Grief as Initiation
Updated: Nov 22, 2020
“Reclaiming the initiatory power and healing potential residing in grief is to take back our own emotional power and remember who we are...It is the capacity of your heart to hold more and more of the divine and to open even more to life in appreciation for the miracle it truly is.” -Nandi Hetenyi
Lately I have been reflecting on the initiatory role of grief in our lives. If we think about it in terms of the stages of initiation: severance, liminality, and return, it gives a helpful context to explore this process. And, it allows us to embrace this journey for the growth that comes from it, rather than resisting and simply prolonging the suffering.
There are many ways we experience grief, this might be through physical illness, death of a loved one, loss of livelihood or home. Francis Weller also speaks of some other "Gates of Grief" such as grief for the world and ancestral grief.
Personally, I experienced the initiation of grief through my journey with burnout. One minute I had been going down a path that seemed entirely fulfilling, the next I was completely swept off my feet. Almost overnight I was severed from my reality and the world I had come to know so well. I fell into a liminal state where I felt as though I had no ground to stand on.
It was nearly a year and a half before I finally succumbed to the grief that had been walking alongside me. I resisted the grief because I didn't feel that I had a container to hold me, or possibly because we live in such a grief-phobic culture that I wasn't even able to see it for what it was. As I began to open up to the grief, I started to feel the heavy weight of loss begin to lift.
Honouring grief was a crucial step for me in embracing the liminal stage of initiation. This can be a very disconcerting place where we find ourselves removed from the familiar, trying to feel our way through the dark woods. I found that grief allowed me to surrender to this place by releasing the hold on my old identity; thereby creating space for something new to come to life.
As I now find myself emerging from the cocoon and reintegrating into the world, I am so grateful for the companion of grief in my journey. I see that grief itself has been a potent aspect of my initiation. It helped me to sever the bonds on my former self, embrace the uncertainty of the unknown, and step into a new life that was awaiting me all along.
I have been deeply humbled by my experience with grief for it has softened and opened my heart to a deeper feeling of love for the world. Although initiation is not necessarily easy, especially in a culture where it is virtually absent, it has been the most profound time in my life. Perhaps if we could learn to lean into our grief, we would begin to embrace the beautiful transition that is patiently waiting for us to step into.