“Grief and Gratitude” – An interview with Maria Owl Gutierrez in Support of:
“COMMUNITY GRIEF RITUAL – Tending to our Sorrow” with Maria and Mike Shea
at A PLACE for Sustainable Living, May 7, 2016. 10am - 6pm. Oakland, California.
By Willi Paul, Planetshifter.com
Maria Owl Gutierrez:
“I know that in order to stay sane, I must feel my grief - my personal grief and my grief for the world. This grief is so huge, that it would swallow me alive if I didn't consciously acknowledge it and tend to it. Feel the fear and rather than avoiding or rejecting it, walking right into it - thereby transforming it into embodied wisdom.
I feel deeply blessed that in 2003 I encountered a profoundly transformative healing practice in the form of Grief Ritual, brought to the U.S. by Dagara spiritual teachers Sobonfu Some and Malidoma Some. This wisdom combined with the profound teachings of Joanna Macy (Work That Reconnects) were my foundations as a community healer. I began leading Grief Rituals beginning in 2004, while I was teaching at New College of California. Since that time, I have led hundreds and hundreds of rituals in many different countries, for many different communities. Every single one has been transformative and powerful for people.
I feel deeply grateful for the power of community grieving rituals to liberate us from the burden and weight of our incomplete grieving. They open us, soften us and bring us home to ourselves and the sacred web of life.”
Interview with Maria by Willi -
What is grief? Grief is a human experience that I think opens us more into our humanity when we express it. Feeling our grief softens us and the walls around our hearts. We become accessible to our loved ones in the most beautiful ways. Recall a time when you or someone you knew was grieving the loss of a loved one, how there was a transparency and grace surrounding you/them. Grief activates when we go through a real loss or a perceived loss. When things are changing, and will never be the same again, such as the death of a loved one, divorce, abortion, bankruptcy, losing one's home, losing physical health or ability, injustice being done to us or our community that results in losing inalienable rights, ... And it doesn't just look like tears, sobbing and collapsing in sadness. Grief can very well look and feel like anger, numbness, confusion, anxiety, fear, frustration, overwhelm... Every person on Earth has a unique expression of grief and it doesn't serve us to compare our expression to others.
What can happen if we hold onto grief too long?
Grief is a pattern of emotional energy; it has a very distinct signature. When Grief arises in us, our human "natural body" needs to move the energy organically - like a river flowing stronger after a huge rain when all the tributaries are emptying into it and maybe even overflowing it. Can you imagine what would happen if we tried to dam that river? The water would pour out over the banks into surrounding areas. That's what grief does when it is suppressed. It leaks over
into other areas of our life, into our relationships, our work, our self-esteem, our trust in others, for example. Instead of allowing the natural flow of tears, anger, and revelation, we lock these emotions up then blame others for the discomfort we feel.
When we let the river flow, and honor our Grief, we allow the full expression of Joy, Revelation, and the other feelings on the opposite side of the spectrum be felt too. This is unexpected for most. When I lead Grief Ritual I see people come in with such despair and through the ritual process they open to a place of spontaneous joy and connection that surprises them. Grief is an energy, like water, and like water if it is controlled through containment it will become stagnant and unable to support life. Grief energy that is not moved can manifest imbalances in the physical body eventually, because it's not being allowed to support life, so it degrades vitality. I've seen that a lot at Grief Ritual's too - people having sudden relieve from physical pain and discomfort, even chronic allergies have dissolved. I've also seen healing happen psychologically, meaning, persistent negative thought patterns will be gone after the ritual completes. I am always in such awe at the people who attend Grief Ritual work, because I know the courage this takes.
I never showed my grief publicly until I was 25 and started my self-healing journey. I cried privately and the result of this was a pervasive feeling of "not being known", not even by my friends. "They don't know who I really am and what I'm really going through". But the choice to show them my vulnerability was too scary for me. I thought if I showed my grief, it would explode out and never stop. And then my friends wouldn't want to be around me because I was such a mess.
