From what I understand from my family, my work with my ancestors, and from others whom I've spoken to who do this similar work, is that village life was and is quite chaotic at times. There is such a closeness that there is also a lack of privacy, there is wisdom, but there is also superstition and fear. But what stood out for me the most was that there is an ability to walk peacefully with grief, so beautifully, in fact I would call it an art. A person’s grief was embraced rather than denounced because it was understood as a natural occurrence of the human existence, and through ceremony becomes a community event.
What we have created together in our modern society is a phobia of "lesser" or "negative" experiences. We jail our own unwanted emotions much like how we jail unwanted members of society. As we are expected to ignore or push through our grief, what we're really doing is encouraging a society that doesn't respect the sacredness of the human experience, a society lacking in the deep richness and vividness of village community life.
Grief was never experienced in isolation, nor was it limited with a time stamp of when one should finish grieving. Having personally connected to this inner aspect within myself, I can personally say that it is in our own grief that we begin to feel human, and it is in the shared connection of that grief that we feel true community.
I invite you to listen to these recordings from the Minnesota Men's Conference (linked below). Mayan elder Martín Prechtel and Dagara elder Malidoma Somé eloquently share an underlying message that grieving eliminates the need for acting out in destructive ways because it fulfills a deep longing of giving honour to our traumas and losses within our lived experience. Grieving is also a community experience, as we are all responsible for holding space for one another and protecting the griever from inflicting self-harm.
Grieving ceremonies almost always include water. Why? It is water that softens. When there are no tears, it is equivalent to soil in drought. It is water that provides clarification, nourishment and healing. Grieving is one of the many keys to living in wholeness, because it is through grief that pieces of us are no longer left behind, rejected, or shunned. Accepting and holding grief and suffering enables us to be fully matured human beings.
When I first recognized that I had grief, it was in the knowing that I carried several generations long worth of grief in my very being, that because of certain circumstances the ancestors never had a chance to grieve. Although Arabic is my first language, I know it is not my ancestor's first true language. There are countless nomadic tribes in the region of North Africa and along the Nile running into Sudan, and I can only attest to knowing bits and pieces of who they are in relation to me and my ancestors. I am part of a diaspora that holds grief, that dates back beyond my parents and grandparents generation.
As I grew up I felt an innate grief of having lost much of my language and familiarity of home, feeling deep down that there were certain practices that I needed, yet not knowing what they were, it was just a vague idea of practices that belonged to my own blood and roots. It was this inquiry which spurred my journey into finding my inner home and working intensely with my ancestors.
Who we all must turn to at this time are the ancestors because truly the grief started with them, with their forced loss of land and suppression of tribal practices. The healing all comes through with ceremony, because it allows acceptance and honouring of our stories.
Even those whose ancestors were part of the colonizing nations, I invite you to release through grieving, because even they were jettisoned out of their homes in order to colonize in the first place, and many because of forces that were beyond them. Almost all of the colonizers have lost their own true histories, and it is in the grieving that the wisdom can be reclaimed.
When I ask my ancestors what do they want, what can we all do? They simply say, "cry with us."