I spent my 50th birthday last weekend deep in the Redwoods near Santa Cruz, attending a sacred grief and gratitude retreat led by fellow grief tenders and new precious friends Dana and Hannah. Some might think it strange to spend my birthday grieving with a group of people I had never met before, but to me it was deeply significant. My five decades on this planet have been woven together by as many sacred threads of sorrow as those of joy.
I was born into a dying world. Since the day of my birth on a crisp November day in England fifty years ago, this beautiful blue planet has lost three quarters of all wildlife across land, rivers, seas, and skies, along with half of all plant life. The levels of human and non-human suffering that have occurred during this time are impossible to imagine. As I write this I am breathing in toxic smoke from a town called Paradise that has burned to the ground. The disease that has taken us into the Sixth Mass Extinction was born from forgetting how to be with our own suffering, with the suffering of others, and with the suffering of our planet in ways that make us wiser. Seems to me that if we had registered and honoured each and every loss and trauma, both personal and planetary, as they occurred throughout history, then we simply would not have had the time to wreak the level of destruction that we have visited on our planet.
We would have been too busy singing songs and creating shrines and holding each other and making heartfelt offerings to lay at the feet of all that had been lost and all the places that were hurting as our earth-honouring ancestors did. Deep in our bones we still carry this longing, to weave ritual and beauty together in ever more meaningful ways to strengthen and enliven us, and to remind us of the power and grace in being embodied in this sacred world.
On my birthday itself, I asked my fellow warriors of the broken open heart to help me cross this life threshold with prayer and intention. We made a line from fallen sticks of oak and cedar, separating all those over fifty from all those under. As I crossed over, all the voices behind me sang to the many gifts I carry forward as a woman who no longer bleeds and whose hair is turning silver, and the voices welcoming me forward sang to all the gifts the world is longing for me to bring.
In giving my life away in service I am humbly aligning myself with our planet who keeps on giving regardless of how much she has lost. My grief bundle contained all that I need to let go of in order to keep walking this path, along with my tears offered as prayers, and gifts from the forest floor. Wrapped in red cloth, laid on the altar, and offered to the sacred fire on the last day, my bundle was small, but carried an entire universe of love and longing, like the precious newborn I once was.
Photograph: Lara as a baby in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, England, November 3, 1968.
No editing or filter. Spiral markings seem to be from photo damage or enlargement...