Though the fires are not yet out, the smoke has cleared enough for a brief while that last night the stars shone again on parts of suffering Sonoma County. The air outside where I live in my little meditation studio is once again yielding the fragrance of eucalyptus and rosemary, and my own heart is filled with to the brim with sweet and profound tenderness after witnessing others in their vulnerable depths at a moving grief ritual led by Francis Weller and Taylor Lampson on Saturday and drinking in the loveliness of last night's labyrinth walk.
Francis (whose amazing book The Wild Edge of Sorrow: Rituals of Renewal and the Sacred Work of Grief should be required reading for our world right now) reminded us that in previous ages, those whose lives had been marked with tragedy would wear black arm bands, so we could more gently and compassionately greet them. Though each of us carry our sorrow in moments of solitude, grief cannot be digested alone. In order for grief to be both felt and to transform, we need community and we need things that are strong enough to hold our despair. Without these, we are prone to either freezing into numbness or to staying stuck in a place of emotional overwhelm.
All of us here in Sonoma County, and many of you who are close to us in other parts of the world, have been traumatized by the events of the past week, which have followed so swiftly on the heels of the tragedy of Las Vegas shootings, the hurricanes in Florida, Puerto Rico and Texas and countless other tragedies large and small.
What will make it possible to stagger through the days to come? What will make it possible to start anew? How can we stay in a place of deep feeling without becoming so overwhelmed that we freeze or become incapacitated?
I believe that what we most need now most are two things: beauty and blessing. The act of blessing is something that needed to be reclaimed. It is not the province of priests, but a birthright and soul-calling for all of us. We do not need holy water or prescribed litanies. It can be as simple as saying to a stranger ( as I have witnessed so many doing here in Petaluma): “How are you doing? Is your house still standing? Are you safe? And then, “Take care of yourself. Be well”- and then offering a hug, or a kind touch on the shoulder or just a gaze full of sincere loving kindness or maybe one of your biscotti.
Now is the time to invoke and awaken beauty. Time and time again throughout history, beauty has been a pathway, and sometimes the only pathway, of hope when old structures are crumbling. We are now living in a time of a New Hero’s Journey. Both Joseph Campbell and the Dalai Lama indicated that the future salvation would hinge not on an individual but on a community. It is up to us as a community to create a refuge of beauty for the souls of the world.
In the days to come, I will be announcing partnerships for our community that will also be able to connect with you wherever you might live, to offer beauty, depth and meaning through community-- to a new level.
In the meantime, I hope wherever you are you might give yourself the gift of beauty--and I urge you to consider how you might bring more beauty into your own life and the lives of others.
We bought roses in preparation for the labyrinth walk last night. At first we debated whether it was a senseless indulgence, but truthfully, we need roses more than ever, to remember that life is not just thorns but blossoms. I offer you this song by Dan Forest: Entreat Me Note To Leave You. Filled with dissonance in the beginning, it opens to offer a song of profound love and hope. Though it can be heard as a poignant song between two individuals ( the text is from theBook of Ruth), I imagine it now as a song about our collective. It mirrors the commitment I have to my own dear little community.
Entreat me not to leave you
For where you go I will go
And where you live I will live
Your people Shall be my people
Roses, music, poetry, stories of hope and healing: may you drink deeply from these wells of beauty wherever you may be. Hold each other gently with kindness.. I cannot predict whether or not there will be fires tomorrow- but today there will be Bach and Mozart, and in the weeks to come, Beethoven and more labyrinth walks. Such things might just be the beauty we need in order to plant the seeds of hope for our future.