Welcome to Regenco’s Blog

Welcome to Regenco’s blog!  Regenco is a UK not-for-profit organisation formed in 1998 and operating primarily in the North East Dartmoor area, committed to furthering the regeneration and reintegration of Land, People and Spirit.  We offer and train others in rites of passage, “Land Time”, Grief Tending, and other educational and therapeutic programmes supporting this reintegration.  We will be posting on these topics, our work and related topics here.

What is shared here is shared in the spirit of learning, recognizing there is always room for us to learn and grow. It may not reflect the views of all involved in Regenco

Though not updated for many years you can also get an idea of some of our previous work at http://www.regenco.info. Please note new phone number 01647 432638, and email landtime1@gmail.com.

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All war is unmetabolized grief

Some words from Martin Prechtel’s beautiful profoundly mysterious and educational book on Praise and Grief: the Smell of Rain on Dust:

“Grief doesn’t go away. It can change into many things and will, but as a substance and presence it never leaves. To have caused and witnessed suffering and loss of life means grief is eagerly awaiting your decision as to what direction it will take in your destiny: to make more life or to make more death and violence, internally or externally. The best decision is that all grief be turned into life-promoting grief-based beauty and usefulness. The willingness for violence-shattered soldiers to heal others makes their malady into medicine.

If a society is alive, and aware in this way, then those who have suffered loss will have a chance to heal, and those who have caused loss will be socially supported to sprout a new type of life-making person out of the death they have caused: a person who can now help others to heal from their losses, instead of both of them causing more loss to the rest of the world. This not only gives a place to these people, but having been remade into a new type of human, they will become an indispensible necessity for the future well-being of the community on the whole.

Only in such a way can one who has killed continue living without destroying even more: themselves and/or others. Alive, in love as one who can feel the heartbreak of another, they are praised by their community as useful human beings instead of being shunned or forgotten.”

“…grief, if not metabolized, almost always goes to some form of accusatory violence in the end. Either externalized, exported, or internalized – or all of the above.

It’s needful for the peace of a people, peace of the human heart, peace of the earth, for grief to be there, not transcending on a bliss journey to avoid grief…

We need a culture of passionately gradual people who can hear, give, and truly feel the deep weeping grief inside the absurd platform of hate caused by the writhing of human pain. Instead of compulsively defusing the situation, these cool people would know to find and digest the grief through the whole bigger ‘story’ of life, knowing it is hard in our frustration not to always want to fight against ‘something’ to make it all right…

How relaxing it would be if there really just was a bunch of bad guys who you had only to depose to make the world all fixed up. But that’s too simple and the source of even more loss, because in the instance of trying to cure it all by force you plant the next round of the sickness of revenge.

So what do you do?

Get courageous.

Become a person. Make beauty out of grief. Become real people who might have untenable rotten ideas, but who in the end grow into solid old people who are generous and unconniving, people who know things and don’t just see everything as a business opportunity. Be courageous, make your hate into an art of love beyond your wants, and stop sending undigested grief in the form of sorrow frozen into hate into the arms of the future. Hand over the world with some modicum of the possibility for peace. “

“Grief is Praise” from The Smell of Rain on Dust

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Dancing with End Times 

An invitation to enter “the Conscious practice of living and dying,” a five day ceremony of nature immersion that has mortality in mind, and a deep exploration of limits and potentiality at heart.

April and November 2022  (other dates by arrangement: this ceremonial practice can be undertaken online or in person – as five consecutive days, or in two parts the latter two and a half days of which do need to be consecutive.) With Jeremy Thres

Illustration from Germanycourtesy of Miki Dedijer who also offers this work with me online.

“If you don’t know how to die, you don’t know how to live. Learning to die is a very wonderful practice for learning how to be alive.”Thich Nhat Hahn

We easily forget that aspects of our lives can be brief and limited. The start of the pandemic and lack of guidance as to what one could do in self help terms if it visited, brought home the reminder that every day or week might be ours or our loved one’s last. Beyond covid the twin perils of climate and ecological emergency appropriately disturb ideas of business as usual being healthy. So what do you want to do and is healthy to do with this “wild and precious life?”

Through this practice we follow a pattern which draws on the wisdom of rites of passage, dying to one stage of life to be born into the new.

Day by day, we will share assignments for you to ritually explore solo in the wilds where we meet, or if online in the mystery of your local accessible wilds or semi wilds. Even if national response to covid restricts that considerably, so long as you can access some private wild space, this practice can be followed.

The following day we return to the warmth of circle/hearth to listen to and share stories of our threshold journeys, receive reflection and the next turning of the wheel.  

What will come to you through this engaged exploration of living and dying with the wilds?

We do not know, yet experience shows this particular practice can help us to tend the story-garden of our soul, both feeding, revealing and freeing our energy for what has meaning now, whatever our span.

As well as these October dates in person, we are glad to be able to offer this practice (Feb – Nov) without the need for great travel also online, knowing from experience that this journey can be undertaken very well with support this way. We are also aware that it can be a strong journey that benefits from spaciousness for deeper sharing so to be aware if doing this way, not to crowd in too much else at the same time and we keep numbers small whether online or in person (max four).

It is preferable that you already have some degree of wild land-oriented experience. We ask for a deep commitment on the part of participants for a full morning with us in circle where we gather in circle for sharing, listening, and to introduce your daily exercise. We know from experience that this time together can be pivotal to the integration of your time alone in the wilds. To reflect your commitment, we ask for a deposit.

And I asked: ‘You mean a death then?’ ‘Yes,’ the voice said. ‘Die

into what the Earth requires of you.’ 

