‘The Grief Ritual’
A Ritual and Interview with Bernadette Pleasant, Somatic Healer and Creator of the Emotional Institute
It’s almost two o’clock on a sunny Sunday afternoon, and I’m lying on my back on the floor of my stepson’s empty room, sobbing uncontrollably. My feet rest on the carpet and as I feel the fibers between my toes, I remind myself to let it all go: tension, pain, sorrow — everything I don’t want to burden others with, and everything I shouldn’t carry myself. I feel it melt away from my body and into the earth, flowing off of my body like water, lightening me with every shaking breath. The door is closed and the room is quiet except for a voice emanating from my laptop, guiding me to breathe deeply and slowly. There’s a pause, and then the voice says:
“Ask your grief: how long does it need?”
This is Bernadette Pleasant’s beautiful, soulful, online Grief Ritual. In a modern world where grief is usually sidelined as a weakness, a distraction, or just too unpleasant to engage with, Pleasant and her partner, Sara Nics, are taking the opposite approach to grief. Together, they’re creating an online safe space for grieving, a container for the shared grief of anyone who wants to attend. This is their Virtual Community of Care.
Through an hour and a half of somatic bodywork, meditation, ritual, and discussion, Pleasant and Nics guide their attendees from a state of silence and tension to the recognition and acceptance of grief. In a free offering of open community, this container for grief expands to hold all; this ritual is powerfully transformative, and attendees share their fragile and sometimes broken inner selves with the group. While attendees are invited to call upon the elements and their ancestors, there is no pressure towards deity or any belief system involved in this ritual — it’s a “come as you are” gathering, and every experience that is shared is held in this space as sacred, no matter how painful.
I got the chance to ask Bernadette a few questions after the ritual, and get a little of her perspective on grief, and the work that she is doing.
Sarah McMenomy (SM): How would you describe the idea of grief, and the act of grieving?
Bernadette Pleasant (BP): Grief is sorrow, disappointment, loss that we experience as a natural and normal part of human life. Grief can feel like shock, numbness, fear, anger, sadness, panic, dissociation. It can feel like pain or fatigue or tension in the body. It can manifest as sleeplessness, depression, overactivity, irritability. All grief is good grief. All grief is a right and true way of responding to the parts of life that feel more like ending and limitation than beginnings and possibility.
Grieving is moving these feelings through the emotional and physical body. Grieving is the act of engaging with and giving expression to these feelings. Grieving might look like crying, moaning, shaking, sobbing, yelling, stomping, pounding something, tearing something. Grieving might look big or it might look small. It might be very loud or it might be very quiet. All grieving is good grieving. However we move, whatever sounds we make or practices we use to engage with grief… they are good and true and right ways of moving these feelings through our physical and emotional bodies.
Grieving gives us a chance to release what is ready to be released, to encounter the lessons that our griefs might hold, and to develop deeper compassion for ourselves and for others.
SM: What inspired you to create this Grief Ritual?
BP: We had both practiced community grief rituals that come through the Dagara tradition of Burkina Faso, which were formalized for Westerners by Sobonfu Somé. We were both moved by the power of communal grieving, saw the truth in “healing happens in community.” We were planning an in-person ritual in that tradition when Covid-19 arrived in the United States. When we were figuring out how to create a virtual ritual that might hold people in community in some way similar to the Dagara tradition, we developed the Virtual Community of Care model. Whereas the Dagara tradition involves live drums and communal singing, it was clear to us that an online event would need to be much quieter, in order to allow people to move through their grief as they felt safe and able in their individual spaces.
SM: What do you hope people will get out of this ritual?
BP: Oof! What a time of grief and loss and painful awakening it is in the world right now! Not just Covid-19, but this new wave of racial justice work that is happening. Add those fresh sorrows to the grief that we all accumulate over the course of our lives, and it seems like we all really need to make time to grieve right now. I hope that people will feel freed a bit from the weight of what they have been carrying, and that they use the time to attend to the emotions that are deeper than what they might be consciously aware of in their day-to-day lives. I hope, too, that the ritual gives them a chance to bring conscious awareness and compassion to the grief that we are all carrying all the time. I hope the ritual creates more space for kindness and care between us.
SM: What got you into somatic bodywork and grief work?
BP: I have been a dancer and yogi for many years, so have long been in conversation with how emotions moved through the body, and how the body can be a means of accessing knowledge that is deeper than the conscious mind. I have also been practicing ritual of a Pagan bent for decades, and have been increasingly combining ritual with movement practices for the past five years.
Bernadette’s entire body of work at The Emotional Institute is committed to being emotionally healthy through movement and sound. She believes we are taught to repress and suppress emotions and that causes harm not only to our bodies also our ability to connect with others intimately. She believes we must move, voice and express ourselves to unlearn that our emotions (however messy), need to be shared.
SM: What other services do you offer? Where can our readers find you online?
BP: You can register for the Grief Ritual at griefritualny.com. It is free and open to anyone over 18 years of age.
You can also check out the amazing mind-body wellness work that Bernadette is doing with emotion and movement at the Emotional Institute at https://theemotionalinstitute.com/, where she merges yoga, dance, and ritual to help people experience their emotions to the fullest.
Contact Links For NY Grief Ritual:
Learn About Upcoming Events Here.
About the Author:
Sarah McMenomy is an artist and witch. Her craft incorporates herbalism, spellwork, trance, divination, auras, and more. Her work can be found at https://sarahmcmenomy.tumblr.com