I was 20 when I discovered Earth-based ritual work. First through Vision Quest and then through initiating onto the Red Road with a Lakota spiritual teacher from Yankton, South Dakota. Since those days, I have done ceremony and ritual with over 15 different traditional cultures and across the board what I have learned from them is that Community Healing rituals/ceremonies are POWERFUL! And used all the time as a tool for individual and community health, resiliency and balance with the Natural World.
In 2003 I was introduced to the Dagara tradition of Grief Ritual work, through attending events with Sobonfu Some and Francis Weller, and I was hooked. This particular approach to community healing was so profound, intelligent, and connecting, that I adopted it into all my programs and classes, and still do.
Today, when I experience grief, I acknowledge it as a wise teacher visiting me and I sit down to listen. Sometimes this energy invites me to dance, sometimes to call a friend, sometimes to ask for a ritual, and sometimes to write. I listen and I respond. I feel my resistance, because that still comes up, but I know the healing power of releasing grief, so I respond with trust. This is what gives me such a large capacity to hold the grief that moves at a Community Grief Ritual. I see my sisters and brothers in tears, or anger or numb... and I celebrate, because they made it to the ritual and I know they will get healing.
“They give us a focus (the grief altar) and a container (skilled facilitators) within which to safely relax our hearts...” (MOG) Please tell us about the alter. Where does this come from? What does it facilitate?
At Grief Rituals the container is held by many concentric circles of support. There are the skilled human facilitators, the shrines (or altars), the Ancestors, our own larger Spirits, and Creator (Source) in and through everything. As the hours pass during the ritual day, I see the attendees start to get it... How held they are, how loved they are, and they start to soften into a sense of safety.
The shrines work in two ways:
1. They are a place for attendees to focus their releasing and receiving. 2. They are "telephones" or amplifiers that open to our helpers in the Spirit world.
Let me talk more about #1: The shrines are communally created by the group. There are three: The Grief Shrine, The Ancestor Shrine, and a Gratitude Shrine which anchors us to what we LIVE FOR. We each put our meaning into them as we help build them. By the time we are in ritual space, there is a common understanding of how the shrines support us.
Attendees approach the Grief Shrine know that they can give all their grief there, whatever it looks or sounds like. Attendees approach the Ancestor Shrine and connect with the timeless wisdom and love there, knowing that these Ancestors also experiences great losses and there is a lesson there about being human, humble, and present. The Gratitude Shrine holds photos and objects that represent our joy for being alive.
Attendees approach this Shrine with a desire to feel the balance in life - yes, we have sorrow and pain, but we also have great joys and tremendous love.
Now, #2: The Shrines are "telephones" between the worlds. Traditionally speaking, when a ritual or ceremonial leader invokes the helpers at the beginning of spiritual healing work, if that leader is in integrity with those relationships, the helpers will respond with love and the doorway between the worlds will be opened. When I lead Grief Ritual, my colleague, Mike Shea, and I invoke the "elevated" Ancestors to support us, hold us and give us courage to feel our grief. Because Mike and I have daily practices of tending to our relationships with our Ancestors, these bonds are clean, clear and strong. We can feel the portals opening. We know how to create a strong container that allows in only healthy Ancestors. And I have to say, I know this is how so many people receive such deep healing at the rituals we facilitate.
Workshop folks are asked to bring photos of Ancestors. Why?
The Ancestor Shrine and singing to the Ancestors throughout the main ritual is a big and important part of the Grief Ritual. This is why participants are asked to bring photos of their Ancestors. These photos are placed on the Ancestor Shrine. It is so moving to see this Shrine fully built, with flowers, candles and dozens of photos. Most moving are the photos of loved ones who have recently entered the Ancestor realm. The love between living and dead is palpable. And that supposed barrier that keeps us from continuing a relationship dissolves. I know from my own experience that to create a healthy relationship with our Ancestors makes life incredibly more joyful and rich.
What should we know when watching someone grieve versus experiencing grief ourselves?