Wendell Berry

with the support of Jeremy Thres (Smoke) and occasionally other experienced support alongside as available.

Other dates can be made by arrangement.  If looking for more of an introductory journey ask Jeremy about Courting the Circle of Self or other opportunities. 

Guide exchange: Sliding scale £300 – £800 according to means deposit £50-£100. If strongly called yet further concession/other exchange needed, can also be explored.

For bookings and further info contact: Jeremy on 01647 432638 / 07717 853967 landtime1@gmail.com or zoom by arrangement. 

Jeremy Thres brings over twenty five years experience as a student and practitioner of wilderness oriented rites of passage. He has gained inspiration from a number of different elders both of the land he was born in (UK) and beyond, and has a great love of working with the regenerative powers of Nature. He has found this particular work, as developed and shared by Dr Scott Eberle and Meredith Little (cofounder of the School of Lost Borders) to be of great personal inspiration in his own life, hence the inspiration to further engage with it and share, and it is with their blessing that he does so.

Other potential support for this programme: Miki Dedijer, Miki is a wonderful earth related Man, whose own deep enquiry makes him a gift to have alongside and in support. As well as online, this experience can also potentially be arranged in person in Sweden. miki.dedijer@gmail.com.

Lucy Hinton: bio to follow

A bit of feedback from previous participants:

Jeremy & his co-guide “enabled me and other participants to cross safely and with full awareness into areas normally obscured by taboos and preconceptions. While taking nothing away from the sense of me ‘making my own journey’ they encouraged a deeply reflective space that explored in parallel fundamental questions at the heart of both personal and professional development in dealing with major life transitions. I would recommend this work for all who are seeking to engage deeply with those who are dying including those who are privileged to realise the importance of this at a personal, family, social and cultural level.” Dr David Owen, Holistic Physician

“The structure, which you laid out with such a light touch, really charged up my sense of the other world and I stepped into a deep adventure. I feel very moved by my return to a childhood landscape, to my silent Dad, to the granite, to my thrones and if it were to happen, I feel ready to die tomorrow. I am astonished that encountering my death should be like finding a lover, with exultation and desire, and that also such a deep journey could at times also be so hilarious!” R.M, Elder, Businessman and  Artist.

“It is difficult to find words for an experience which was so profoundly silent much of the time. What you offered was primarily a space which you held with a sensitivity and care and trust and a wisdom which comes from mindful explorations of your own terrain.” R.A youth worker

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Landtime and Visionfast Foundations

Courting the Circle of Self the Symphony of the Seasons

23rd-25th September Dartmoor, Devon

Three days engaging with the gifts of time honoured and fresh Earth Wisdom teachings and practices, in the company of experienced yet humble guides, some beautiful rewilding and agricultural land on the edge of North East Dartmoor and including a supported overnight solo.

With Jeremy Thres and Dita Vizoso  (and Lucy Hinton tbc)

to book or if any questions, contact: Jeremy: Landtime1@gmail.com  07717 853967 or Dita: 07586 774345

Nb: further dates can be made by arrangement, including the potential to work drawing on your local wilds with us (supporting you through online preparation and reicorporation, and even over a weekly rather than consecutive days format.)

The quartered circle – the cross of the four directions bound within space and time, is one of the most universal symbols of Wholeness. It is found on our old pound coins, in the mandala of the East (the one above is a stitched felt mandala I was given from Mongolia, and I have another on a hand carved stone from Russia), the medicine wheels of the native Americans, and the seasonal wheels of this Land. It is also in us, for we like it, are of Nature – self thus, and it can appear, as Carl Jung experienced it doing for some of his patient’s, spontaneously in dreams.

It is a symbol and map one can actively work with, Carl Jung for example witnessed that its appearance in dreams offered his patients a greater ability to handle and integrate what was occurring for them. As a consequence he sometimes shared this symbol with clients, particularly at a time he felt a patient was about to be overloaded – for one of the blessings of this symbol is it is not linear, but circular, everything has its place, and each place/direction also particular qualities one can learn about one’s relation to (“court” in our words) and draw upon.

A map is not the territory, the territory is life itself. Particularly wild nature and its cycles and seasons as our source, and sustenance, and in this work we open to the wisdom to be found here within and without. Combined with our intentionality and study of the wheel (as map), opening to it can reflect to us like a compass does, something of where we are, and how we are moving in the world. Some of the ways we may individually and collectively be in, out, or can regain balance. Qualities we are strong in and others that might serve us to cultivate as we move through life and change.

Inspired by our own experience of this work (over 30 years now between us), and the teachings of a number of different elders, Steven Foster and Meredith Little (founders of the School of Lost Borders), Stanislav Grof, Ehama, Carl Jung, Bill Plotkin, Colin Campbell, Ian Siddons-Heginworth, and Fern de Castres, all significant among them, we invite you on a guided engagement courting your Circle of Self, with the Symphony of the Seasons as the overall entry. Through this we can meet and hear various interweaving evocations, including the turning of the year, the directions, the elements, the shields (something which protects), those of the cycles and attentions, those of the daily round and shadows and light.

In practice over these three days you will be invited to engage with beautiful earth wisdom teachings about the wheel of life of which we are a part, not apart, through initiatory style exercises in the wilds. These are short periods (part of a morning, afternoon or eve plus one overnight) where you go alone yet supported, taking yourself, your own enquiry, into dialogue with wider life. Supported in this by the time honoured guides of mythology, circle of life wisdom, council (deep listening work) and reflection, so together we may all learn through these experiences, individual and collective, in service of life.

With Jeremy Thres, Dita Vizoso (and Lucy Hinton tbc) over thirty years experience in work of this nature between them.

