t seem to locate. The laying of train tracks for neurons to fire and spread their newfound, energetic glory.

This weekend, grief walls.

Grief walls — that moment in time and space, that fraction of a second where you heart brain chooses either to tap into a sensation, or to intellectualize, justify, or otherwise negate pain — with the assuage of distraction, the mind trap of leaving… all at the cost of embodiment. At the cost of empathy. At the cost of feeling. At the cost of touching and being touched. At the cost of remaining present.

My grief walls show up as shifting from an uncomfortable feeling in my body, straight into the safety of my head. That feeling that shoots up my spine, on the way to my heart — skipping over the tender, raw sensation and straight into my thoughts, which either switch to a new topic or rationalize apathy. My grief walls show up as social media distraction. Or as eating. Or as drinking wine. Or as frustration. Or as sleeping too much. Or as constant socializing. Or as working all the time. Or as writing.

The result is a feeling of disconnection.

Last weekend, I attended Bioneers, an ecological conference which was not a place I imagined that I’d shed so many tears or let down my guard in a way that felt foreign, but enlivening at once. There were many conversations on indigenous cultures and the ways by which we’ve raped and environmentally dominated people who have a deeper wisdom and connection to the earth than I’ve ever come to know.

I felt sad that I don’t have this connection to the planet, all the while deeply angry and even hurt that people have treated one another and the earth with such disconnection. A mix of confusion, rawness, and pain I can’t quite untangle, but know is there.

When I attended a panel about indigenous people and the wars fought with love by the people who have the most respect for land and heard story after story about mothers who were fighting at the front lines for respect and the dignity of clean water and air, I became aware of how apathetic and casually accepting most of us are of the most silent war ever waged, not on climate, but on people and on the planet.

Grief walls. I wept. And wept. As the tears flowed from the women on stage, I cried with them — with us. I cried a cry that felt universal, ancient, and karmically tied. A cry that was neither separate from me, nor attached.

After about an hour of this, I left. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I couldn’t stay. My walls unconsciously went up. I could bare no more. I felt a slight quiver of guilt upon leaving, but only slight since I was on my way to another panel and a new conference friend told me that I could “vote with the law of two feet.”

Compassion struck the next day. I found myself in a trance of sorts, not wanting to make decisions, but clear that I wanted to be near other people, so I followed the tribe that I was fortunate enough to share a house with during the conference.

I followed to a conversation on women’s leadership, even though there was a grief circle next door, that I felt called to attend. About halfway through the panel, I couldn’t sit any longer. My desire to be near people no longer seemed as potent as the need to listen to the intuitive whisper, “Go next door Chelsea. You have something to learn.”

So, like the rebel that I often find myself being, I listened and moved to the tent next door, but sat in the back on some pillows in the corner. I was semi-distracted by my phone and the desire to be there and annoyance that there was “a there.” The there of grief. As I listened deeper and deeper, I heard heart cries of loved ones who had passed, loss, the call for communal grief, fears, tears of desperation and longing to connect. And then someone said it, “We seem to have grief walls,” he said… “walls that keep us from being present to the feeling before us.” I felt like he was talking to me.

In that moment, I became aware of sitting in the back of the room, shifting from note writing on my phone to scrolling Facebook, while tuning in and out of the conversation. Fuck. Grief walls. I have them.

And then my mind flashed back to a conversation I had the weekend prior. A woman I knew from a previous life, in Santa Cruz, and I were talking about spirituality and technology at the Transformative Technology Conference. We were talking about coming at spirituality from the outside, in. About the ability to be present. And just then, she busted some wisdom so mad, I teared on the spot.

She said that, “Being present comes from forgiveness. We have to forgive ourselves. If we can’t do that, we can’t be present.” While I didn’t know what she meant, I knew it registered and resonated beneath the sheath — and it wasn’t just what she said, but the presence and knowingness she spoke those words.

Grief walls. Grief walls.

After that flashback, I mentally returned to the room. Embodied now, I put down my phone, closed my eyes, and tuned into the reverberation of peoples voices, of the extension of their hearts. I heard them. Finally.

Grief walls. Grief walls.

I challenged myself to let them down. To be with them and myself. Toward the end of the grief shares, someone made a subtle request for the desire to tug at the ground, pounding at the surface while collectively expressing grief. I’d never thought of doing something like this, but again, this idea registered in the realm of knowingness.

Toward the end of grief circle, we did just that. We were given permission and space and place to cry, to feel, to moan, to breath, to sigh, to scream — to listen, to hear, to let go. The emotions of others moved me to a place I’m not sure I’ve ever been — to a place of rawness and insecurity, of being unable to contain letting down my grief walls.

Afterward, I felt desperately in need of a hug, love, and resounding reassurance. And even after I had that, I felt like I was in a cloud so thick, I didn’t know who I was anymore.

Grief walls. Grief walls.

About a year ago, around this time, a therapist asked me, “Who are you, beyond your boundaries?”

This was definitely beyond my boundary. Beyond my grief walls.

Through these experiences, a new awareness has come to light.

Now, there’s Standing Rock. There has always been a Standing Rock. This country was founded on the genocide of more than a million natives who understood how to care for each other and the earth. This shadow self of the United States, the shadow that lives in all of us.

If you don’t know what’s going on in Standing Rock, I challenge you to let down your wall, if even for a moment, and spend a chunk of time reading the stories of the atrocity and unthinkable violation going on at the center of this country. Be with the pain. Be with the guilt. Be with the forgiveness. Be with the desire to act on these feelings.

We must feel this in order to heal this.

If you can meditate on or otherwise be present to where your grief walls give rise to numbness and apathy, we’ll all be better for it. Beyond or maybe even in between your grief walls, lives forgiveness and an activated form of love for all that is, including a connection to the earth.