What I love about honoring my grief is that it gives me the capacity to compassionately witness another's. At Grief Ritual we explain to the attendees how to be there for each other. We tell them, "This is not a time to give advice or have an agenda for how another's grief moves or doesn't move. We are simply here to honor their process." Often when we allow ourselves to truly witness another's grief, our own grief that has been left unattended will stir up. At Grief Ritual we say, "This is a Community Healing ritual. When you go to the Grief Shrine you aren't just going for yourself, but for everyone here and for your families and communities. In fact, our releasing contracted grief liberates energy in the collective human consciousness, so the whole world benefits."
At Grief Rituals, during the main ritual work, attendees go to the Grief Shrine to release, but they no one goes alone. Everyone has a supporter who simply sits at their back. This compassionate and non-invasive support is very new to most people. I know my experience in the past has been that people were either scared of my grief and didn't know what to say, or they co-opted my grief and made it all about them. So this neutral, compassionate container and way of holding others actually invites attendees into a new relationship with the grief of others. People leave feeling more empowered around grief and holding space for others in grief.
“Grief for the world?” (MOG) Good, Grief! How do we get at our huge, complex and slippery global sources of grief?
According to one of my mentors in this work, Francis Weller, there are 6 Gates of Grief. And each one to some degree exists in each one of us. They are:
1. Everything we love we will lose 2. The places that have not known love 3. The sorrows of the world 4. What we expected and did not receive 5. Ancestral Grief 6. Trauma
When we begin to explore one of these sorrows, we inevitably find it is linked to the others.
"The sorrows of the world" category, for me includes Grief for the World, for Gaia - our Mother Earth and the Other- than-Human-Beings. My other mentor and teacher Joanna Macy focuses her life's work on this category, which she named "The Work that Reconnects".
I would have to write a hundred pages to do this topic justice. So, for the purpose of this interview, what I'll summarize is:
Gaia needs us to feel our grief about what's happening here - to the ecosystems, the oceans, the animals, and our own "Indigenous Souls". If we succumb to complacency for fear that this grief and rage will overcome us, then we are just contributing to the problem; to the big dam blocking liberation of creative energy and genius, rather than being a part of the change.
It's terrifying what's happening on the planet with corporations insatiably sucking up every last natural resource... But there is a power greater than that greed, and that is LOVE.
I am so grateful for those who bring this Grief for the World to Grief Ritual, because I know through their courage to feel their hearts break wide open, these participants will leave with a more open and alive heart from which to take action.
Your forthcoming book focuses on women. Are there differences in how men and women grieve?
If we look at the 6 gates of grief of Francis Weller, we can see/sense that each these sorrows relate to men and women. But then when we look through the lens of "Women's Grief" we see that these gates tell a particular story of pain, oppression and suffering. In particular, the 4th Gate: What We Expected and Didn't Receive. As a woman, this one hits me hard. As a little girl I expected innocently to feel safe around men, to have equal opportunities to stretch myself and grow. And as a teen, I wanted an equal voice in political conversations and how our modern society was designed and run. What I discovered is that I didn't have an equal voice or value to men. And women haven't for over 2000 years. That is a grief that can feel like a bottomless pit of despair. It connects strongly with all the other gates: Places we have not known love - Yep! Ancestral grief - Definitely. Trauma - throughout it all...
Women who have the courage to get support and walk into this pain, always find their way to a source of power they never knew they had. But unfortunately, so many women face such tremendous obstacles - psychologically from trauma, structurally with their family and work obligations, religiously with dogmas, that they never find the resources to support them.
Most of the attendees at Grief Rituals are women! As is true for most personal growth and self-healing programs, workshops, and retreats. THIS is good news for our planet! As women self-liberate, they are able to show up with unstoppable energy on behalf of future generations of all species. Yes!
You can look at the 6 Gates through the pain of men as well. It's important to explore both, I think, to see the whole picture. Men's stifled expressions of grief over thousands of years is just as painful to get real about as women's grief. I am writing about women's experience because I know it intimately.
You use the term “ritual;” what other rituals do you lead these days and how do they integrate, if at all?
My life is devoted to bringing these tools/ technologies of community healing into modern society: Earth based ritual, ceremony and rites-of-passage.
