Snowballs of Grief & A Siberian Shaman
Grief is a sneaky, precarious entity if it's not expressed. It haunts every being at some point in time and if you choose to ignore it, you can guarantee it will be back to greet you with gnarly talons. Talons that dig into your body until you pluck out each of its beautiful lessons tenderly with awareness and respect. Unfortunately, our culture has forgotten how to grieve and has learned to suppress this powerful and languid emotion. In contrast, our indigenous elders see that when great loss occurs, we need to be held in sacred circle by community. Our tears, wails and cries must be witnessed until we can fully release the pain of loss. Allowing one to come into peace, gratitude and wholeness.
Avoiding our grief is a downward spiral, and as we avoid it into distraction or animosity, it percolates. Creating potential to manifest as physical, mental and emotional dis-ease. As Martin Prechtel wrote in his book The Smell of Rain on Dust: Grief and Praise, "Grief needs time, and it cannot be transcended or meditated into nonexistence. When unattended it can easily hide for years, even generations, in the skeletal of the family collective psyche: eventually manifesting even among those in the future who did not consciously experience the loss."
This creature of effect has been my and my ancestors' teachers for lifetimes. We all hold our ancestors' chronicled memories within, which are accessible when we are ready to experience and understand. Epigenetic studies, through the study of our DNA, are now proving this. Through my own self discovery in past life regression, I have come to the realizations that my soul incarnated with deep seated anger, anxiety, dissent, and stuck emotion over the very lessons that grieving purifies. The many stories of brutalities witnessed in war, tribal massacre, death in childbirth, sudden loss of loved ones; all narratives of an inability and incapacity to grieve in those present moments. When we withdraw from true intimacy and vulnerability that life ask of us, we create disharmony in our soul. Being witnessed in our grief, and also the act of witnessing another opens the portal to our healing. Even my youngest child has taught me these lessons through her own soul memory of tragedy, loss, inability to forgive, grieve and how it affects her now.
It wasn't until after I sat by my best friends' death bed that I realized all the deep embedded attachments and aversions around death and dying that I truly housed. Anneka's death forced me to experience, feel and peel off the layers of grief that I had been sheltered from with a faith and deep knowing that the soul is eternal. Yet this very idea and knowingness also generated disconnect from the humanness of loss, and a long history of cultural dissonance and suppression of the medicine that grief provides for us when truly experienced in its raw and wild expression.
I remember looking down onto the San Francisco Bay from the plane as I arrived to see Anneka in December of 2015, knowing my life was about to change. Gathering my breath as I walked up the six flights of stairs into her Oakland studio, nothing could have prepared me for what I was about to see. Her body frail, cheeks sunken, veins and bones protruding, her beautiful wavy strawberry blonde hair now dry and lifeless. Anneka looked like a holocaust victim. Someone that had been forced to give up a healthy, beautiful and artistic life for a sudden fall into elemental decay. She was split and I was too. Parts of us knowing she was dying, but the other wanting to hang on to life that we knew; knowing all we had was the present and all we could do was love.
The days with her were slow, steady, but busy. We shared many sweet moments, but honestly at times it felt easier to be distracted with cooking, cleaning and caring for her, than to be centered and present in the totality of the experience. It hurt to look at her. I wanted to cry. I tried to cry, but something deep down within felt stuck and fossilized, just like all the cancerous waste within her body.
