PART 3: Grieving routines for Nature Connection and Culture Repair

PART 3: Grieving routines for Nature Connection and Culture Repair

This is the third part of a four-part series in which I discuss the four elements that Jon Young from the 8 Shields Institute says are needed for deep nature connection and culture repair. I decided to write about these four elements as a way of sharing my experience of attending an ‘Art of Mentoring’ (AoM) course in the Californian redwood forests with Jon last year. The third element that I am focusing on in this article is ‘effective grieving routines’.

The concept of having grieving routines was not unfamiliar to me before AoM as I have been involved in participating in and facilitating Joanna Macy’s ‘Work that Reconnects’ for the last 10 years. A core part of Joanna’s work is ‘owning and honouring our pain for the earth’ – be it confusion, overwhelm, sadness, fear, anger, numbness, or whatever feelings may be arising as a result of what is happening in our world today. She talks of these feelings being a completely rational response to the environmental and social problems that we are collectively facing.  Just a few examples of the kinds of events that may be engendering these feelings are the war in Syria; the Trump win and subsequent actions he has been taking; fossil fuel addiction of governments in the face of climate change evidence and predictions; and the Australian government’s horrendous treatment of refugees. Sadly this list could go on for some time…. Add to this our personal pain and intergenerational trauma, leaving us all with much grief within us. Jon Young noted that many of his advanced students in nature connection seemed to be hitting blocks preventing them getting to the next level of connection. Over time he put this down to unprocessed grief, and this is why he now says it is essential for deep nature connection and culture repair.  

Joanna Macy’s  book, ‘Active Hope: How to face the mess we’re in without going crazy’[i], written with Chris Johnstone is a wonderful antidote to these feelings and provides simple processes that we can do on our own or with a friend to support us with processing and releasing these feelings. While there is a lot more I could say about Joanna’s work, what I will now share here are some of my experiences at the Art of Mentoring (AoM), and what those experiences taught me in relation to grieving routines.

One way that we were invited to process and heal grief at AoM was by attending the sacred fire. This was held in the traditional way of the Lakota when someone in their community passes on. The sacred fire is lit at dawn one day and then lasts for 4 days and nights, with certain protocols having to be observed throughout. At our AoM sacred fire, each dawn and dusk there was a special ceremony with singing which was very beautiful. The rest of the time, and at all times of day and night, people could come to sit and talk, sing, share, cry or simply sit in silence. It was a place for people to grieve people they had lost in their lives, or anything that was present for them at that time. Many of my friends (there were a group of 21 Australians attending) came often to the Sacred Fire, and deeply appreciated the sacred space it provided for grieving, healing and connection.

Spontaneous expressions of grief were also very welcome at the Art of Mentoring course. The most moving experience for me was sending the teens off on a 3 day hiking trip to the coast and back, and the conversations that transpired after this.  The send-off involved the whole 250+ community of people gathering around the young people. The youth each spoke of their intentions for the trip ahead, and then the elders in the community gave them some words of wisdom. Then the whole group sang a beautiful song ‘When I was young’ as the young people picked up their backpacks and set off on their adventure. The group kept singing until the teens were out of sight, and I found myself shedding some tears. I was quite surprised at this sudden emotion as I didn’t know any of the young people heading off on their journey. It turned out I was not the only one. Shortly after, the group gathered around to debrief the experience. Many people revealed they had also felt emotional, and we talked at length about why this was, and the significance of holding youth in a space where they can be independent, and yet also part of a connected and loving community. What many of us grieved for was that we had lacked this in our own journey of becoming adults. The deep sharing that happened here culminated in the group standing with arms interlinked singing ‘Amazing Grace’. I would be surprised if there had been a dry eye in the open-air space in which we gathered.

What these experiences at AoM confirmed for me that there is always pain to (re)discover, having ways to express these feelings is incredibly healthy, and that this in turn enables deep nature connection and culture repair. One evening after telling us as a short version of the incredible story of ‘the Great Law of Peace’ of the Haudenosaunee nations,  Jon told us that we all have to heal our own grief in order to be peacemakers. For me this concept of peacemaking is about living in peace ­with the earth as well as with all people – caring for the earth as we care for our loved ones.

 I think that all of us need to find our own ways to feel and express both our personal pain and our pain for the world (and sometimes it is not obvious which of these is the source of the feelings, or whether it is a mixture of both).  For me, nature is an incredible healer, and receiving the gift of healing from nature solidifies my connection to, and desire to protect this beautiful planet.  Having regular nature time is therefore a wonderful journey of reciprocity and healing and can be a time and place to allow ourselves to grieve.  However I think nature time alone is not enough to process the grief we hold, so having other ways to do this such as taking part in men’s or women’s groups, seeing a regular therapist, having our own healing ceremonies, taking part in Work that Reconnects processes, is really valuable . What are your ways? I’d love to hear about them.

Later this year (likely in September) I will be running a Work that Reconnects (WTR) workshop in Brisbane for those of you who are interested in this work.  I am also part of a group that meets every second month and takes turns to facilitate WTR processes. Please get in touch if you’d like to know more.

And stay tuned for the final part of this series which is about being exposed to role models who have the 8 attributes of connection. Until then, take care.


[i] Macy, J. and Johnstone, C. (2012). Active Hope: How to face the mess we’re in without going crazy. Warriewood, NSW: Finch Publishing Pty Ltd.



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