So I’m not sure how to begin this post because it was all so intense and beautiful. Some of you may know about Erica. I’ve written several poems and stories about her, including this week’s one “Wonder.” We were true adventurers and kindred spirits, soul mates, when our worlds around us (in private) were treacherous and unknown, we found sanctuary and beauty in each other. “My first love,” as she put it, “love in its purest form.” THat was us. We drifted, we “broke up” in a sense. But we never forgot each other–especially when we each had our own breakdowns on opposite sides of the world. We began emailing and writing to each other and sending music to each other. We confessed our souls out again–and our pain only we could understand about each other. I can’t get into it all because it’d be a novella, but I will get into the last letters she sent me this week. I was sobbing so hard about the transformative experiences I was hiccupping :)
She lives in North Carolina and is about to embark on a 12 week Learning Journey that her boyfriend developed through his Mycelium School, and just recently she embarked on a Grief Ritual (a transformative experience) led by Sobonfu Some. She gathered in a small room with 104 people sitting in a semi circle around Sobonfu, sitting and listening and askiing questions for the first few hours. They talked about grief and where it comes from and why it’s so hard for us in the western world to let it out. They talked about the effects of holding the grief in and how it gets passed from generation to generation, compounding year after year. They talked about depression and war and ethnic cleansings and abuse and death and loss and fear and pain. Then they got ready for the ritual: they began by setting up three altars. The grief altar of black cloth (everyone brought in cloth). Facing the grief altar on the left was the ancestor/strength altar made with red cloth. On the right made of blue cloth was the forgiveness altar. After the altars are set up by everyone, they took items they brought and placed them on the ancestor and forgiveness altars, then they took the items they brought for the grief altar and find a private place on the grounds and they put all their things on those items. (She had old journal pages wracked with pain and on them she put her fear, anger, loneliness, isolation, judgment, pain, and so on; then she tied them up in a bundle). Everyone met back in the room and placed their bundles on the grief altar. Sobonfu then said an African chant over them and they were not allowed to get close to it for the rest of the ritual. THen they all gathered drums and shakers in a kind of line facing the grief altar. They began singing and chanting “Hey la la ku li a” while a few people kept a beat with drums and shakers. When they felt pulled they went to the grief altar and just let it all out. Fucking seriously letting shit out. Crying, screaming, growls of anger, sobs, yelling to those that hurt them–whatever needed to come out came out. It’s a safe place. No judgment. No fear. No thinking about what should be happening. Erica said for every person that walks up to grieve someone must follow them and stand behind them to hold space for them so they’re never alone in their grief. If they needed it they were held, hugged, or just a hand on their back. On the second day Erica held a complete stranger, arms wrapped around her with her head on her back as she wept.
They could also go to the ancestor altar or the forgiveness one but they couldn’t grieve there–they’re places to reflect, meditate, to get strength, or to even push them deeper to feel the pain. Goes on for hours, people weaving in and out. The whole time there is always at least a small group still in community (center of the room) chanting and drumming.
Now the reason she shared all of this with me ( I was already crying as soon as I read about the altars) is because she brought a handful of people in with her to this ritual for all different reasons. I was one of them…She brought in an item to represent me and she put me at the forgiveness altar. She went there and spent time with me and told me that nothing that happened to me was my fault. She asked for my forgiveness in not seeing what was happening/had been happening and not being able to stop it. She asked for both of us to have strength to forgive the people that have caused us pain, to forgive the people that caused them pain, and so on.
I was overwhelmed when I read this letter from her (a lot of what I just wrote was in her words). I cried and cried and felt so awash with love and healing. I love you Erica…