CH. 6: THE GREAT AWAKENING: Finding Redemption Through Natural Grieving

Anonymous Awakening

What would it mean to really take grieving onto our path as a constant companion? Would it make us gloomy and foreboding? That’s the fear. But the reality is that with active grieving as part of our daily life, we stop taking things for granted, and begin appreciating the miracle of existence. Grief has a lot to do with appropriate gratitude, seeing things as they really are, and the natural law of compensation.

Everything we gain comes from loss. Most of our successes are built on failure, and every gift we receive from this living universe leaves a hole in its interpenetrating, interdependent, interconnected fabric somewhere else. Just think about where the clothes you have on right now come from, or the food that you are currently digesting. Once we adopt this balanced view of give-and-take, this realistic view of impermanence and incremental loss, then the ‘grief of being alive’ completes our love of life and for others. 

The flip side of grief is our capacity for giving praise. Going through each day praising this miracle of life, appreciating all the causes and conditions that have to continually come together and fall apart just for us to continue living, looking deeply at the suffering in the world by which we ourselves profit, and reminding ourselves that literally hundreds of species are going extinct today because of the burgeoning human population. All of this roots out the ingrained feelings of entitlement we have been conditioned with our whole lives here in the West, and replaces them with attitudes of gratitude, appreciation, awe, and wonder.

Can you begin to see grief in a positive light now?

Grief + Praise = Love of Life.

We have all this repressed grief stored up in our body, the unbearable tension of implicit memory of losing our toehold in life, and so when it finally comes it hits us like a tsunami wave. The great Indian pandit Shantideva put it like this:

Don’t you see how one by one/ Death comes to claim your fellow man?And yet you slumber on so soundly/ Like a buffalo beside its butcher.

Contrast this experience of living with that of a cancer survivor. These people know intimately the value on living that comes with the knowledge of mortality, don’t they? 

Life as we know it is ending. We are day-by-day losing the rich diversity of fish and animals and reptiles and birds and insects and plants that was our inheritance. These are real and profound losses. If you are not deeply saddened by this ongoing unraveling of the web of life, then you are as if already dead. Let’s stop running away from all this. There is no escape.

Instead – let us own it. Let’s start courageously grieving these losses today and everyday (or so) for the rest of our days on Earth.

The other side of grieving is loving. The more we grow in our practice of actively grieving those aspects of the natural world we are losing, the greater our affinity becomes with the natural world we still inhabit. Which is why it is so important to balance out our grieving these losses with practices of enjoying the bounty we have gained through healthy processing our natural depression – such as gardening, nature walks, stargazing, poetry, or simply sitting on earth under a particular tree in our immediate environment. These two kinds of practice go hand-in-hand, keep us in balance, and help restore human nature at the deep level of collective psyche – where we reconnect with the world soul. 

We are redeemed by grief, recovering our lost sense of what it means to be human. We cannot help but feel increasingly connected to the natural world once we begin actively grieving what is happening within it. And there is solace there.

It is like planting our psyche in the Earth. We sink our roots deep down into her fertile soil, we reach way up into the sheltering sky, we grow strong, and in time we bear fruit.

Once we begin to open our hearts to the suffering of all sentient beings – not just humans and pets – once we begin to see the connections between our diet and the devastation that is happening beneath the ocean’s waves and to the planets lungs (rain forests) and even on our own public lands, then quite naturally we do what we can to alleviate the suffering in the world, without anyone browbeating us. 

And in all of this, we begin to become citizens of the world again, rather than just culturally conditioned consumer clones waiting to be exploited by omnipresent corporate media. We are no longer just thinking of ourselves, but thinking and feeling for ourselves, and about our relations to all that is ‘other’ –  awakening to a more sentient existence. We are living and loving and grieving in the world, and the tears are balanced out by our increased capacity for joy, a larger sense of connection and meaning, and ever-widening spheres of compassion. As the Indian guru and sanysassin Satyananda Saraswat said:

“Transformation comes not from discussing our problems and looking for alleged culprits. Transformation is only possible if a critical mass of people make the leap from unconsciousness to awareness. If we – you and me – ask ourselves what part we are playing in any present problem.”

What part will you play?