Mornings were the most peaceful. Afternoons and evenings always had stores of uncontrollable purging and release. Thus, it was with the rise of the sun that healing and heart-to-heart talks occurred. With one hand on her heart and another on her head for over an hour we sat intimately and still as I sang a healing mantra, "Ra Ma Da Sa, Sa, Say, So, Hung". I perceived her burdens, confusion, pain, thoughts, and her inability to surrender. All swirls of powerful energy centered around emotional themes of stories she had experienced in her life. It felt as if her cancer was created as a shield of protection around her torso made up of poisoned stagnant thought forms, individually and collectively from loneliness and abandonment. I began to weep and cry, but there were no tears. Serving as a channel to help release all the sticky residue of fear trapped within her, there was a slow transitioning toward the individual truths of all she was feeling. I saw her splitting her body in two over and over again, bursting out into newness, passing into new realms, somewhat dependent upon her intention and direction of thought, yet there was a collective influential force at play too. As I continued with the song, we came to a place within her where there was complete peace, surrender and trust. Then we tread into a light filled, clear and expansive space where spirit filled the room. The peace was palpable and full, embedded in every cell and molecule within and around us. We both knew and felt that she was so supported, loved, and being taken care of from the aspect of totality from non-ordinary to ordinary reality. We could feel that no one: neither her, I, nor you are alone despite the way it feels at times.
During our week together, I made healthy, creative, delicious meals for her. Despite the abundance in food, and her waning appetite, she wanted and craved sugar, something I don't remember her eating a lot of before. I remember feeling frustrated by her cravings because I felt it was just feeding the cancer. She tried drinking the healthy fresh green juices with ginger, turmeric, cucumber, kale and green apple, but every time she would take a drink, she'd cough or vomit clear thick sputum and water, something that she did on her own like clockwork every afternoon. I didn't realize it then but this was her body's way of decay where the element of water was dissipating and leaving. Earth was the first to leave, hence her small delicate decay of muscle. Her energy of fire was dissipating, and it wasn't until her last breath that there was the flow of total elemental withdrawal. I wish now that I had made her a southern pound cake, rich dark chocolate chip cookies, pancakes and southern biscuits that would have melted in her mouth from all the rich butter. A party to remember, with all her favorite delights; celebrating our sweet wonderful memories together, and all the love and beauty she brought to my life. But, I too, could not come into complete surrender of her life as we knew it. Although there was a deep knowing, I put on a mask to hide the truth because the truth hurt too much.
I can't completely recall our last moments together as I left her apartment to fly back to Denver and immediately fall back into my role as mother and caretaker of my family. I had succumbed to a place of stillness where I knew it was her journey and there was nothing I could do but surrender and except the change. It all felt surreal. There were no words to be had because all that existed between us was a deep, ever-present love. Our gaze was long with a quiet embrace and a whisper of I Love You.
A month later I was at her bedside as she birthed back into formlessness. Her mother and father entrusted me with prayers, ritual and ceremony, as well as the washing of her body. With gratitude for her presence in our life, we bathed her heavy and stiff carcass with oils, light and love, and whispered to her soul in hopes she would remember, "you are loved and you are love."
Her North Carolina funeral was breathtaking. We all worked together, her family and six of her closest friends, creating an unforgettable moment in time that celebrated all her beauty and rarity. A circle of bamboo muslin flags and loved ones encircled orchids and greenery decorated on top of a simple pinewood box with her body wrapped in pink rose silk lying on layers of peat and bright green moss. We played her drums, flutes, and a rainmaker. Each of our six bohemian hearts contributing something in remembrance and gratitude for all the beauty, grace and love she brought into our lives.
Not knowing if I had the courage or energy to sing, I stood gazing into the sun amongst the lush green trees. Anneka loved to sing too. I felt her presence. When I took my first breath to sing it felt as if she was standing inside of me gifting me power and courage. As I sang the last word of my song in ode to her, I collapsed lifeless into the arms of her mother. I sobbed breathlessly, yet no tears were shed. I wanted to cry, I wanted to wail out deep and loud with tears flowing like a river from my face, but something deep and embedded would not allow me.
