Grief is subversive, undermining the quiet agreement to behave and be in control of our emotions. It is an act of protest that declares our refusal to live numb and small. There is something feral about grief, something essentially outside the ordained and sanctioned behaviors of our culture. Because of that, grief is necessary to the vitality of the soul. Contrary to our fears, grief is suffused with life-force. It is riddled with energy, an acknowledgment of the erotic coupling with another soul, whether human, animal, plant or ecosystem. It is not a state of deadness or emotional flatness. Grief is alive, wild, untamed and cannot be domesticated. It resists the demands to remain passive and still. We move in jangled, unsettled and riotous ways when grief takes hold of us. It is truly an emotion that rises from the soul.”
–Francis Weller, Entering the Healing Ground: Grief, Ritual and the Soul of the World
Grief is an intrinsic part of life’s beauty. A way that love honours what it misses. Grief doesn’t need to be healed, the natural beauty and liberation of grief is the healer. Yet grief is so often an emotion that in the western world we try to move past as quickly as possible. In our rush not only are we creating deep wounds of shame, we are also missing the potent gifts of grief’s life affirming nature we’re being offered. I wrote a blog last year about my journey with the natural Depression that arises in Grief, and the gifts of Deep Rest, today I wanted to share about another gift of Grief – our connection to erotic energy or Eros.
“Eros is ultimately the energy of divine creativity. In the transfiguration of the sensuous, the wildness of Eros and the playfulness of the soul come into lyrical rhythm.” ~ John O’Donohue
As author Francis Weller beautifully puts it, there is so much to be rediscovered in the wild edge of sorrow. These wild edges have shaped parts of me since the death of my mum when I was a teen and through the many losses that have come from loving and living the life I’ve lived. Grief and Loss are a natural and normal part of our human experience and there isn’t a single person alive who will make it through this human life without being touched by grief and loss at some point along the way.
The wholeness of who I am, and who you are, of course has many many parts. I acknowledge that losing mum at a young age has meant my relationship to grief has had it’s own depth and been the catalyst for many big transitions in this life but the other part that has consistently pulled at my edges is a fascination with intimacy, sexuality and the power of our life force, Eros. As is often the way when I’m playing at the wild edges of my existence I’ve spent a lot of time pondering the patterns, lessons, gifts and wisdom of both grief and eros.
And the full truth is I haven’t always been so willing or able to sit with grief to hear her wisdom (in fact I spent more than 20 years trying to evade the grief of motherloss through work, drugs, alcohol, travel, spiritual practices, relationships & emotional addiction). Nor have I always been willing to sit with or speak openly about my journey with sacred sexuality, eros and erotic energy (funnily enough those same 20 years spent evading grief I also spent evading the power of Eros).
But at this point in my life I’m no longer willing or able to turn away from the gifts of Grief’s initiations. I’ve come to deeply honour the sacred dance of life both she and Eros represent and love the way they weave together to show our emergent potential.
During my 30’s I attended my first sacred sexuality retreat and I discovered a wellspring of unexpressed grief caught in my body. Through the embodiment of grief’s gifts I discovered a liberation of my sensual and sexual energy, and a greater capacity to rest into my own bones. The more I explored, the more I came to be fascinated by the ways grief & Eros were so deeply intertwined. (Ok in fairness it’s broader than just grief, it’s our emotional body in general, but that’s a post for another day!)
Eros: Existential psychologist Rollo May defined eros as the desire to return to that which we truly belong to. A return to Self, Soul, Wholeness. In Greek mythology Eros is the God of Love, erotic energy and the son of Aphrodite. One of four greek words for love, eros is to be in love with, passionately or sexually.
Grief: Researcher, author & empath pioneer Karla McLaren considers Grief as the Deep River of the Soul, it’s gifts are the complete immersion in the river of the soul.
I remember sharing with a younger lover at some stage of my journey that his gift of loving presence in love making would offer immense gifts for his future lovers. And for whatever reason I felt the need to share with him to not be afraid if his partners ever begin to cry while they’re making love. He looked at me like I was mixing up two topics that weren’t meant to be together but I continued to explain that it’s a beautiful gift that he can hold that space and she be able to surrender. That the two so beautifully weave together – when we shine the light of love into places previously unseen or unloved there can naturally be grief for all of the love not previously received. Bittersweet is how I’ve come to know these experiences. A reminder that light cannot exist without the dark, and nor the dark without the light.
“The beauty of Eros is it’s passionate threshold where light and darkness meet within the person. We need to reimagine God as the energy of transfigurative Eros, the source from which all creativity flows.” ~John O’Donohue
When the heart shattering waves of grief and loss arrived in my life again recently, I felt the incredible pull to the river of my soul. Amidst the heartache I also felt the honouring of my mortality, impermanence of life and capacity for life and love. And a reunion with the life force that flows freely in me – Eros. While these have been some of the darkest months I’ve journeyed through, the acceptance of grief and my erotic nature have also been the most profound pathways to Rest and Self Love I’ve encountered.