(c) 2015 Zhiwa Woodbury: No reproduction of this and related pieces without express authorization from the author


Trinity Lotus

While we can never put the genie of the White Sands desert back in the bottle, we still carry in our political body the implicit memory of the horrors that it unleashed in the Land of the Rising Sun. The deep inner wound in our collective psyche that resulted from this cosmic rupture is a wound we share with the soul of the world (Anima Mundi). In cases of developmental trauma, therapy involves calling that implicit memory stored in our soma, the patterned tensions in our body, up into active consciousness to be held in open spacious awareness like a mother holds her child. The experience of that trauma is accessible to us still because we did not fully experience it in the moment it first arose. As Psychiatrist Mark Epstein puts it: “Experiences of trauma become freeze-framed into an eternal present in which one remains forever trapped…”

Let us assume we as a culture, the culture of the American Dream, remain forever trapped in the eternal present of the atomic age, and that it is the dysfunction arising from this cultural trauma that is preventing us from responding emotionally to the unfolding climate crisis – the dying seas, the disappearing species, and the impoverishment of nature for all future generations. What can we as individuals do to heal this deep fissure in our collective psyche that serves to separate our culture from human nature’s world soul?

We as a culture need to overcome the symptomatic distraction of our climate depression in order to accept our grief over what has been lost already, and what we are in the process of losing forevermore. But there are millions who are already at this final stage in the climate grieving process, who are no longer suppressing their natural (healthy) depression. What can we do now to facilitate the truth and reconciliation process that has to become enculturated in the very near future? We can take on this responsibility for all our fellow citizens of the world right now by going deep within to a place of stillness where the awareness of our psyche connects with the collective psyche and is encompassed by the psyche (lit., ‘soul’) of the world. Once we are there, in our meditation, we can assume the role of our own, and the world’s, therapist.

Here is a meditation that I have been doing in response to the call of Anima Mundi in this unified field of awareness in which, and by which, we are all connected. It is based on the powerful tong-len practice of Tibetan meditation in which we take on the suffering of others in the form of black smoke, which then collects at our heart and detonates, shattering the hard shell made of common suffering that encases it, and then from the vast open spaciousness of that detonation we send out our own happiness to others in the form of white light. We carry this visualization on our breath, breathing in black smoke, holding it in to spark the detonation, and releasing the white light on our out-breath, imagining those whose suffering is the object of our taking-and-giving meditation to be transformed in bliss by the white light, due to our willingness to take on their suffering.

We can see how easily this can be adapted to the wounds associated with the Trinity Test, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. For the sake of this meditation, we imagine all the consequent suffering wrapped up into that first detonation in the White Sands. We are going to actually imagine ourselves at the test site, in that eternal moment, taking that mushroom cloud, which will contain all the suffering of Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and yes, climate change, into our left nostril in the form of putrid, black, dense smoke – quite as if we are a superhero whose super power is having a heart that can expand infinitely into a spiritual container for the suffering of others. And even though in this meditation we will actually be imagining the horrible suffering of the women and children (and animals) who tragically died in the hell realm we created, there is no reason to be afraid here, because as the Tibetan lamas constantly remind us, the human heart really does have this unlimited capacity for expansion in the practice of great compassion.

So recall for our purposes the eyewitness account of the Trinity Test by Isador Isaac Rabi:

Suddenly, there was an enormous flash of light, the brightest light I have ever seen or that I think anyone has ever seen. It blasted; it pounced; it bored its way into you. It was a vision which was seen with more than the eye. It was seen to last forever. You would wish it would stop; altogether it lasted about two seconds.”

The bright light is neutral – the creative/destructive force of nature. It is the black smoke of the mushrooming cloud that we take into our left nostril, filling our lungs and concentrating at our heart. When we get to the top of this deep breath, we hold in all this suffering of the world, our mother Earth, and because of the expansive potential in our heart, the hard black shell of our own grief and lamentation that encases our wounded heart explodes just like Trinity, blasting every cell of our physical being out into the infinitude of the cosmos. It is a vast white open spaciousness, a meaning-filled continuum free from suffering, filled instead with blissful wisdom nectar. All of this happens in a flash. It’s a feeling, not a story. And in that eternal moment, we release all this on our out-breath, and it brings instant peace and reconciliation to all the old men, young mothers, and infant children who perished at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, who themselves have been trapped in the confusion and chaos of that eternal moment all this time. They are released, they forgive us out of gratitude for our compassionate act, and the fissure between us and our mother, the rupture that is separating the collective human psyche from the soul of the world, is healed. Our great compassion transforms this rupture into rapture. We can also imagine this healing white light going out to all those who currently are suffering from ignorance in relation to the climate crisis, awakening them to their true human nature and the wonder of the natural world by which they are nurtured.

