Kritee has experienced “Truth Mandala” with Joanna Macy and The Work That reconnects trainers many times. Over time she has added many teachings from Zen tradition and her mentor Beth Garrigus in how she facilitates grief circles. This ritual gathering provides a simple, respectful, whole group structure for owning and honoring many strands of our grief, and for recognizing the authority of our “pain for the world” and the solidarity it can bring. It is a powerful ritual. It does require deep experience along with careful planning and execution.
Preparation: Prepare the room with candles and a central altar. Bring a stone, a strong stick, few dried leaves, and an empty bowl. Also leave tissues and water around the room. It is important for the group to have grounded themselves in gratitude and done preliminary sharing on what grieves them before this ritual.
Seating: People sit in a circle. They sit as closely-packed as possible for they are, as we often put it, creating a containment vessel – or an alchemical vessel for holding and cooking the truth. The circle they enclose is divided into four quadrants (visible demarcations are not needed), and in each quadrant is placed a symbolic object: a stone, dead leaves, a thick stick, and an empty bowl. Entering each quadrant, the guide holds the object it contains and explains its meaning.
— “This stone is for fear. It’s how our heart feels when we’re afraid: tight, contracted, hard. In this quadrant we can speak our fear.”
— “These dry leaves represent our sorrow, our grief. There is great sadness within us for what we see happening to our world, our lives, and for what is passing from us, day to day.”
— “This stick is for our anger. For there is anger and outrage in us that needs to be spoken for clarity of mind and purpose. This stick is not for hitting with or waving around, but for grasping hard with both hands.”
— “And in this fourth quadrant, this empty bowl stands for our sense of deprivation and need, our hunger for what’s missing.–our emptiness.”
Where is hope? The very ground of this mandala is hope. If we didn’t have hope, we wouldn’t be here. And we will see as we proceed, how hope underlies what is expressed in each quadrant..
Instructions/group agreements: People need some preparation before they are asked to allow grief. People from professions that call for intellectual expertise can sometimes have a hard time dropping into their feelings and even harder time allowing themselves to express their feelings. They need to be assured of confidentiality of the process and be given time to trust the group. We need to stay engaged even when it feels incredibly uncomfortable, and allowing genuine grief frees us up for action.
- Be brief. We try to crystallize what hurts us when possible.
- You can opt out. No one should feel pressure to express any emotions.
- Honor feelings of others. Bear witness wholeheartedly even if we have no pain bubbling up for ourselves. If we are not attuned with our grief, we usually want to fix/correct/change others who are grieving. Or we tend to speak of our gratitude/contentment/hope. But this is not a space to do that. When we go to funeral ceremonies we don’t interrupt grieving process of others even if we haven’t lost our relative.
- For expressions not related to four quadrants, we can go to the center and offer a prayer or song.
- You can stay silent and just hold the stone/stick/leaves/bowl to express your feelings. You can speak in your mother tongue.
- Confidentiality is very important. Stories can travel but not names!
- In general, we invite “I” statements where we speak from our own experience. However, when there is greater trust in the group, we can refer to three types of pain: personal, ecological and archetypal (e.g., we can speak of pain of a river, or a child born in 2020).
- Body doesn’t doesn’t differentiate between grief that is due to personal trauma, family trauma, or oppression due to race, gender, economy or climate.
- Please keep breathing and allow gentle moving of the body and eyes. Rock, swing and sway gently. Tears, sounds to acknowledge others, shouting, yawning or even hiccups are okay.
- Please don’t offer contact, hug, appreciation, give people time to allow surfacing of genuine emotions.
- We don’t engage in any cross talk except if some active damage is being done because of any sharing.
- Facilitators will gently intervene to sing songs, chant, invite primal sounds, wailing and belly-shouts.
- Facilitators will indicate the duration of the ritual; this helps people be comfortable with the silences that arise.
- When anyone is done sharing, they will bow to indicate that they are done and everyone else can bow back or say “We hear you”.
- We will start with Aaaah or ommmm.
Closure: Remind everyone that each symbolic object is like a coin with two sides. At the end, grief tells us about our love, anger about justice, confusion about our ability to enter the not-knowing mind, fear speaks about our courage to face it and our trust that is needed to speak it.
Follow-up after the ritual: Facilitators must convey that they are available to support participants after the ritual. The idea is to acknowledge, face and release hard emotions that are stuck in our body. No one should feel stuck after such a ritual.