Robert Augustus Masters

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My Grief, Our Grief, The Grief

  • July 30, 2015
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Grief (tree) sebastian kostrubala


(What follows includes a composite of many weeklong groups that I, along with Diane, have led.)


Various themes emerge as the group plunges deeper, usually beginning with one participant, and more often than not eventually involving the entire group. The notion that each person’s work is everyone’s work soon becomes not just an idea, but a vital obviousness, spontaneously bringing forth a compassion that’s both individual and collective.


There is fear, anger, sadness, shame, joy, and there is grief and a deeper grief, an avalanche of grief. It begins as “my” grief, then often becomes “our” grief, and finally “the” grief. Immense hurt and despair, immense opening — carrying participants through their heartbreak into a clearing that’s as naturally compassionate as it is vast.


In that clearing, that tender spaciousness, that exquisitely raw openness, there is, to whatever degree, room for all.


Intimacy with such openness — which is reached through going into it, no matter how much it might hurt — makes room for a knowingness, a recognition, that is not explanatory but revelatory. Through this we are able to touch our fragility, our utter vulnerability. Brought to our knees, we find not meaning or consolation, but an unspeakable significance.


This doesn’t, however, mean that grief is done or worked through, that our heart will stop aching, that the reality of our loss won’t still rip us open, but that our tendency to avoid our grief becomes less gripping.


Grief is messy, chaotic, wild. It messes us up, shakes us down, bares our heart, overwhelms and undoes us, opens us wide and deep.


In “the” grief, we intuit and feel the totality of suffering, and allow that feeling to pervade us. This does not bring about just more sorrow, but also more love, love that remains itself even as it weeps, sobs, rages, shakes, lays curled up…


One man, toward the end of a particularly wrenching piece of work, accesses “the” grief and in the midst of it passionately cries out, in so many words, that there’ll be no real progress until we all — and he means “we” on a much larger scale than that of our group — fully grieve. Everyone weeps or otherwise resonates with him (as they sit closely around him), knowing his words to be bedrock true.


A famous rabbi, when asked what could be done about the war between Israel and Palestine, once said, “Both sides have to grieve together.”




The deepest grief is, however solitary its expression, ultimately a communal event. It touches all. Its hurt uproots us and blows the cover off our sky, carrying us far beyond the dramatics of sorrow.


Grief is a passion. Sadness is not a passion, nor is sorrow, but grief is. Like other passions — rage, lust, ecstasy — it has the power to overwhelm us, for better or for worse.


Grief works best when it is uninhibited. So many want to hush it, to muzzle or mute it, perhaps so as to minimize any potential embarrassment — such suppression being commonplace at funerals. Anyone who really wails, fully lets it out, tends to be looked upon as behaving poorly or inconsiderately, as if such expression is not something adults should do.


In the group there’s an abundance of expressive intensity, beautiful, wild, fierce, profoundly emotional — music to my ears, nothing-held- back music, however rough, soaring into the depths, cutting through long-ago voices that said to be quiet, to keep it down, to shut up, to be a good girl or boy.


This unleashed vocal intensity is not mere venting or emotional masturbation, nor self-indulgence, nor some sort of contrived scream therapy, nor a bid for attention, but rather just life-energy on the awakened loose, cutting new channels in the terrain of being, uprooting obsolete stands.


A great wildness this is, with us riding its waves, letting ourselves be carried into the heart of what truly matters.


Such grief. Such a dark yet luminous outpouring, such a ripping of the heart, such a motiveless plunge into suffering and loss and the extremely vulnerable existential position we are all in, birthed into a realm that is far, far less substantial than it appears.


Several times the entire group spontaneously grieves together, with no directive to do so. What follows is not the oblivion of emotional exhaustion, but the natural ease of simply being. Hearts open until there is, however briefly, only the Great Heart — and then more tears, more opening, and, yes, more of everything else, including joy and anger.


(The de-suppression of anger often catalyzes an undamming of grief, of a feeling of loss so immense and deep that it can, eventually, embrace other losses — losses that belong to all of us — thereby making deeply significant links not only across space, but also through time. Thus do we move from the interiorized community of voices that make up our usual sense of self to the community at large, widening the circle of our reach, our love, our caring, our interconnectedness.)


In the bare intensity of grief, however agonizing it might be, there may emerge at least some sense of a sobering ease, the ease of simply being — not being this, not being that, but simply Being. This is not the ease of immunity-seeking transcendence, nor that resulting from any other flight from painful feeling, but rather is the ease of simply existing, equally at home with the high and the low.


Such is the prevailing condition of the heart that, though already broken, is nonetheless sufficiently open to have room for all that we are, however dark or lowly.


In grief, the heart’s broken in the same way that a stream rushing down through a mountainside forest is broken — it’s still cohesive spiritually, still unified in essence, its elemental dying only strengthening and affirming its fundamental aliveness, its rough-and-tumble course only furthering its dynamic yet utterly vulnerable surrender.


Where reactive sorrow contracts and isolates us, unimpeded grief expands and connects us. Grief can be as spacious as it is earthy, existing as a feeling unpolluted by drama, a deeply personal yet also more-than-personal emotion pervaded by a recognition of the inevitable passing of all that arises.


As such, grief provides not only a bridge between the personal and transpersonal (with neither having a “higher” status than the other), but also between pain and love. That bridge awaits our step, our crossing.



     Every loss must be felt right to the core

     Or else there’s a greater loss

     Let the pain sweep through

     And the even truer ache

     And especially the bare need

     The love beyond love

     The pure heartbreak