Very brief bios: Jeremy trained with Stephen Foster and Meredith Little founders of the School of Lost Borders in the early 90’s and has offered experience and training with their encouragement and blessing ever since. Dita, a trained evolutionary ecologist, more recently experienced specifically visionfast work, but has been on a long journey of working with plants and the land, as well as working alongside Jeremy with Sophie Banks, holding Grief Tending in community work for several years. Lucy, a Cambridge graduate trained with Jeremy in relation to the Quest work many years ago and brings her own sensitivity and depth informed by engaged activism, a debilitating genetic health issue, and for several years co leading for a number of years a programme at Schumacher College. 

Guide Exchange: £200-£400 sliding scale, (higher exchange welcome, and if you would struggle with the lower guide exchange, talk with us, this is deep work, but we want it to be accessible),£50-£100 deposit. Limited numbers, we prefer to work with small numbers in person, in this case maximum 5. We will be camping primarily within some beautiful regenerating land north east Dartmoor.

Booking and enquiries: Jeremy:  Landtime1@gmail.com  07717 853967

or Dita: 07586 774345

Some recent feedback from an online Courting the circle of Self, This is a different way of experiencing this work with participants undertaking exercises in their own local wilds with support before and after, which can be arranged for folks who are unable to do a block timing wise or live further afield:

“Thank you.  Deepest gratitude.  I have learned so much. Thank you for your guidance, your gifts and bringing this work in a beautiful way, you bring this with so much love and generosity.” Activist and youth work facilitator.

“such a rich time courting our circles of self, together. I feel that parts of me, that have been laying dormant for a while, have awoken and spoken- and I’m ready to listen. I got so much from the insights that came from the mirroring. A huge amount of gratitude, for a truly wonderful experience shared with beautiful souls!” Teacher.

And some other further feedback:

I can’t really express in words how profound a time it has been for me or how grateful I am to you for supporting me in this work. It has been a blessing in so very many ways already. ” Therapist

“Thanks so much for all of your support, input and insights, I had a truly amazing time and really feel like I have shifted some stubborn old ‘stuff’ and already my life is feeling different and better. So THANK YOU!” Artisan Caterer

just want to say in writing thank you so v much from the bottom of my heart for all that you do and bring. I will remember that week as one of my most treasured experiences ever.” Interior designer

“I’m glad I trusted my intuition in taking the time to come and work with you.  I believe that it was more than a good time (though it was that also).  I trust that part of it will stay with me, and I like the personal changes I’ve felt as a result of the quest.  Of course these are small changes now, but they may make a tremendous difference some months and years down the road.” Research Physicist, Belgium.

“nature is the healer, the wisdom keeper and the inspiration and working with Jeremy you couldn’t be in better hands.” Ya’Acov Darling Khan

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Tending our Grief for the World

High Heathercombe in Devon, July 23rd 3pm – July 25th 3pm

Created with Nokia Smart Cam

“Truth is like oxygen: we need it to breathe” Joanna Macy

All grief is welcome in this space. Whatever its form or expression, whatever its source.

This weekend is offered in the knowledge that sharing grief is a form of medicine, bringing us back to life when we have become numb or overwhelmed, reconnecting us when we feel isolated, drawing on the power of the group to hold us to express what we cannot reach or manage alone.

As the pandemic continues to rise and fall in waves around the world, environmental harm and loss accelerates and a wealthy few continue to accumulate personal power at the expense of the vast majority, there are many reasons to come together to honour and tend our the truth of our grief.

Date and TimeFriday 23rd July 3pm to Sunday 24th July 3pm
Cost£260 – 370 includes £120 deposit to cover food, venue, accommodation and other overheads plus sliding scale payment towards facilitation £140 – 250. Please don’t let money be a barrier to you coming – be in touch if you need a reduced cost place, or to pay in instalments
Venue: High Heathercombe, a beautiful place high on Dartmoor, Devon.
FacilitatorsSophy Banks and Jeremy Thres, plus support
Booking:Book or register interest using this on line form. For more information contact Sophy by email infogrieftending@gmail.com  or call 01803 302405

About the facilitators

Sophy and Jeremy have been facilitating profound grief spaces for more than a decade. With a rich mix of experiences, teachers and lineages they offer powerful ceremonies designed to be accessible to people with a wide range of spiritual beliefs, or none at all. Both have therapeutic training, deep connections to land and ancestors, and are dedicated to the healing of humans so we can take our place in a thriving web of life, even as we live in times of widespread harm, violence and collapse.

See more here

Grief tending in a group is a powerful act of care for self others and helps to heal some of what is broken in our world,

Whether we are impacted by our own personal losses and life journey, by what is happening in the world, we may be feeling numb, helpless, distanced from what is happening  Or we may feel tossed on waves of powerful emotions – rage, grief, fear, uncertainty, loss. For many there is nowhere to take these feelings, without being judged or hushed, and it can take a lot of energy to keep them in – sometimes contributing to burn out.

Connecting together in the strength of the circle, we will draw on the power of what is still beautiful, loving and supportive – in the human and beyond human realms.  We will share practices designed to hold and honour wild rage, profound sorrow, paralysing fear, deep emptiness, subtle shades of feeling, and anything else that needs to be voiced, moved, or given some other expression.

Find more information about Grief tending in Community at www.grieftending.org   or email infogrieftending@gmail.com

“Grief permeates life and grieving can take many forms, but grief can never be outrun or simply thought away, transcended or meditated into non-existence. Necessary grief when shunned or unattended can easily hide for years, even generations, in the skeletal structure of the family collective psyche. Like light, matter, sound and energy, grief will eventually manifest even among those in the future who did not consciously experience the loss.”

