live in the ashes

I should have known The Wild Edge of Sorrow would resonate so much. It might be why I delayed reading it these last few months, like saving a nice bottle of wine for a special occasion. I think a part of me knew it would hit differently if I read it while I’m hanging out in Oregon with a return to a more isolated existence over the “be there in 5” I had for the last 6 months in various parts of North Carolina. I’ve had a rush of memories and moments of looking back on my life since arriving here. It feels eerily similarly to the mental nomading I did as the depths of quarantine hit me in Salt Lake City last year but less depressing and more gratitude creating.

I’ve been looking forward to and mentally preparing for my stay in the PNW. It’s felt like preparing for “emotional game time” as I’ve written about before. I think a part of me wondered if I really had built up better coping skills, more resilience, and more perspective during my time in SLC that would translate going forward. Essentially, did I grow from that time or did it just simply damage me? I’ve been thinking about that aspect a ton as more and more friends express weariness around the same feelings recurring. I try to remind them and myself that the feelings might be the same or similar but it’s you who has changed or can change (reminds me of this quote a bit). It really does take such hard work to be changed by something for the better — to become softer, more empathetic, more aware, less self involved, etc. I digress.

I absolutely love The Wild Edge of Sorrow. I am reading it in short bursts because I can hardly contain myself and the book is a mere 200 pages. I know I’m really excited by something I read because I will speed read and get physically agitated, like I need to go for a run or write a 10 page paper (this worked to my advantage in college). I finally stopped reading today because I felt I wasn’t able to give it the proper attention I wanted to. It’s a feeling I often have after about an hour or two in a museum. I simply can’t take in more goodness and it pains me to try to push through to witness it all haphazardly. It’s as if I forget that I can return to the words whenever! Below are some of my favorite quotes thus far. My poor friends are getting inundated with chaotic screenshots and joyous exclamations from yours truly so count yourself lucky you’re only seeing the following:

“Our soul knows we are designed for a bigger, more sensuous, and more imaginative life. But we can go for days, weeks, months, a lifetime with only marginal encounters with beauty and the wild, only rarely sharing an intimate moment with a friend.”

“Grief is alive, wild, untamed; it cannot be domesticated. It resists the demands to remain passive and still. We move in jangled, unsettled, and riotous ways when grief takes hold of us. It is truly an emotion that arises from the soul.”

“There is some strange intimacy between grief and aliveness, some sacred exchange between what seems unbearable and what is most exquisitely alive. Through this, I have come to have a lasting faith in grief.”

“In turn, by restoring grief to soul work, we are freed from our one-dimensional obsession with emotional progress. This “psychological moralism” places enormous pressure on us to always be improving, feeling good, and rising above our problems.”

“In fact, archetypal psychologist James Hillman once noted that being outraged is a sure sign that our soul is awake. Each of these emotions and experiences has vitality in it, and that is our work: to be alive and to be a good host to whoever arrives at the door of our house. Happiness, then, becomes a reflection of our ability to hold complexity and contradiction, to stay fluid and accept whatever arises, even sorrow.”

“My grief says that I dared to love, that I allowed another to enter the very core of my being and find a home in my heart. Grief is akin to praise; it is how the soul recounts the depth to which someone has touched our lives. To love is to accept the rites of grief.”

I texted that final one to numerous friends telling them each about the homes they have within my heart. One responded with “Do not grieve for me just yet” and I laughed. Of course I already do! I grieve and am so grateful.

In the book, he talks about an ancient Scandinavian ritual where folks would be freed to mourn, often sitting by the fires inside their longhouses: “This sacred season in the ashes was the ancient Scandinavian community’s way of acknowledging that one of their people had entered a world parallel to but separate from the daily life of gathering food, feeding children, and tending fields. Little was expected of them during this time, which often lasted a year or more. The individual’s duty was to mourn, to live in the ashes of their loss, and to regard this time as holy. It was a brooding time, a deeply interior period of digesting and metabolizing the bitter tincture of loss.” Ahhh! What a gift! I feel we all could use this. I feel desperate for grieving rituals between the loss of so much life and ways of living due to this pandemic combined with the myriad of feelings of loss I have around family. We all need spaces to fall apart right now and to do so in a space where we belong. Shall I rent a house for a year, send an email out to loved ones inviting them to come whenever, and start gathering fire wood?


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