filling the gap: beginning to transform grief
On 11/19, Octopus Garden hosted a fundraising event for the family of Jenna Morrison: an asana class accompanied by music. It was attended by about 60 people and raised over $1600 for Lucas and Florian. I was asked to deliver a few remarks before we started. I spoke about holding space for the grieving, the economy of giving voice to grief, the implicit exchange of caregiving, and the moment in which grief might begin to elide into action, and how this can happen. Here are my notes, slightly expanded.
When there is grief, some of us are called upon to hold space. And the grieving person dissolves into that space. There is a delayed exchange going on. Because with time the grieving person will recover, and then be able to hold space for you when you grieve.
You are holding space here, in this room, and absorbing grief. And on that day you inevitably grieve what you cannot now imagine, you will, as though you yourself were dying, be able to dissolve into the care of others.
If you are a public person during such a time of grief, it is your duty to hold space. The community ordains you with the speaking stick, because so many have lost their voice. You can hold it for a while, but it will begin to burn with your own speechlessness, with the absence at the heart of our language. I’ve held the speaking stick for a week now, alongside Dylan Kirk, Gitta Bechsgaard, Joey Gill, Dana Lerman, Carlos, and many other family friends, and now we pass it to you, and into your bodies, so that we can be more silent.
This process has made me realize the weakness of most authority-based priesthood: it is comprised of those who are taught to hold onto that stick, week in and week out. In order for them not to be burned by the ritual, they must make themselves into ice. And so they stand endlessly at the cold centre, telling other people what to do and how to feel.
But the priesthood of yoga community is shared and exchanged. We ordain each other as needed. No one is at the centre. We are all called to minister, one after another, as the absences of life blossom in our adjacent gardens. And we don’t know how to feel. We just know that space allows for feeling, and feeling is life.
I also want to honour the fact that this event begins to move beyond grief, into action. Tonight, it is an asana class to raise money. But what will happen when you leave here? You might go home afterwards and remember how brief our time is, and hold everyone you know just a little bit closer. If you live alone, you might make that phone call you’ve been putting off.
But in the days after, it might mean something more concrete, like joining one of the guerilla teams going out into the streets to paint bike lanes themselves where the city has failed to. Or next Friday, coming to the open meeting with Olivia Chow at her Kensington Market office to discuss how the yoga community can mobilize around the truck guard issue. She phoned us the day after the funeral. It’s an open meeting. Get in touch with me on Facebook if you’d like details.
There are lots of asana classes to raise money. At times they may feel like nice gestures only. But I want to tell you that sometimes asana is the most real thing you can do. You may have heard in new-agey spiritual circles, or even from classical yoga, that “you are not your body”. But when someone dies like this, you realize that this is cold comfort at best, and complete nonsense at worst. You are most definitely your body, and moving it and loving it and dancing with it and touching others with it is exactly how you experience being alive. Where else is experience, but in and through this flesh? Jenna’s embodiment is what has been amputated from those of us left here. She is now our ghost limb, and whenever we remember her, we move it, and it will hurt, until we find her movements in our very limbs, and the ache begins to soften with fresh circulation.
It is in bodily absence that we feel bodily presence most acutely. Absence makes things real. This life is real, this night is real, this musician is real, these teachers who will lead you are real, the money you put in this box is real, Jenna is real, her little man Lucas is real, and you are really here, really making this embodied life better.
We are all on the edge of not-being. We have no choice but to move and dance. Jenna knew this very well.
So tonight, we invite you to extend your body into any absence you feel – Jenna’s, or any others you feel to be absent. Align your bones within this emotional turbulence. Love this body and the flesh of others surrounding you, and this time we exist in.