From Martín Prechtel, The Smell of Rain on Dust

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ManGrove

What is a wood without a Glade? What is a field without a Grove?

What does a boy become without a circle of respectful supportive Men?

What do Men become without the empathy evoked by the young, 

Also born, perhaps even more landless, to navigate dark concrete jungles

of modernity, with their own bare feet.

The neon siren lights luring them to promises of love and power you have to pay for,  

Through broken glass and the jagged rocks of coming of age without guidance

Other than media and peers.

What do boys become without land to Grow and the Seeds of Ancient Stories,

And rites to guide them?  

Guide them to meeting themselves in the Greater Life and Love

of which they are all a part (not apart), to be tested and find something

of their gifts, their calling. And in living that, contribute to the revivifying

of community and reclaiming some territory of the Soul.

What do Men become without the encouragement of Elders?

Elders at their backs, who from the mountains they’ve climbed can see the wider territory,

So need less and give more. Elders no longer afraid to look foolish, so they can play

And plant the truth of their experience as can be received with wit, and wisdom.

What will become of us if we do not step up for each other?

This poem arrived this morning part fed by reading Hector Aristizabal and Diane Lefer’s book: The Blessing next to the Wound, which I found profoundly inspirational. The Name ManGrove is one that is arising for me in wishing to establish circles of support for those becoming men and coming into adulthood, wherever they are in the question of how they identify.

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GameJam opportunity this thursday eve:

GameJam:  particularly for council practitioners, but may serve anyone wishing to introduce some more playful elements to their zoom/online life.

With Tunde James

Thursday March 11th  6-7.30pm gmt (uk time) online

An opportunity to play some of the online games from Kazzum Arts GameJam and learn to facilitate them yourself with your online groups.

Tunde is an experienced creative youth facilitator both for Kazzum Arts and Lifebeat, for whom she has also played a part in establishing their youth council. She often uses games in her work and brings a playful wisdom and warm curiosity to what emerges.

Fee, sliding scale: Though free for Council practice volunteers who need it to be, otherwise a donation would be much appreciated: to Regenco either by bank transfer to sort code 30 96 23, acc number 00013249,or via Paypal: http://regenco.info/Donate.html

And book with Jeremy Thres: landtime1@gmail.com 07717 853967  

Max’ numbers on this occasion 20, first come first served. Tech support will be offered by Dita Vizoso.

Offered in conjunction with Regenco and Circlewise.

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A Landtime Quest for Vision & Self-healing

Next date for full Landtime Quest May 2022 dates and prep meetings tbc,

Also for those becoming men (primarily 15-18) 30th Aug – 4th September separate info available.

Also available in October/November Dancing with the End Times: the “Conscious practice of living and dying,” a 5 day practice looking deeply at the weave of living and dying in our own lives. On line and with your own local wilds with Jeremy Thres (and Miki Dedijer as available)

Further Landtime offerings: Courting the Circle of Self – the Symphony of the Seasons part 1 & 2, and Landtime, 1:1 or in small groups whether for a 1/2 day– several days, meeting and camping with beautiful rewilding land and experienced guidance. Also training and experiential apprenticeships in work of this nature all by arrangement.

Guided by: Jeremy Thres with support from experienced others and on occasion apprentices (Julia Koskella in May, Dita Visosa in September, Dhevdas Nair and Alex Hampson Aug/Sept and Courting the Circle of Self with Jeremy Thres and Lucy Hinton as available).

To fast alone yet supported in the Wilds is a time honoured way to seek both vision and inspiration, and also to mark changes.

LandTime is a modern version of an ancient practice, an opportunity for deep reflection living close to the Land with the support of experienced others. We are fed from the rich wells of mythology, indigenous wisdom, quest work and rites of passage, time-honoured guides to support us in our lives and unfolding journey.

Mythically a quest is a journey undertaken into the wilds, often in response to a blockage or a transition made or being made, to seek healing elixir, vision and or inspiration for Life.

The heart of the Quest takes place over a ten day period:

  • 2 to 3 days preparation (either directly running into the central phase or in part on a prep weekend/by arrangement) 
  • Up to three to four days fasting alone yet supported in the wilds,
  • followed by a day/ a couple of days according to numbers and timings to support you in your integration and reincorporation of your experience.

Many years of experience have shown that this form, with appropriate preparation, has both the ingredients and is a strong enough experience to be worked with as a rite of passage – an opportunity to engage with and potentially mark significant life changes, dying to the old, opening to the new, and opening to nature’s inspiration in relation to them. For example to more consciously mark one’s adulthood, entering parenthood, the beginning (or end) of a marriage, change of circumstance, personal crisis or career

To make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.” …T.S.Eliot

One doesn’t have to have something to specifically mark for this form to be of value; the focus can also be more primarily, as the name implies, to seek Vision & self-healing, Vision being deep inspiration for Life.

Would a Landtime Quest suit you?
The practice itself is held within a beautiful balance of community and attentively prepared for alone time. It follows a basic pattern – preparation and severance, threshold  – the “liminal” passageway (during which the wheat is threshed from the chaff) and thirdly, return, which is found underpinning such journeys and the story and mythology relating to them around the world (as identified by Joseph Campbell, Van Gennep and others). Such quests are deeply embedded in mythological consciousness – the fasting prophets of Judeo-Christianity, the Grail quests, the wander year, the walkabout, and countless others.

The LandTime Quest does not adhere to any particular denomination, race or creed. It is an empty form with ancient and pancultural roots to which you bring your own values, beliefs, and faiths.

“Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and storms their energy, while cares drop off like autumn leaves”…John Muir

….indeed they may, but the Quest is also an extremely physical experience. Being without food for a few days is voluntary and generally less difficult than people expect, but personal limits may well be challenged. Participants should therefore be in good physical and mental condition. Preparation often entails committing to this work several months in advance.

We will work in a small group(in this case 6 participants max) in order to have enough time for depth of preparation, stories and integration.

In preparation for the fast exercises will be offered to help you prepare for the experience and clarify your intention. The handbook (highlighted below) has a list of essential equipment, but we will also correspond closer to the time if not talk directly on the phone in relation to this.

If you are interested in questing we recommend reading the Sacred Mountain, a handbook for this work (available from us for £5 or free as part of your deposit) which is essential reading for anyone wishing to participate.

Fee. There is no absolute set fee; we propose an exchange guide: £400-£800 and ask for a deposit of £50 -£80, we would not turn someone away for lack of money who is sincerely interested in experiencing this, however it does feel there needs to be some exchange for there are costs and considerable time and commitment to offer such work, so are open for direct dialogue to explore health all around in relation to this as needs be.  

Location and time. The Quests are mainly hosted on wild and rewilding agricultural land on Dartmoor Devon, though also elsewhere by invitation.

To book or for further information contact: Jeremy: +44 (0)1647 432638 landtime1@gmail.com 07717 853967

Systemic inequalities run millennia deep in Britain, and the barriers to full access to land and learning how to and living in simpler ways with it, are very high, even though ironically it is obviously part of what is needed at this time – the need to champion and restore simpler less exploitative relationships with our Earth.

Racially these barriers are even higher here for many, and in recognition of this, as able, we want to particularly support and welcome interest in participation (and also potential support/co-dreaming in work of this nature and what is needed at this time) from diverse backgrounds who also feel the call. We are only a few, and though this may at times challenge and take time to learn wisely how, wish to do our best to contribute to such opportunity being increasingly accessible and of service to all, and for all of our wider relationships. Our aim is a respectful circle where All can feel welcome.

The heart of what we offer draws on over twenty five years’ experience offering such work primarily to adults and young adults, considerable youth work, and study with a number of elders both of this land and beyond. At the heart of this Landtime is a supported, well prepared for solo time, a contemporary visionfast (the term used for the form distilled by the School of Lost Borders)/quest, the participants like the many heroes and heroines of mythology and folk stories entering the wilds (paths less trodden) with aspirations and questions in their hearts, in this case ranging from 24 hours to 4 days and nights, according to age and personal intention and preparedness, with support for integration afterwards.

The long call and gradual resurgence of such rites in western culture is a response to the symptoms of their loss – the grievous losses and harm caused to us all, but particularly the young (and the dreams of their lives), our communities, between generations, and our Earth. The continued, some would say trauma driven, exploitative assault on earth cherishing cultures, the web of life and all our indigenous souls. Such rites offer counterbalancing experience to the fear and power driven modern myths of individualism, exploitation and separation.

Whilst experiential study of such rites and mythology (the stories that often accompany such rites) leads to a recognition of their universality, even so a very deep debt of gratitude exists to those earth cherishing cultures, elders and people within them, that have managed to keep them or the seeds of them alive (they have always needed standing for, honing in their health and nurturing). Also to those whose vision it has been to share such seeds so that healthy rites can arise again, archetypal in pattern, yet diverse in their clothing, particularity and nuance, for All Earth’s children, knowing the restoration of healthier ways of being, not just unhealthy ones, can/will ripple out too. To awaken “New sap in the old Tree” as Martin Prechtel, one seed carrier and planter of earth honouring and cherishing ways expressed it, feeling the need for this to happen particularly in lands such as this island, where catastrophic harm to the fabric of community and life also arose and has been exported from.

What we aspire to offer is an empty yet time honoured form, to which participants can  bring their own unique diversity and belief systems to meet, inhabit and learn through it. The underlying pattern of such rites in many ways mirrors a life crisis, a severance (in this case prepared for), a significant period in isolation with the un/less known (the tomb and womb of wild/semiwild land), the return to community, sometimes to a new life station within it, and the beginning of integration, the living of the learnings. As such they can provide not just practical insight to self-care, and earth care, but something of the testing conditions that can generate inspiration and helpful experience for being with the many ups and downs we can experience on any life’s journey.

Feedback on one of the Landtime Quest preparation weekends: “A brilliant weekend by the way. Valuable and Deep.” Professor David Peters University of Westminster.

Ethics. We hold the earth to be sacred. We respect, protect, and conserve her, leaving as little trace as possible of our sojourn, or passage through the wilderness. We teach others to do the same.

We are well-trained and experienced in the various aspects of our profession, seeking always the safety and well-being of those we serve.

Wilderness safety procedures are taught to all participants. We construct and maintain safe frameworks within which individuals may mark the end of life transitions or personal crises, providing a beneficial means by which they may incorporate their wilderness passage into a new life purpose or station.

These ethics were inspired by a set originally distilled by Steven Foster and Meredith Little, founders of the School of Lost Borders and who together from their care for the children and love of the Earth have played such a key part in the emergence of contemporary wilderness oriented rites of passage worldwide.   

Regenco LandTime Quest Guides:

Jeremy Thres, When he first heard the term Visionquest, he knew he had to follow it, undertaking his first fast in Russia before going on to more formally train over several years with Steven Foster and Meredith Little, founders of the School of Lost Borders and authors of the Roaring of the Sacred River. With their encouragement and blessing he began offering training as well as this work, drawing both on what they share and his own now over twenty years’ experience both of the quest and fresh forms such as LandTime that he has himself been developing. His work has been enriched by connection with a number of different elders, Jungian, Indigenous, Buddhist, both of this Land and beyond; Martin Prechtel and Thich Naht Hahn important among them. He has a great love of myth and story and how they also can support us at this time, training in mountain and moorland leadership, psychotherapy with the Karuna Institute, family constellation work, and wilderness first aid.