Each time I allow myself to be ravaged by grief, I drop the walls around my heart and open more to receive fully, to be penetrated by the wonder and awe of life, to make love to life in each breath.
So to me there is no doubt in my mind that Eros and Grief are both about Coming Home to our true Self. They are an inextricably linked part of human existence, tied to our capacity to be fully immersed in the essence of life.
But as a culture we’ve still got some pretty shitty shame based ideas and behaviours around grief (and sexuality). We seem unable to really acknowledge that there is a cycle of life and death is a normal part of that. In more land honouring cultures the relationship to death and grief is a little more robust, for example in the Celtic tradition there were Keeners who were hired to wail and lament at funerals, to help people mourn the loss of loved ones. And in many others (eg Mexico, Guatemala, Africa) death is honoured and celebrated with an awareness that expression is needed.
“Grief expressed out loud for someone we have lost, or a country or home we have lost, is in itself the greatest praise we could ever give them. Grief is praise, because it is the natural way love honors what it misses.” ~ Martin Prechtel
When we’re not able to honour that need for expression or to channel the energy of grief, losses accumulate over the years, the body becomes dammed up with unexpressed emotions and our true essence gets heavy and unable to flow. And our bodies, minds and hearts can become so tense from the burden of keeping grief at bay we also are unable to rest.
Shut off from the wellspring of energy and vitality that is our very essence – our sensuality, our sexuality, our life force, our creativity and our capacity for imagination.
So we see a culture of overachievers, perfectionists and workaholics unable to stop because they fear being with the pain inside. In the perpetual doing or numbing vitality and capacity for real intimacy or pleasure gets dammed up along with the painful pieces.
“Many people move to numbness, rage, acrimony, distraction, or dissociation — many people will do everything but drop and grieve when death or irretrievable loss occurs. But avoiding grief doesn’t help; in fact, it only makes things worse. We trick ourselves into thinking that we can guard ourselves against all pain if we just refuse to grieve (or think about or prepare for death).
In that refusal, however, we make a tragic mistake, and each death and each loss, because we don’t feel it properly, just stacks itself on top of the last death or loss – like papers on a disorganized desk – until we’re filled with unfelt, unlived, unresolved losses and deaths. Without the ability to grieve, we are repeatedly traumatized by loss and death.” Karla McLaren
When we’re able to create space and trust in our capacity to witness the waters of Grief as she moves through us, we can help keep the energy circulating. And instead of drowning we open to the potential of free flow and life force moving through us. We come into a fresh sense of aliveness and intimacy with life, Eros.
Amidst the moments of darkness that have humbled me more than ever these past months I’m also experiencing the beauty of the wellspring of life within me – the sensuality, creativity, water, that flows freely in my words and my womb.
As I share more openly about grieving with those close to me I’ve been blessed to have others share vulnerably with me about their journey too. Women who have laid their bellies to the ground to allow grief to wash through them only to discover that when they stood back up there was something profoundly lighter, yet deeper and more connected to life than they had known before.
Having not been bought up in a space where grief was honoured, day by day I’ve had to learn to reframe my experience with death and loss and allow my body to learn it doesn’t need to hold on the way it did.
The past few years we’ve seen humanity plunge into some very deep dark moments and many have lost loved ones or their way of life. The need to honour grief is more prominent than ever. If we want to keep our hearts open to life, and to each other – we are going to need to practice staying with our pain instead of running from it.
Only then will we be able to be with the pain and losses others experience and truly meet each other in the heart.
Otherwise there will forever be parts of our beauty that we remain cut off from. And we’ll forever be at war with parts of ourself which will continue to leak out into war in our outer world.
If we can see grief not as a problem that needs to be fixed, we could also begin to practice simply BEING WITH ourselves and our loved ones as we honour the deep wellspring of love that arises in grief. We might then watch as the wave gently rises and falls and we find ourselves back in the deep nourishing river of life, instead of at war with natural, normal, healthy and powerful pieces of ourselves.
I hope that in sharing more of my stories with grief I can contribute to the broader conversation and collectively begin to heal this disconnection to our humanness.
I pray we keep learning how to honour our heart breaks, we learn to be with the pain within ourselves and can then support each other in honouring the sacredness of a journey with tears and heaviness – so we don’t shut down the deeply sensual and erotic beings that we are.
And if Grief has come to visit you today I send you all my love, and honour you for courageously loving in a world that is wild and impermanent. And I hold you in my heart as you journey through the dark night and learn to hold this piece tenderly in your heart too. May you recognise the healing power of Eros that flows within you and may you know how loved and supported you are.