Almost a week now since the last Drinking from the Well Grief Ceremony in Oregon until I return there later in the year. Back here in the high desert in Northern California I have been resting my bones before moving forward with my vision of heading south and bringing this sacred work to some of the communities devastated by the wildfires and mudslides last year. I am filled with gratitude for all that came together last week when after crying out for community to grieve with, a sudden village appeared for the sharing of our deepest soul songs.
Deep bows to my fellow grief tenders Charlie Taylor and Kelley Springer who brought such wisdom, compassion, and power to our day together, to my new friend Joe Borecki who offered such a sweet sanctuary space for us all to gather, to all those who brought their broken open hearts and journeyed so deeply with us, and to all those rooted in the land there who held and blessed us as we shared this work together, among them silver maple, flowering cherry, blue spruce, incense cedar, crab apple, hawthorne, dogwood, lavender, heather, lilac, and rose.
On returning to my beloveds and our kin and community here of juniper, manzanita, willow, wild hare, coyote, owl, lava rock, lichen, and mountain, I have been taking some respite from the soul-eating forces of so much engagement with the machine world that is required when creating such an event. Each morning on rising I have tended to my spirit by sharing a gratitude ceremony with some of the ritual objects that supported us through this last gathering, along with others woven out of its rich medicine, and some that were gifted to me on the day.
On my altar sits the brass Nepalese statue of Green Tara, bodhisattva and goddess of universal compassion, who once watched over my Buddhist grandmother. Seated on her lotus pedestal she holds a blue lotus, a flower that blooms only in darkness, and cradles a golden wrap of salt for purification gifted to me by one of my mentors. Beside her sits Shakyamuni Buddha with a single feather from the bright coral underwing of a red-shafted flicker that came to rest at my feet several years ago as my own heart was breaking in an old plum tree grove.
A wooden bowl that once held food to sustain me now serves to contain the grieving stones I have collected over many years from creeks, lakes, and rivers, worn smooth not just by the water that washed over them before they offered themselves up for this work, but by the tenderness with which they are held and handled during our grief ceremonies. They say stones are the oldest ones, and these have heard generations of grief from those who swam deep, before absorbing their sorrows and returning them to the water for the healing of all those who came before.
Beside my singing bowl rests the sacred bundles of rosemary, juniper, cedar, and rose woven by Kelley's loving hands from the foliage collected by our village to grace and beautify our communal shrine. Each bundle carries within it the many songs and stories from our grief ceremony, including the story of Kanaro - the forest bird who brought an Amazonian village, forever divided by a great storm that widened the river between them, back into connection by flying back and forth over the water singing back to the villagers the two halves of their grief song.
A pinch of ash rests inside a baby abalone shell that shook itself loose from the rattle that helped guide our villagers to the bottom of the well for the cleansing and sanctifying of their hearts by its secret waters. This holy residue is some of what remains from the burning of white sage, cedar, mugwort, willow, sweetgrass and palo santo before and during our ceremony, mixed with a pinch of ash from the burning of juniper, oak, cedar, and pine from the many open fires that have warmed me and my beloveds out here in the desert through this last long winter.
Pine cones for the fallen. Driftwood carved by Mother Ocean. Beeswax for the bringing of holy fire. Juniper berries for the bitter medicine that alleviates pain. Cedar to carry our prayers. A fluorite crystal heart as yet unclaimed from our shrine singing inside a dish of snowmelt from the mountain. A Moqui ball from the medicine bag crammed with gifts of the earth that was pressed into my hands at the end of our gathering by a gentle soul who reached out to me in deep sorrow the night before asking if there really was a community for them to grieve with.
This morning as I lit a flame of gratitude for this work and all who have led me here, and all those willing to share it with me, the rain came falling from clouds of grey mist as if all the prayers of all the hearts of all the world were falling into the arms of Mother Earth as one. Each drop seemed to carry the pungent camphorous scent of juniper down deep into the volcanic soil. To receive the bitter things of life as they come is to make them sacred. To watch grief unfold into grace and beauty as it passes through so many open hearts and hands is to witness something holy.