This is the start of a revolution.

I’m writing this hours before before a dog I love will be put to sleep. He’s not my dog – he’s my older sister’s. I love him regardless of ownership. My niece-phews will miss him and sobbed on the phone with me last night. Grief can be so heartbreaking.

This, after having to put down my beloved cat of 18 years about a month ago. This, after my little sister had to euthanize her shetland pony-sized dog who saved her life more than once. This, after my longtime childhood friend died mysteriously in August at the age of 30.

A lot of loss in a little amount of time is agonizingly tough to deal with. So much sadness, not just in me, but flowing through and around the ones I love. What do we do with this weight? How do the heavy emotions in our internal world impact our work in the outer world?

Personal grief, while important and a teacher in itself, is a distraction from collective grief. Perhaps distraction is too strong a word – we must first acknowledge personal grief and let it run it’s course within us. Until we feel and process the pain within, the collective grief seems too far away, too abstract, too overwhelming. Healing our individual trauma must be a precursor to working on systemic issues. If we refuse to acknowledge our personal pain, it becomes the baggage that weighs us down. Unresolved trauma is an energy drain. Our heavy feelings project a filter making our external world appear under a smokey haze. If we want a chance to address our big problems, we have to minimize projections and see things as they really are. How can I let in the pain of the 6th mass extinction if I’m unwilling to face the grief of losing so many beings I love in such a short time?

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First, I must feel the sadness. I must let it bubble up from my gut, pass through my throat until the grief escapes as sobs or deep sighs. I will not distract myself. I have to let go of the guilt that often accompanies death. I cannot blame myself or fall into self-pity. Death is a natural part of life – it’s part of the this beautiful cycle in which we are embedded. I am going to find solace in uncertainty and sit with it. I won’t look away. I won’t bury my feelings deep into my tissue and pretend I’m okay.

I’m hurting. My guess is you’re hurting too. Have you lost someone you love? Do you have unresolved grief? Will you sit with me as I tell you what my soul has been feeling? I will bear witness for you, too. We can heal our trauma and wounds alone and together. We can transform them from despair and anguish to empowerment. Through this journey, we learn courage and strength. We learn that we can do difficult things; we must do difficult things to live fully.

Next, we turn our attention and the strengths we’ve cultivated in working through our individual pain to the grief of our world. We’re ready to look around and witness the violence, the inequality, the degradation of our life supporting systems. We can hold this pain within our bodies. We set intentions to help metabolize the tremendous grief on behalf of the world. Envision this pain pumping through our veins and breathe deep. On an out breath, we exhale until all of the oxygen is gone from our lungs. Our bodies transform the pain and the air leaving our lungs is full of love and awareness.

By tending to our individual grief, we can use the lessons we’ve learned from healing and apply them to the pain we feel for our systemic problems.  We cannot meditate our way out of the problems humanity is facing. My breaths cannot stop the destruction of the rainforests, but are a tool to sink into my body, into awareness. They remind me to process and let go of the heavy feelings instead of burying them. Breath work not only helps move painful feelings but reminds us that we’re alive. We require air. We have a direct relationship with this world. We are connected.

Through this process, our awareness of our projections increase. We’re no longer fearful of letting in the pain of the world. We feel lighter, having lessened the load of our own baggage and energy-sucks. We have the strength and courage to bear witness to loss on a planetary level.

This is where our work in the world really begins. This is the start of a revolution.


For more on breathing as a gateway to healing, check out Joanna Macy’s work here and here.

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