A month after Anneka's death, I became sick with a horrible virus that caused my throat to swell. The pain was excruciating. I couldn't swallow or eat anything. For days I tried to cry. Often thinking of her and the pain she experienced. I began to enter into a space of distant, but personal, and collective revelation. A gateway into the being of all different kinds of personas. Feeling individual ideas that cause you, I, and everyone around us so much pain and suffering. Such as the alcoholic mother who wanted to take care of her children, but was so lost in her own oblivion of emotion, she didn't know how to escape. The obese man who felt consumed by his sense of pleasure and the pain of not being seen for all his true beauty. The baby so ethereally open, crying in the middle of the night for someone to hold, feeling abandoned, helpless and fearful. Or the clairsentient child who feels his mothers angry trivial frustrations like bullets into the fabric of its little being. All wide arrays of personas that we as human beings stumble into. Creating fields of emotions and ideas in which we are trapped for untraceable time, unless we are able to awaken ourselves to the present moment and the reality of the illusion.
I later came into a place of symbolic recognition. Symbols were revealed, and I knew instinctually to feel what was arising emotionally and where that emotion was within my body. As I did so, I could see my own stories that were intimately tied to the embedded emotion and bound up energy around the stories I held of Anneka's sickness and death. One by one I sat with the symbols, until the throat pain and swelling seeped into the ethers like vapor.
Each month after her death was a near repetition of the last, although seemingly different, another physical manifestation, a new illness accompanied by an annoying clenching of my jaw that was due to deep anxiety that lasted on and off throughout my two years of intense grief. I felt I was living mindfully and aware of my grief, but I kept getting sick, feeling a buildup of energy I often could not always release alone with meditation and prayer. Thus acupuncture became my go-to. The drain of heaviness was palpable and relieving, and released the layers of grief that always led to a deep sobbing that I was unable to release on my own.
The return of the bright sun, and my trip to New Mexico at Ram Das Ranch for Summer Solstice White Tantric to mediate and participate in Kundalini yoga with thousands of awakening beings held me in the clear light for several months. I felt vibrant and radiant, experiencing Anneka's sweet presence in the summer elements.
As summer began to close, it was that time of the year again. Anneka and I had gone to our first burning man in 2003, and we had made plans to go together again in 2015, but she felt unsure of what was going on with her health for we had just found out she had cancer. I spent four days on the dusty playa, most of my time helping my husband tend to his art installation and its demands. Riding out with friends who suddenly decided to leave, I had to rush to the temple where everyone honors their loved ones who have transcended into source. Everything felt chaotic and strained, exacerbated by the harsh wind and dust that covered my body and the sun. I couldn't find the right place to hang her photo and the slip she had always worn around the house when I visited her. No space felt perfect enough, but it had to be. My husband began to cry. I watched him. Honoring him and his presence. I'd never seen him, nor any other man cry with such humble sincerity in the midst of strangers as he so freely did. I wanted to cry with him, but I couldn't. I stood witnessing and sending Anneka my love through his tears. As we walked out of the temple, the sun was full, the sky bright blue and clear. Not a single dust particle stirring. Complete peace. We felt her presence.
As the leaves began to turn with the change of seasons, my heart became tangibly heavy again. I saw that her death was not the only death I was dealing with. I had lost friends before her. Many in tragic sudden accidents such as a grizzly bear attack, motorcycle, road biking, white water kayaking and climbing accidents. Then there were family members, beloved pets and patients I had cared for while being a nurse: all were relationships I never truly grieved, not because I didn't want to, but because I didn't know how to. I was too busy with life and culturally numb to the idea of grief. I knew my loved ones were all out there somewhere within the eternal being, while I was grasping to a knowingness that our time together was not over. So I just kept on, my grief frozen and my body and cells vibrating with greater and greater anxiety as time continued. My daily mediations, shamanic journeying, running, and yoga helped soothe growing anxiety, but their were lessons to learn and just like the trees it was time to change colors and release the old outgrown beliefs.
