The Earth will Hold us as we Burn
Lately, grief has been my constant companion.
When something triggers an emotion, I hear myself take in a breath, moan soft and low, and then I wait. What comes next is sometimes a river of tears and sometimes just a passing squall.
I have never been one to be sad for long. I have always found a way to push through the underbrush of deep emotions or feel the joy in bushwhacking through them.
But now, I just want to stay under the brush, captured by the hooked arm of a fallen tree, in a dark and damp place, risking hypothermia, and be present to heaving of my chest.
Grief is an overwhelming feeling of despair due to the perceived and paralyzing hopelessness of a particular situation.
The grief for me comes from the realization that all things I love will die. Maybe sooner than I thought, before me or maybe after. They are dying right now.
With this statement, I feel the area around my heart constrict, I hear a moan and a groan and then feel tears.
I also know that with them — the animals and the trees, what our country stands for — a part of me is also dying — it feels like my hope — and this is painful too.
For I did not know hope could die.
Yet this pain is also what opens my heart to those moments of joy sprinkled throughout the day.
- Greeting a dark morning on my meditation cushion.
- The majestic Great Blue Heron on the smelly pipeline slew. Does it know that the water is poison?
- The frost on the windows of my car. So many patterns! Is this an impact of the changing jet stream due to the melting polar ice caps? The frost takes no notice.
The gift and the curse of being human is the ability to feel it all and know what the frost and the heron don’t. And use that knowing for sacred, body-informed activism. Acting on behalf of those that cannot or will not.
What we often neglect to understand, as humans, is that the process of feeling is transformative. And transformation is generally not pleasurable, or everyone would be searching it out. Transformation requires dying to parts of ourselves so that other parts can live.
It means willingly giving up something tangible for another thing, that is not guaranteed, to emerge. And that is never easy.
Transformation is not for the faint at heart. It requires courage, fortitude, persistence in the face of overwhelming armies of people telling us not to transform — “mend my life, each voice cries — but you didn’t stop…”*, it requires a deep listening to space and time, it requires doing things that appear to be not doing, it asks us to question our values, actions and behaviors. It turns us upside down and inside out with no guarantees of a satisfying or even workable final product.
And it means being burned. Maybe literally as we burn our planet’s atmosphere with carbon output — For what? Stuff? Are you OK with that? — or the forests that give us air and sequester the carbon, or our civilizations with nuclear weapons unleashed because we can’t hold our tongue in service of something bigger than us.
In my grief, I reached out to the world and received a response. Not one of soothing consolation that everything would be OK. I received Kali, the ancient Indian goddess of — I still can’t figure her out — fire, transformation?
She is wild, natural world magic, messy, violent, and in your face. She appears in service of a greater good which may not be good for me. She is not controllable or at the beck and call of anyone and she may turn on the one who called her.
Kali is the force of nature. Which we forget does not care how much we paid for the house before the hill slides, or how thick the retaining wall as the ocean reclaims the land.
Kali, in a strange way, gives me hope. All we can do is be present to each moment and move toward transformation.
We may not survive, but the earth will.
We, the most conscious mammals our world has ever known, can’t take the earth. We can take everything else with us into the fire, but the planet is bigger than us.
She will hold us while we burn.
Back to grief. When I think of Kali, and fire and transformation, I think not only of my children, but of your children. I want them to be able to see the sunrise, and breathe the air. I want it to not be so hard for them. But I also want them to be awake. For there is no chance of survival without being awake. Yet being awake is transformative, and I have already explained that.
We may not literally have to be burned by carbon emissions or nuclear wars, but letting go of our attachments to what we have become accustomed to can almost be a bigger fire for it is a choice and something we have to choose every day — to not have what others have, to not do what others do, to not belong in certain ways, to potentially find new community — instead of a forced choice of nuclear war or not being able to go outside and breathe the air due to pollution, we have to willingly walk into the fire.
Are you ready?
Here are two things you can do today.
- Get outside. No matter how cold, rainy, snowy, or warm and fill your body with appreciation for the air, and trees, the water and soil. Fill yourself. All we can count on is this very moment. That is really all we have.
- Be willing to not win. Lose an argument. Take the fall for something you may only be partially responsible for. Feel that deep pain of letting go of your ego. This is transformation.
Don’t feel safe outside? Can’t bear to lose? Invite perspective. Look for our fall programs of transformation, if you are really ready. If not stay the course, transformation is coming, whether we want it or not, it is best to be prepared.
*Mary Oliver — The Journey