Other regular compadres in the work: Lucy Hinton studied Natural Sciences at Cambridge before going onto work in national & international sustainable development. She has worked alongside Jeremy and others internationally in relation to work of this nature and regularly with Colin Campbell at Schumacher College. She has travelled extensively as a consultant, teacher, & writer.

Rupert Hawley: Ru is a self employed Ranger on two nature reserves in North Devon and has worked in ecology for 30 years. He has a deep excitement for nature, years of fieldcraft and a desire for us to reconnect with the natural world and regularly takes adults & young people into wild places using the five senses to connect with each other & nature.

Gill Westcott: Lived on a small holding for many years raising two sons, and where she gained experience hosting a very successful regular family camp and working with young people.  A musician and trained counsellor, Gill is interested in supporting people to feel at home and independent in Nature and in themselves.  She is a passionate and active advocate of transition in human communities towards fruitful ways of living with land and the Earth.

Lucy Voelcker: https://www.hortusheart.co.uk/about, Also Alex Hampson Julia Koskella.

Feedback from Wilderness Quest & LandTime work:

          “Thank you once more. It has been a truly empowering year and I am now filled with the courage to stand on my own two feet.”  Student

“Thank you for guiding me with such care, enthusiasm and insightfulness. I feel as if my reach has been extended, that I see further – or in a wider arc of vision.”Retired Child Psychologist

“Returning to work I find I have gained a great deal from the quest. I felt very safe in your hands.” Businessman

“I first met Jeremy and Lucy (Voelcker) when working with Meredith Littlefrom the School of Lost Borders several years ago. I think I had expected to go out to USA and immerse myself in the vast wilderness there, that when I was ready to do my own vision quest. Instead what unfolded for me was a growing relationship with the Celtic tradition and with a continuity of practice with these two incredible people.  I chose to work with, and on, my home soil – in the UK. Growing a relationship with Dartmoor and the landscapes, creatures and beings of this place.  It proved to be exactly what I needed. If you are uncertain about doing a vision quest, it seems to be that’s as it should be, for in my experience the land will give what you need, not what you want. Welcome your doubts, fears, hopes and anticipations, they will be your guides. Alongside these are Jeremy, Lucy and Gill – all three have great wisdom, humility, humour and creativity. I could not have been better supported or respected through the entire process. The 4 day vision quest / fast was transformational, but just as important is that it continues still, back into my everyday life. My vision quest allowed me to honour and work with grief and to help mark a transition, beginning a new phase of life. I found joy, difficulty and trouble in different measure. I continue to work with the images and guides to this day. I cannot praise land, spirit and these guides enough.”

Participant, therapist and artist.

“The vision quest was really hard and difficult at times, but that’s not what I remember most – I remember the ‘letting go’ experienced in simply Being, present to myself and the natural world in that beautiful place.  It gave space to step out of everyday life to attend to what really matters, and what was lying in my heart that needed listening to. Through Vision Quest I felt supported through its’ magical gateway in reconnecting to ‘the more than human’, a profound opening to deeper reciprocity, and also connected to the very human through being alongside the wider group and the loving insightful holding and facilitation” AP, a business woman for whom part of her quest was being with the changes approaching as her youngest child now fledged the nest and she herself looked at new ways of working.

 “Thank you beyond words for guiding me through my quest…it has, and continues to deeply affect me in a profound and beautiful way. I have great respect for you and your dedication to this Great Work.”  Wilderness Trek Guide

“Incredible, there really is nothing like a quest!” therapist and men’s worker returning for a second quest ten years on.

“It was wonderful. It enabled me to put behind me and move on from a whole stage of my life.”    Professional Musician.

“My son had a wonderful experience with you on Dartmoor, truly visionary, and I am immensely grateful to you for helping it happen, and ensuring it was safe” and, “You feel like a member of the family after your inspirational work with my sons, so important. I’m so happy they did this and that you were there to guide them.” Scientist and author,  father of two boys who on graduation independently quested with us

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Grief as a Gateway to Love in teaching:

As someone who suffered bereavement myself as a teenager I deeply resonate

with this article below by Rachael Kessler, reflecting on the potential stages and faces of grief, and how community could better rise to meet and understand it, so feel it is of value to share. For many years it was available to freely download from the Passageworks website https://passageworks.org/, an organisation she founded, who do great whole school work in the States and offer many resources. In a recent update i can no longer trace it, (It was under the heading remembering our founder,) though did download it before over the years when it was freely available so share it below and am going to get in touch with them to see if there is a link to it still on their web which i just cant track.

It was originally published as a chapter in Teaching, learning and loving:
reclaiming passion in educational practice, edited by Daniel P Liston, and
Edward J Garrison Routledge 2003).

On a practical level also just to note Sophy Banks, I and team, continue to offer physical and online opportunities for grief tending in community: https://grieftending.org/apprenticing-to-grief/

best wishes Jeremy

Grief as a Gateway to love in teaching, by Rachael Kessler

“To heal the world, we must feel the world…” Jewish Prayer

Richard was a school psychologist, who told this story in a sharing circle about teachers who inspired us by positive or negative example to become the educators we are today:

I was in first grade.  I can see her face, but I can’t seem to remember her name.  My brother had just died before I started school.  She had a rocking chair in the classroom and on the first day of school, she picked me up on her lap in the rocker and began to rock me.  