One fall evening as the air turned crisp and the leaves began to fall I felt bars of energy growing in my liver, spleen and kidneys. My breath became short and exacerbated. I could hardly breathe. My symptoms would take most to the Emergency Room. I prayed, I meditated, I said mantras, and did pranayama, even went to my dear friend who was an acupuncturist, who always held perfect space for my mourning. But this time, whatever had grabbed hold was not going to let go without a fight and a surrender into the message it had to convey. It was intense and persistent, thus in such times we need another or many to do the battle with us, because there is power in the heart centered collective. This is exactly what Jesus conveyed when he said, "Where there is two or more gathered in my name, there am I."
I went to another healer friend, a modern day shamaness who had the right tools to help me in this moment. As the heaviness released, I saw that the energy accumulated was again my deep grief and inability to cry. As I cried, I felt layers of anger, sadness, regret and fear. Regret or worry that possibly I hadn't loved as completely as I should have. Anger at the sudden deaths, sadness for the inability to no longer love the physicality of their presence, and dread of future possible sudden deaths of loved ones, especially my children, husband and parents. I also saw the beauty and incredible importance of community when it comes to grief. I had never had a supportive community around me in all of my experiences of loss, because every time a death occurred, those common friendships were far from where I was living at the time or there were never core common friendships shared with others to grieve with.
I continued with my daily practices, but despite silent communion with Great Spirit the heavy burden was hanging in the gallows. I was being mindful. I was being a witness to my experience, I thought, yet why was my grief snowballing every month? Why was I not able to cry without the assistance of another? I looked toward my shamanic journeying practice for information, and did a session of Depth Hypnosis. I kept finding myself in a dark heavy space in time when I was three years old where I felt confused and stuck, asking "Why me?". Yet there was not any direct association of experience. I felt lost in these spaces. For some reason spirit was not ready to release this information, because there was more to learn.
A post came up on my Facebook feed about a Shaman from Siberia who was having a weekend retreat. Hesitant to attend the last of her three day teaching's, knowing I had so much to shed, I decided to go. For two years I'd heard stories and had participated in some of her experiential teachings through a dear admirable elder and friend in my community who had worked with her and knew her well.
I felt awkward as I walked into the Sunday morning circle with the myriad of shining faces refreshed and happy from their amazing weekend already spent together. We began our morning with an hour Shamanic Happy Dance to clear our subtle body and bring us into energetic balance. Shamans dance, Yogis and Buddhist monks do yoga, dervishes whirl: all ways to relax the mind and body, calming the senses and bringing about a clearness so that perfect meditation and one-pointed focus can be achieved. As we danced, we were vocally guided by a young Shaman who assisted the elder shaman I'd come to learn from. Working up from the root chakra into the crown, I felt waves of tears wanting to shed, but once again hindered by something stuck, frozen in time. They said that this dance united all time and space to help us come into who we are and change our destiny. This was what I wanted, a change in destiny. To feel the happiness, joy, and clearness I had felt before, with an ability to cry freely when my heart needed to.
After the dance, the shaman I'd been awaiting walked in smiling, tall and radiant. I felt I needed to introduce myself, but as I approached her it was as if my cells began to vibrate and uncontrollable tears began to fall. I felt so deeply embarrassed, yet there was an internal excitement that I felt because of my ever latent tears. I knew I needed to cry but had no idea why I was crying at this particular moment. I could NOT stop. It felt like the most inappropriate time to do something I had wanted to do for so long. She asked me my name, but I could not answer her. It was as if I were a young girl feeling emotion for the first time, a teenager overcome by hormonal surges of emotion, yet I also felt shame such as a man bound by the constraints of society that held me to a belief that it was wrong to cry. I was confused, frustrated and embarrassed by my uncontrollable tears. She asked me my name. I said my name, but I'm not even sure she understood because I could barely speak.