I've been leading all of these modalities for over 17 years and seen hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people break free from suffering and reconnect to their authentic, creative, alive selves.
After so many years of being a ritual specialist in my community I realized I needed to create a place to teach everything I know. So, with the encouragement of my community and students I founded Sacred Future School. We have a 9-month certification program in Transformational Leadership and Community Healing to support those called to step into sacred leadership to do so with grounded, high integrity mentoring. This program is the culmination of my life's work so far.
Grief Ritual is a big part of what Sacred Future offers to communities around the U.S. and we've recently been invited to facilitate this in Israel. We also offer monthly community healing ceremonies in Sonoma County, where my husband and I live. And I lead a wilderness Vision Quest (Rites of Passage) once per year as well. Right now my main focus in on my amazing students in the 9-month program. They will be the future ritual leaders serving their communities! This is infinitely important as we go forward into the future, as traditional cultures' are becoming more and more assimilated.
We must keep these powerful, healing technologies alive!
Maria’s Bio –
Maria Owl Gutierrez is the founder and director of the Transformational Leadership Foundations Certificate program at Sacred Future. Maria is also the Dean of Students and a professor of Indigenous Medicine at Energy Medicine University.
Maria is passionate about creating resilient communities through bringing back relationship to the Sacred through nature-based ritual. Without planning it, her life became a study of power and the misuse of power – starting with an abusive father who was also an affluent business owner, and then many successive memberships in spiritual and educational communities where she found herself “rocking the boat” with her commitment to honesty. She began her training as a group facilitator and speaker in 1998, desiring to understand how to truly create safe and sacred space for collective transformation. Maria has been a gifted healer all her life and has studied with native teachers from 10 different Indigenous cultures. She is an Orisha Priest in the Yoruba tradition as well as a Red Road Pipe Carrier for over 20 years.
Maria received her MA degree from the California Institute of Integral Studies in Integral Counseling Psychology. Maria has taught Indigenous Medicine and Shamanism in higher education for over 10 years. She received her BA from New College of California, in Culture, Ecology & Sustainable Community with a self-designed concentration on Group Facilitation. Other certifications and trainings Maria has acquired includes: a certificate from the California School of Herbal Studies; a Master Certification in Intuition Medicine® through the Academy of Intuition Medicine®; a certification in Alchemical and Clinical Hypnotherapy through the Alchemy Institute of Hypnotherapy. She has two Permaculture Design certifications from Occidental Arts & Ecology Center and Lost Valley Educational Center. She is also deeply blessed to have trained extensively in transformational group facilitation with the creators of the Naka-Ima self- awareness workshops for over 12 years.
Willi Paul Bio –
Willi is active in the sustainability, permaculture, transition, sacred Nature, new alchemy and mythology space since the launch of PlanetShifter.com Magazine on EarthDay 2009. Willi’s network now includes multiple blog sites and numerous list serves with a global presence.
SF. Mr. Paul has released 27 eBooks, 2353 + posts on PlanetShifter.com Magazine, and over 350 interviews with global leaders. He has created 80 New Myths to date and has been interviewed over 32 times in blogs and journals. Please see his cutting-edge article at the Joseph Campbell Foundation and his pioneering videos on YouTube.
In 1996 Mr. Paul was instrumental in the emerging online community space in his Master’s Thesis: “The Electronic Charrette.” He volunteered for many small town re-designs with the Minnesota Design Team. Willi earned his permaculture design certification in August 2011 at the Urban Permaculture Institute.
Willi’s current focus includes the integration of permaculture, mythology and the Transition Movement.
Mr. Paul’s eGroups -
Depth Psychology Alliance - New Global Mythology Group Founder LinkedIn - New Mythology, Permaculture and Transition Group Founder G+ Permaculture Age Group Founder
Maria Owl Gutierrez
contact at sacredfuture.org
New Mythologist & Transition Entrepreneur PlanetShifter.com Media | Academia.edu Portfolio @planetshifter @openmythsource @PermacultureXch willipaul1 at gmail.com
Maria Owl Gutierrez