Humans and the world we live in are complex. Being committed to change requires a fundamental acceptance that things will shift from one state to another. In that process, something is lost. Losing something that is a part of us can be painful. Allowing a complex system to reorganize after a loss is challenging. Acknowledging that the pain is real is essential.
There is so much suffering in our world due to a lack of attention, presence and connection to the experience of grief. In order to be an agent for change, one must recognize the presence of suffering, ours and others. We must also be willing to face that grief is a natural part of the change process.
Grief is about recognizing and tending to loss. It is a physical, emotional, spiritual and even social experience. Loss happens everywhere, occurring all the time. And from loss, when we compost it, tend to it, and allow it to run its course, something new is born.
What loss are you noticing right now that needs your attention?
As an agent for change, it is important that we tend to our experiences — the easy ones, the hard ones and the ones that are demanding for us to get real! When grief comes up, it is asking for your attention. Tend to it like you would a child. Nurture it, listen to it, hold it, let it go, let it return.
Often there is a cycle of experiences related to grief. Below Harrison Owen** describes how the cycle of grief and change shows up in groups, from his book: The Power of Spirit: How Organizations Transform.
Where would you place yourself on this cycle? What needs attention based upon where you or your family, organization or community sits on this cycle? Remember, it is kind to ask for help.
- Stage 1: Shock and anger – How dare the universe change on me?
- Stage 2: Denial – A way of catching our breaths when we are surprised.
- Stage 3: Memories – We begin to recount again and again – and again the history leading up to the change. We humans have a need to acknowledge the past before we can let it go.
- Stage 4: Despair — We come to the realization that the change is real. It has happened. We have no place else to go but forward. This is the time of crossing from one way of being to another. And we have to embrace that despair in order to get through it.
- Stage 5: Stillness and Silence — The space for Holy and Creative work to take place in us at a very deep level. It’s a time when we search our own hearts and decide if we are going to stay and work with the new situation, or if we need to take a time-out or leave.
- Stage 6: Questioning — We begin to ask each other “What if” questions – What if we change the way we do some things? Questioning invites people to imagine a new future that includes the best possible outcome for the changes they face.
The task of leaders at this point is to help ask the Questions. Not to provide ready-made answers – because there are none. Owen says that people will find their own answers, if we leave the space open for them.
- Stage 7: New Vision — A commitment to living life in a new way.
In eco-psychology it is said that one of the greatest challenges to creating healthy life-giving systems is failing to tend to grief and the process of letting go. When we actually touch our grief and allow it to be seen, we make space for new life and new opportunities to come through. If grief is not attended to, it inhibits us from becoming who we are meant to be, from truly reaching our potential.
Loss is happening at every level — systemic, community, familial and individual levels. You may feel grief for the unjust loss of lives due to an unfair criminal justice system. You may feel grief from the death of a loved one, or from letting go of a belief system that no longer serves you. Grief can be felt when you realize you’re not living the life you were meant to live or when you realize that you’ve been living a life of great privilege that other’s haven’t had access to.
By tending to these griefs, and letting go, we make space for the new, healthy life wanting to emerge… both in ourselves and in the larger systems we are a part of. This, in essence, is transformation. In order for something new to emerge, something else must be recognized, tended to and let go of.
There may be some loss in your life and grief that needs your attention… that needs your tender care. If you find this to be true, allow yourself to stop and truly be with what you are feeling. Let it be the most important thing in that moment. Give it all your attention. Listen to what will feel nurturing to you. Do it with a loved one, a companion in your change work or alone, depending upon what will feel most nourishing to you. And remember to ask for help! We can’t do it all alone.
When we tend to our grief, give it our attention, hold it and let it go, we can be a support to others in that same way.
**Grief Stages descriptions adapted from this blog post.
Artwork by Kara Brown