Here is an excerpt from a lecture I gave in Nelson, BC in February, 2017. This is part of my answer to a question about how I handle situations where there’s so much grief.
Watch the video version (above) or read the text version (edited for clarity) here.
…It's like dropping down roots. I get really low and really wide. That's the first thing, I get really stable. It's hard to describe, because it's such a clear felt experience.
Then the personal me goes away. I have to put it aside. Where I might have had an opinion about something that’s happening, or a personal preference, that has to go away. What Sarah likes or thinks has to completely leave the picture. Instead, I attune myself to what the family likes and thinks.
In a way, what I feel about what’s happening has to leave the picture too, because I need to be able to hold a space for everyone else to be in their feelings. For the family, a ritual is a kind of “coming undone” experience. They have to come undone to how things were, so they can rebuild for how things are.
Starhawk says you need a pot to boil water in. You have to have a container in which that transformation can happen. I hold that container. I anchor the space so people can come undone and rebuild. It's not me. It's all the spirit presences that are holding it, but I have a role in it.
When I’m facilitating, I have to not feel the way I would if I were in my personal Sarah. That Sarah is a total crier. I cry at the polling booth, “Look at how beautiful democracy is!”
I can get very emotional and tender about lots of things, but I don't cry very much when I'm working with families. If those emotions do come up, sometimes I have to take them outside, and work with them there. I can’t let them overwhelm me when I’m holding space.
To keep those boundaries clear, I configure myself so that I feel what’s happening at the outside edge of my aura. That way, people feel met, and they know that I'm feeling with them. There's an empathy there, but the connection is out at my edges, it's not right in my center. That leaves me, in my center, able to stay present and to tune into, and cooperate with, the healing that wants to happen.
Grief has an upward energy. It bubbles up. It wells up, and if we want to stop it, we push it down. Sometimes the intensity of the emotion is so strong that I can’t keep it to the edges of my aura, and I start to feel grief rising up in me. If I push it down, that occupies a lot of my bandwidth, and I can't be fully present.
When I start to feel grief rising up in me, I just go up with it. It's very much a felt sensation. “Oop, here it comes, okay. I'm just going to ride this right up and out.” No resistance.
Grief feels universalizing. When we're in it, it feels like that's all there is, and all there ever has been or will be. When I go up and out with grief, I literally take my awareness out of my body, and up to the ceiling. I look at the whole situation, and I see, “Oh, there's this place of really intense grief, and there's beauty, and there's love and there's a cat, and some flowers.” I can do this in a single breath.
I receive the grief, and put it in context so I'm not overwhelmed by it. It gets a place, but it doesn’t fill my whole experience. I recognize it, ride it up, contextualize it, and then I can come back down again. It doesn’t get stuck in me.
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