Mourning the Sh*t Outta Life: the personal and the global

Mourning is sexy and exciting! ...Just kidding. I wish I could make this subject sexier, and if you read on, I promise not to depress you. Mourning is, of course, associated more with moroseness and snotty tears of sorrow than motivational words of wisdom. But bare with me as I argue the benefits of considering a closer relationship with the mourning process in everyday life. 

Is it not true that every day brings little (and big) eruptions of emotion? Sometimes just the right light at sunset hits my nostalgia nerve and I let out a sigh and start pondering life. But for the bigger, heavier feels, mourning can hold our hand in the face of fear and sadness. It can look like anything--we all mourn differently after all--but at it's best, it has the core elements of acceptance and pausing to feel those big feels.

I lost a dear mentor and family member this summer, and it has brought the vital importance of mourning straight to my doorstep. My adopted Uncle Jim--artist, hippy, musician, cook, historian, lover, friend, master of plants--is gone, though his generous spirit lives on and lives strong. As I mourn the loss and celebrate his life, I've realized that mourning is a skill I need in order to deal with both my own inner anxieties and the bigger picture of a world in turmoil.

Looking back on this past year, it’s been pretty stormy for a lot of folks I know, not to mention the record-breaking storms of this Hurricane season presently at work. There’s a lot at stake, and much fear and anger abounds: we are collectively mourning, whether we admit it or not. For me, as with many others, it’s been layers of hard changes in my personal and work life, in addition to the painful reality of the political, social, and environmental realm. It may sound odd, but after losing my uncle, I’ve realized what role the process of mourning can play in this global drama as felt by my little beating heart: it’s an anchor — one of many anchors — keeping me grounded, allowing hope and perspective to retain their roots firmly planted in me. 

Jim Ito, taking a moment.

Jim Ito, taking a moment.

The skills at the center of mourning — accepting and feeling — have the power to keep us present and oriented not only to how we want to enjoy this moment for all it’s worth no matter what, but also as to engage with what is important to us. While my Uncle was sick, I didn’t want to accept what was happening, but I nonetheless took every opportunity to lavish in our mutual affection, to learn from this man who dealt with life and death so gracefully and fully. He, along with his partner, was in so many ways the man who gave me both the example and permission to find love that would make me laugh till my sides split, to follow an artfully winding path, and to let go of my judgmental ways. As we faced his illness together, my uncle and I cycled through tears of celebration and tears of sadness. He left us without regret.

The good part of mourning? It doesn’t last forever. It’s not a linear process, and there’s room for smiles, joy, gratitude, clever jokes…all of it. There is pain and beauty in loving life and the people, places, and things that make it special. When we lose these things, we need to mourn, even if only for a moment with a single breath of acknowledgement. 

Cycling through the mourning process has spilled over into other areas of my life. It’s become important as I consider the body — my body and the bodies of those around me—I realize that being able to honor and mourn is at the heart of my work with people as a movement teacher and trainer, because it is at the heart of a healthy relationship with the body. No body is static. We have our moments of beauty and they pass. We have our moments of health, and those pass too. (Not to make it sound like one long downward spiral! Conversely, we have moments of pain and injury, and too those can pass for the better...but that's another conversation.)

The fear and inevitability of undesirable or unexpected change is a shadow lurking in the corner of so many conversations I have with students. Indeed, it's embedded in my own psyche and approach to my own self-care. Yet more and more, when I can make space for the part of me that mourns the environment, or racial injustice, or the aging process in myself and loved ones, I can be present to all the tangible good stuff that is going on in the here and now, and even actions to be taken to revel in and protect what I love. Mourning winds up being the flip-side of sh*tty changes--an unexpected life skill that helps me focus on what's most cherished and awesome right now, both inside and out.

While some enlightened souls may figure out how to detach from their cares, so as to avoid suffering when unsavory changes occur, that's not my path. I'm a hard-core lover, and while I am pleased that I can pull off a modicum of equanimity (just enough to keep me sane), when it comes to the things, people, places, and experiences that matter most to me? I couldn't be more firmly adhered.

After the storms break and the first ray of sun peaks through the clouds — though there’s sure to me more ahead — the skills of accepting, feeling, and mourning (collectively and personally) help give us energy to take the next step forward, facing a broken world or broken body with a whole and vital heart.