I love this time of year. The turning of the wheel of the seasons is palpable as the quality of the daylight gets more dramatic, with its long shadows and spectacular sunsets, and the nights get longer and colder. As we near the winter solstice here in the northern hemisphere, our bodies crave a slower pace, more sleep, more time for reflection. Instead, what our culture offers up is an endless round of concerts, shopping, dinners and holiday celebrations. This time of year can be especially hard on people who’ve lost a significant person or relationship in the past year. The first Christmas (or Hannukah, or New Year’s Eve) after the loss of a loved one can feel like the most lonely time on earth without that familiar person to celebrate with. There’s a tendency to isolate, since being surrounded by people who appear to be having a great time together can feel unbearable when we are grieving. We can also believe that others don’t want to be around us in our grief, that we will spoil their fun. Or worse, that they will think we should “just get over it” and move on.

This interview with therapist Francis Weller speaks to our collective difficulty with grief, and the importance of reclaiming grieving as a communal process. He says “We have to be in the correct relationship with sorrow. If we drown in it, nothing happens. If we get too detached, nothing happens. We need the right amount of attention and separation to turn our grief into something vital and life-serving.”

Brian and I have been deeply inspired by Francis Weller‘s work, and also that of our dear friend, colleague and mentor Laurence Cole, and are holding a series of one-day Grief Song Ceremonies so we can collectively “turn our grief into something vital and life-serving”, that is, song. Using the simple tools of deep listening and vocal expression, we co-create a space in which to hold ourselves and each other in compassion and acceptance. It’s not a song-writing workshop, rather it is an opportunity to give voice, with or without words, to something that can feel impossible to express in conversation.

Susan Osborn, former lead singer of The Paul Winter Consort and world-renowned voice teacher, describes singing as “an essential part of the human emotional digestive system”. There is something so deeply personal about each of our voices. They originate within our body and manifest outside of us, thereby forming a link between our innermost complexities, and their outward expression. So, in using our voices with the intention to express grief, we are opening a doorway to our own emotional depths. It is a well-known and seemingly paradoxical phenomenon that the deeper we are able to dive into grief, the greater the heights of joy we are able to experience. Singing is one of the easiest and best ways to access pure joy.  So our Grief Song Ceremonies include joyful singing in balance with the expression of grief.

If you are drawn to this kind of work, the next Grief Song Ceremony at our yurt in the woods is February 24th, 2018. We would be honoured to have you in the circle.