She rocked, and I sobbed.  And sobbed and sobbed.  It was something I couldn’t do at home — not the way my family handled these things.  And you know, she did that for months, every day for minutes or sometimes what seemed like hours.  She took me into the chair and rocked me for about five months, when my crying was done.

While he experienced the “American way of grief” at home, Richard had a rare encounter with an educator who was willing to help this little boy make friends with his grief. 

My colleague John McCluskey was not so fortunate.  After sobbing much of the way through his first encounter with a workshop on grief, John recalled:

I was the youngest of eight children living with a single mother.  I was thirteen when my mom died.  Suddenly I had to move in with my dad and his wife—I hadn’t had much contact with these people before.  

When I think back, I realize that not a single one of my teachers that year ever asked me about how I was doing with my mother’s death, or with all the changes in my life.  Not a single one.  I didn’t even realize that was strange.

In just these two stories, we begin to see the powerful impact of educators’ responses to loss in their students.  Adults in traditional American culture have little preparation for dealing with grief.  “Like many people in our society, teachers often feel uncomfortable discussing death and loss.  This reluctance can adversely affect the children in their charge, who look to their teachers for truth, knowledge and support.”  (Naierman p.62) 

Many parents and teachers are so uncomfortable with discussing loss that students feel they have no safe place to go with these feelings. Children have a keen sense of this discomfort in the adults in their lives.  They see it, smell it, hear it in its most subtle forms and protect their parents and teachers from their own feelings of loss.  And when they don’t, when they are so desperately needing care in their grief, they are often turned away.  For children, the suppression of grief often results in numbing or depression, which in turn leads to shutting down of their capacity to care, to connect and to love.  In its most extreme forms, numbed grief becomes a ground for violence to the self and others.  For teachers who have had these experiences in an American childhood, unexpressed grief can cut off their capacity to bring love into teaching — to be open and authentic with students, to have passion for a subject, and to care deeply about students.  Lacking the guidance to make friends with our own grief, teachers often continue this cycle of discomfort and denial.  We become the adults who convey by our very presence a wall that keeps most students from expressing any feelings of loss.

In this chapter, I will share what inspires me as an educator to strengthen my ability to deal with grief, and then present a model that has been useful in doing so.  My primary emphasis throughout this essay is to describe a series of experiences that might enable educators to deal more adequately with this challenging emotion in ourselves and others, and move on to the terrain of love and hope.

Why should educators deal with grief?

Most of our students have a storehouse of unexpressed grief. Traumatic losses from death, divorce, geographic relocation and dislocation are common experiences for children and youth.  Some students also experience the traumatic premature loss of childhood through experiences such as abuse or teen pregnancy.  In addition, all students encounter the ordinary losses of growing up – saying good-bye at the end of each school year, leaving elementary school for middle school, middle for high school, and leaving high school, home and community.  Leaving college—especially when it has provided meaningful community—is also a time of enormous loss for many young people.  These experiences of ordinary loss not only trigger feelings of grief for what is happening in the present but often bring up significant unhealed losses from earlier in childhood.  

The cycle of grief can be triggered by significant change of any kind, including “positive” changes such as a promotion, the completion of a project or the retirement of a colleague. All of these experiences provide the challenge and the opportunity of learning to say good-bye to an old self — a relationship to self, to others, and to the world as we have known it.

Today, as the immigrant population once again swells in our schools, we are working with children who have been wrenched from place and family, language and culture.  Some of these children, in addition to all of these losses, are struggling with the grief of having watched the death and destruction of people and places in war-torn homelands.  Newcomers, both children and parents, need educators who can hold an awareness of this grief even when it is unspoken.  And, whenever possible, they need the opportunity to express the range of feelings that, bottled up inside, may be another impediment to learning.  

 When we consider the broad range of experiences that trigger grief in our students, we realize how vital our ability to respond with love may be.  Writing not about grief, but about the need for social and emotional learning in the classroom, a teacher from a small town in Washington gives us a litany of loss:

In my classroom of twenty-four children ages 6-9, I have: Two children going back and forth between divorced parents.  Their homework, permission slips and after school needs are often left at one or the other house.Two children going through messy and cruel divorces.  One child has become a hypochondriac and has low reading scores.  The other holds all her emotions in check.  She’s hard to read.  One child’s father is battling an aggressive form of cancer.  Two children live without any contact from their fathers.  One mother tries desperately to make up for the loss by giving her child everything asked for and blaming all failures on the child’s loss.  The other mother is too consumed with her own life to consistently help her son.  This child at 7 is obese and has trouble focusing.

 As a classroom teacher, how can I overlook their inner lives?

While there are many skills and resources a teacher can develop to respond to students with care, compassion and guidance, one of the most critical is an understanding of, and comfort with, the cycle of grief.

Searching for a Model 

I was first introduced to the well-known “stages” of grief in the 80’. A workshop I attended on children and stress asserted that all change – negative and positive, ordinary and traumatic—produces feelings of loss, which arouses in the human heart the same cycle of emotions associated with the grief that follows a death of a loved one.  The degree and persistence of the emotion might be less, but the cycle is basically the same.  

As I reflected on the “stages” of grieving presented, I was not satisfied. [1]  I had lost a husband after seven years of marriage when I was only 26 years old. My own experience of grieving was not embraced by the KublerRoss model.  I realized she had meant those stages for the dying, not for the living left behind. 

A few years later, I was deeply moved by some mimeographed materials on grief developed by a native Eskimo teacher, Liz Sunnyboy.  She believed that all of the psychological and social problems of her people came from unexpressed, unhealed grief. The model I offer in my workshops, and which I will provide here, is an adaptation of her framework.  

