Wednesday, December 2, 2015

"Community: Source of Healing" by John Chuchman

To the Navajo,

healing is seen in the context of their particular vision

of the world and cosmos;

it is a ritual of restoring balance,

a return to beauty.

Beauty is the central organizing principle in their culture,

not economics, technology, or politics.

It is through beauty that all relations are maintained,

and it is when beauty is lost or forgotten

that someone gets ill.

Healing is experienced

within a defined set of rituals

that includes extensive community participation

and elaborate sand paintings

depicting gods, places, and events

specifically centered on the illness being treated.

Chants tell the story of the paintings.

Healing occurs as a result of the direct interaction of the gods

in the images with the individual

and the witnessing community.

Thus healing is a restorative process

invoking beauty through ritual.

As in most indigenous cultures,

the powerful presence of the family

and community of the individual who is ill

broadens the context of illness

to include the entire village.

This recognizes that everyone is impacted by the illness.

This is powerful medicine,

as it frees the individual

from having to carry the weight of the illness alone,

which, is a major preoccupation of the Western mind.

Imagine the feeling of relief

that would flood our whole being

if we knew that when we were in the grip of sorrow or illness,

our village would respond to our need.

This would not be out of pity,

but out of a realization that

every one of us will take our turn at being ill,

and we will need one another.

The indigenous thought is

when one of us is ill,

all of us are ill.

Taking this thought a little further,

we see that healing is a matter,

in great part,

of having our connections to the community and the cosmos


This truth has been acknowledged in many studies.

Our immune response is strengthened

when we feel our connection with community.

By regularly renewing the bonds of belonging,

we support our ability to remain healthy and whole.

Nearly every indigenous culture

has utilized ritual

as a means of maintaining the health of the community,

which has helped them endure for thousands of years.

Ritual is a means of attuning ourselves

with one another,

to the land,

and to the invisible worlds of spirit.

Recovering this fundamental skill

would help us better tend the needs of our soul and culture.

For us to enter the healing ground,

we need to become educated in the ways of ritual.

It is a language that we have forgotten,

but one that we are designed to understand and speak.

We need to recover our ritual literacy.

Ritual offers us the two things

required to fully let go of the grief we carry:

containment and release.

Containment offers the holding space

for the ones in grief.

It provides the safe place to fall,

to descend into the depths

of both the known and unknown layers of sorrow.

In the absence of this depth of community,

the safe container is difficult to find.

By default, we become the container ourselves,

and when this happens,

we cannot drop into the well of grief

in which we can fully let go of the sorrows we carry.

We recycle our grief,

moving into it and then pulling it back into our bodies



Grievers often cry in private,

never allowing their grief to be witnessed

and shared with others.

People say they don’t want to be a burden to anyone else,

yet they feel honored to sit with a grieving friend and offer support.

This disconnection between what we would offer others

and what we feel we can ask for is extreme.

We need to recover our right to ask for help in grief,

otherwise it will continue to recycle perpetually.

Grief has never been private;

it has always been communal.


we are awaiting the presence of others,

before we can feel safe enough to drop to our knees

on the holy ground of sorrow.

Welcoming our sorrow

eases the hardened places within us,

allowing them to open and freeing us

to once more feel our kinship

with the living presence around us.

This is deep activism,

soul activism that actually encourages us

to connect with the tears of the world.

Grief keeps the heart flexible, fluid, and open to others.

As such, it becomes a potent support

for any other form of activism we may intend to take.

I have worked with many people involved in social justice,

ecological protection,

Church reform,


and other forms of activism

with overwhelming feelings of dread for the world.

Accumulated grief can become oppressive,

weighing us down

and strangling our ability

to effectively address the issues with which we are concerned.

In a grief ritual,

the weight can be lifted from our hearts.

Our activism

is directly connected to our heart’s ability

to respond to the world.

A congested heart,

one burdened with unexpressed sorrow,

cannot stay open to the world and,

cannot be fully available

for the healing work so needed at this time.

Our Community

affords us a receptacle for our grief

and a safe place to express it,

vital to our healing.

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