That’s the meditation. We cycle through it with our breathing. Not every breath, but whenever we feel the inspiration of compassion rise in us from our unresolved grief over the untold suffering that is there in the collective psyche. The meditation follows this same format of inhalation, explosion, and exhalation; darkness, liberating light, and reconciliation/transformation. But the visions that occur to us are unique in the moment and to our psyche, according to our own karmic connections. Whatever come up, hold it, honor it, transform it, and release it. To conclude this meditation, I want to suggest a simple kind of mantric ‘tong-len’ in which we take on Oppenheimer’s famous thought on seeing the result of the Trinity Test, which became manifest according to his own worst fears a few weeks later, and transform it’s energy into the form the world soul and human nature needs most right now:

In breath: ”Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”

Out breath: Now I am become Life, the creator of worlds.

Repeat this a few times, imagine all beings in all three times (past/present/future) benefiting from that powerful intention, and then dedicate the merit of this practice to all those trapped in the eternal present of the American Dream, that they may wake up to our collective climate grief, awaken to the interpenetrating interdependence of all life on this miracle of a planet, and assume responsibility for this existential crisis. If everyone, or at least a critical mass, awoke in this way and began to see things as they really are, we could reverse climate change tomorrow – by the simple expedient of drastically reducing and eventually eliminating meat from our diet. We do not need any political leader to empower us to do this. We can do it ourselves just by being more mindful with every mouthful.

(c) 2015 Zhiwa Woodbury: No reproduction, except for non-profit or personal use as an aid in meditation practice, without express authorization from author.



The Cure for Pain is in the Pain.” ~ Rumi

The process of nourishing the seeds of acceptance that have been planted in our heart by the recognition of the wisdom of grief in our mind will lead us into a deeper understanding of climate grieving. That deep understanding is what the acceptance stage ‘looks’ like, and at the feeling-level, this acceptance manifests as a kind of spiritual awakening. Since collectively we are at stage four of climate grief, the process of nourishing the seeds of acceptance necessarily involves immersing ourselves in what we need to think of as ‘healthy depression.’

Of course, we know on some level that grieving is a healthy response to loss. Once we get past the denial that has prevented us from acknowledging our own and our society’s loss of an intimate connection to the natural world, to the world soul, and once we begin to see what has resulted from this unnatural state of affairs, it is naturally depressing. It is only through the grieving process that we will be able to release these natural feelings of depression. In turn, it is this release that then opens the psychological and heart space necessary for us to restore a proper relationship – to recover our own human nature. 

The first step in forging the kind of spiritual cauldron that we will each require to contain, process, and release the grief we have accumulated while we’ve been asleep as a culture, and to transform ourselves into cultural healers and caregivers for the Earth, is to make room for the sacred in our hearts and in our homes, carving out a place where we can quietly work with our own precious minds for the purpose of reconnecting with something we’ve lost, or forgotten, but which has never really gone away – our own true (human) nature .

It’s like planting seeds in a garden. There is some effort in preparing the soil and choosing the seeds. But once they are in the fertile soil, we don’t ‘make’ them grow. We simply tend the garden, returning to it daily, perhaps watering it if it seems dry, and we allow the seeds to sprout, take root, grow, and bear fruit. This is much the same way we cultivate the spiritual field in our heart – by planting seeds of intention , watering those seeds with pure motivation, and nourishing them with the light of noble silence.

Establishing a meditation practice is especially useful because of the culture that we happen to be immersed in at this critical time in our social history. Modern American (now global) culture actively works to undermine spiritual contentment, since contentment undermines the kind of needy sense of inadequacy that our consumer culture depends upon. And it does this very effectively by seducing us with myriad distractions. Quiet contemplative practices are the antidote to all this cultural turmoil, and they allow us to become our own therapists, as well.

We all carry the latent suffering and psychological blockage of developmental trauma in our implicit memory, including the rupture of the nuclear age that severed us from the natural world. By allowing ourselves sacred space through mindful spiritual practice, such implicit memories will suddenly or gradually surface from the depths of our psyche. As the psychotherapist Mark Epstein points out, “the mind, by its very nature, is capable of holding trauma much the way a mother naturally relates to a baby.” The payoff is not just freeing up these blockages to relational experience and loving, but just as significantly, getting in touch with our own true nature, described by psychoanalyst Michael Eigen as follows:

“If you penetrate to the core of your aloneness you will not only find yourself, there will also be this [previously] unknown, boundless presence… at the core of your aloneness. No matter how deep you go, you’ll find it there.”

That is our true nature. It is here, in quiet moments and luminous glimpses, that we come into a kind of pure awareness which puts us in true relation with ourselves and with all that is other, with human nature and with nature herself – with the very soul of the world. In healing our psyche (lit., ‘soul’), we become whole.

(c) 2015 Zhiwa Woodbury: No reproduction of this and related pieces without express authorization from the author