I gathered myself, wiped my eyes, and sat in a circle created to give thanks to all the saints and enlightened beings before us. We were celebrating a special spiritual holiday in Siberia called "All Saints Day". She had images of Krishna, Jesus, Mahavatar Babaji, the lineage of Paramahansa Yogananda, as well as several others. Our discussion for the day was our "Egregore", which are our ideas, generalizations and mental concepts we have about ourselves, others, and life. She said, "Ideas cover our soul." Certain ideas are useful and help push us toward our highest purpose. Others can block us from achieving our highest goals with potential to create illness. Many egregore protect and guide, others create suffering that push us toward our highest ideals in life. We depend on these ideas, so we should know what mental constructs we cling to that limit us, and choose an egregore that is helpful in achieving our potential as well as helping others. She encouraged us to break the programs that are stagnant in our body and mind through daily meditation, prayer, dancing, and running. Balancing everyday work with our spiritual work, all the while being in gratitude.
After circle discussion, we had lunch then met back together for a journey into the woods for a fire ceremony. From prehistoric to modern culture, fire has been an important element of metaphysical transformation that heals our beliefs and old embedded patterns that no longer serve. Just as Moses is written in the Bible to have heard God in the fire of the burning bush, the ancient mystics and indigenous tribes see fire symbolic to the divine, sun and the all pervasive spirit of Source, Shiva, Great Spirit, Cosmic Consciousness, God, and the names go on depending on cultural linguistics. The fire is a connection between mortals and God, dispelling darkness and bringing about truth. It is not uncommon to hear ancient to modern day stories of shamans dancing directly in the middle of the fire for hours, their body and soul completely merged with the elements and God.
We hiked a while into the woods until we came to where the fire was to be created with heartfelt presence and intention. We collected forest wood symbolic of our own physical, mental, emotional stagnation of idealism. We prayed, we sang. Then we threw our sticks into the fire to burn, asking Spirit to wash us clean. Our ceremony of transfiguration was a release of old stories to shift into new empowering light-filled ways.
This was not my first fire ceremony, but it was one in which I cried like never before. Midway through the experience, my tears began to flow. I wanted to hide, but another part of me wanted to be witnessed and held. Everyone began to knit together in tight circle. My deep emotion was raw, tender, wild, honest, and in some ways it felt wicked due to old precepts. Tears were effortlessly flowing down my face, while I tried to hide my voice. I wanted to belt out in echoes of sobbing abandon. It was ancient, but so presently appropriate. Dimmed and shut down by an old and outdated ideology that grief is not to be heard nor seen, predating but promoted during Protestant Reformation by Christian clergy to eradicate competing spiritual traditions that saw grief as an emotion that needed to be expressed, ceremonial, and communal.
As the circle became tighter, I found myself beside the Siberian Shaman. I tried to hide behind someone beside me because my tears were growing in number and intensity. She sweetly took me by the arm to insist that I be part of the now celebratory circle. She could see my red face, swollen eyes, and the water flowing down my jaw. She whispered in my ear, "don't cry. Please don't cry." I told her, "I need to cry. I need this." Yet, she continued to ask that I not and began to push on specific pressure points on my hands. My tears began to dry and the confusion dawned. I knew it was a time of celebration and gratitude, and it was not that I wasn't feeling . My tears were not only a incredible release but a symbol of humble reverence and praise for everything: the tears themselves, Anneka, my dear family and friends, life, the moment, the experience, her, and all the gifts, support and love I continually receive from spirit. Then the arms of a sweet man reached from behind to hold me. His acknowledgment was an honor and was what I needed in that moment. Eventually the tears came back. After the ceremony was over everyone was conveying their experiences and thanks. I tried to express my gratitude in circle, but again I could barely even talk because the tears were still flowing and full of energy. My words came out overly emotional. I walked away feeling lethargic, confused and terribly embarrassed, but alive.
From working with others as well as myself I realize that our present experience is often repeating patterns from a remembered past or an imagined future, thus I knew it was time to revisit my three year old self who was in a dark place of confusion, allowing the story to come to a complete close so that I could fully be in the empowered present. I had a wise friend guide me through Hypnosis. This time everything opened up clearly into a place I had consciously visited daydreaming throughout my life, never understanding the deep significance of that moment until then. Intuitively I found myself in the arms of my father for my grandmother's funeral. We were inside the funeral home which was levitating in the sky. Big fluffy white clouds against a bright blue sky were floating outside the myriad of windows. My father's bearded stoic face looking into my child self telling me that grandmother went to heaven. I felt his heavy penetrating sadness. We were the only ones in the room, yet electrical pulses of grief were everywhere bombarding my etheric little body that had no comprehension of death, because the matrix of dense matter called life had not yet rooted into my existence. I was still capacious in mind and body merged with everything: a sponge of reciprocation with no boundaries. What I was feeling, was not what I was seeing. There were no tears. No grieving.
I cried and cried in this space of deep knowing, releasing layers of pent up sadness and grief my father and other family members felt from the sudden loss of their mother, but were hindered unconsciously by cultural norms of what grieving should look like.
The next day I called my mother to tell her about my recent experiences with the shaman and in hypnosis. She said it was such a devastating time for everyone. My grandmother died suddenly by heart attack. She left two young daughters, three grown children, her adoring husband, and many grandchildren. My mother said she never saw my father cry during that time. She feels he must have in privacy, but she remembers him taking medicine that dried up his tears. How sad that a grown man felt so inclined to dry the very energetic quality of his human expression that flows and merges into the essence of praise for something so beautiful in which he lost and grieved for. Yet, this has become and is the cultural norm of our society in response to grieving. Ignore your emotion, and stuff all that you are truly feeling, because they are in a better place.
After speaking with my mother, I desired complete closure around the Siberian Shaman and why she asked me to stop crying. So I wrote her to ask why. She clarified the knowledge that I had already received, and said that my soul has been protesting death for lifetimes, and that I needed to come into gratitude. She also stated that I needed to trust the Shaman.
It was not the answers themselves, but the reply that created full closure to the experience. I saw that just like my father, the shaman had been mirroring back to me my own "soul covered ideas" of grief that had propelled me into self reflection and evolution. This allowed me to come into full expression of grief, so that deep gratitude could be fully felt. As for trust, I did and do trust the Shaman, but I also trusted and trust the humbled Shaman within myself. A true teacher will not always be exactly as we imagine, they will be even more, a mirror into our own soul, a projection of our truth and sometimes an opposing force. The trust lies in all that shows up knowing that spirit guides. The skill exists in being present and showing up for what arises.
Days after, I shifted into an expansive space of creativity, admiration and peace. Ideas and an excitement that felt inspired by Anneka's beautiful life began to emerge fully. Spirit was covering my body in goosebumps and chills, clarifying that my thoughts needed to be carried into action: a gift speaking to the very healing that had occurred being in circle and partaking in the fire ceremony that opened me up to cry when I felt called, even when it might be deemed inappropriate by society. Songs and memories come about reminding me of how much I miss her. No longer barred from emotion, my tears flow freely whenever I feel the calling. I see my emotional response as a moment of honor for our time together in gratitude and remembrance; an offering to the beauty we shared.
Grieve when life calls you to such spaces in time. Answer it's irrational cry. Be open and spacious to its turbulent winds. Wail, howl, pray, dance and sing your praises to your transcendent beloved ones who are merging or have merged with Source. Love has no bounds and travels through all space and time. Everyone wants to be mourned and missed for a moment in time, and it is crucial that you feel and express their loss for your own, your beloved, ancestors and your future generations well-being.
Everything around us is a gift of information for our own soul growth. So, trust your inner shaman and grieve into praiseful gratitude for the love you witnessed and shared. Stay open and fluid to the fabric of form and formlessness in the great mystery of life and death. As Martin' Prechtel wrote, "To truly and freely grieve as an entire people can revive an entire culture just as much as it can bring back to life an individual."