A journey through the territory of grief

First, let’s look at the map. 

I. Protection

Shock, Denial

II. Feeling

Anger, Guilt/Shame, Fear. Sadness 

III. Healing

Acceptance, Hope. 

Knowing some basic contours of this landscape prepare us to navigate this terrain: 

  • Time alone will not heal grief.
  • The grieving process can actually transform grief into personal growth.
  • There are two keys to healing through grieving: (track down to continue article)

Become conscious about the process and the range of feelings

Find opportunities to safely EXPRESS the whole range of feelings

  • Grief is not only the feeling of sadness.  (“I never felt grief,” said one parent “I would just call it anacceptance process.”) 
  • Not everyone goes through all of these stages, or through these stages in this particular order.  People grieve in ways that are different from other people suffering the same loss and from ways they themselves have grieved another loss.  
  • The stages of grief are not something that you necessarily complete and then fee; finished with. 

The Wheel of Grief

Protection

The first phase of mourning involves a variety of strategies built into the psyche, mind and body designed to protect us from overwhelming pain:  shock and denial.   If we have had ample time to prepare for a death, this phase may be softer and shorter.  But with a sudden death, especially the death of a person not yet elderly, we need protection. If we were to think the unthinkable and feel the unfeelable, the horror would destroy us.  The wisdom of our ancient neurobiological systems take care of us by ensuring that we cannot think, feel, or even talk about this pain.

Shock: “Our whole being becomes numb, or stunned,” writes Liz Sunnyboy. “One can’t think, cry, talk, laugh, or feel.  Shock is a temporary escape from reality.” Shock is the dimension of grieving that I have found least understood or recognized. The consequences of this ignorance can lead to isolation of the bereaved.  Even worse, misunderstanding shock can lead to judgements and condemnation that create ongoing damage.   

 When I suffered the loss of my first love, I was blessed with an almost immediate instruction on shock that changed everything – for me, and for the people I teach.  My husband Carl was a young doctor when he died of a lethal interaction between a glass of Scotch and one or two sleeping pills. Like everyone around him, I was totally unprepared for his sudden death.

 In the years before this tragic loss, I had suffered from the persistent pain of a slipped disk. Nothing seemed to help.  Weeks before his death, Carl learned that a neurologist was opening one of the first pain clinics in the nation at Yale for dealing with chronic pain.  He scheduled an appointment for me.

  That appointment came two days after his death.  I chose to go, feeling utterly desperate.   “How will I deal with this physical pain,” I wondered, “when I know I will have more emotional pain than I could ever imagine?”  I knew I needed any help I could get. 

 The doctor greeted me with so much warmth and empathy that I felt immediately at ease.  “I’m surprised you are here, but I am so glad. Now I can show you what shock really means.  So few people actually understand.”

 He took out tools that looked like they were meant for torture, not healing.  Rolling devices with pins and needles, they were designed to discover where the body could detect sensation and where the nerves were dead or asleep.  As he poked through skin on my limbs, I was startled to feel absolutely no pain.  “That is shock,” he explained.  “That’s your body protecting you against feeling.  Because if it didn’t, if you could actually feel in a normal way, the pain you would feel right now in your heart could destroy you…. It’s not just the nerve-endings in your body that have gone numb; you won’t feel much emotion over these next weeks and months.  It may be disorienting.

  “The good news is that your back will probably heal.  You will get a break from the pain and fear, so you can start to move actively again, which is the best thing for you at this point.  You will also probably not have a period for many months.  Your whole system is on hold.”

 He was right.  Right about my back-pain and about my menstrual cycle going on hold.  And knowing about the mechanisms of shock, I could begin to understand some of the other strange experiences I was having – like difficulty driving and making ordinary conversation.  

 I didn’t cry much.  I didn’t laugh.  The only emotion I felt with strength in those first few months was fear.  It would come to me only at night—as crippling terror, screaming nightmares as I looked into the jaws of my own death.  I could not sleep in a house without others.  Except for my fear, shock had wrapped me in a cocoon of protection. Years later, this allowed me to support my students through the mysteries of shock.

 Cindy was on a freshman retreat at our high school when she learned that her father had dropped dead on the tennis court. When she returned to school after a week at home, her best friends were deeply troubled and angry.  “What’s wrong with Cindy?” they asked their life skills teacher.  “How can she be so cold?  She’s just acting like nothing has happened.  She never cries and she doesn’t even look sad.  We can’t look at her without thinking about what just happened.  We’re feeling so sad—and she’s not. Doesn’t she have a heart?”  These deeply emotional 14-year-olds wanted to shower their friend with the love and compassion they knew they would want in this situation.  Cindy’s loss awakened them to the fear that their own parents might not be invincible.    They were quick to judge Cindy because of her stony demeanor, and would have backed away, leaving her with a double loss.  Fortunately, their teacher explained to them that with their distance from this loss, they could afford to feel the depths of their grief, and that Cindy could not survive this level of feeling right now.  Shock is what gets us through at first. 

Americans often isolate the bereaved because we don’t know what to say or do around grief.  Then isolation hits a second time because of our ignorance about shock:  by the time the numbing has begun to melt and the strong emotions begin to erupt, many friends have “moved on.”  We have moved quickly through our milder grief and assume that the mourners should have completed their process as well.   We are caught in a wild impatience about grief.  Three or four months, we assume, should be enough to heal.  If people take longer, we assume they are morbid, depressed, and self-indulgent.  The grieving process can, and often does take years.  It doesn’t really begin to move towards healing until the shock subsides and the deep feeling begins. But before we move ahead to that feeling, let’s explore “denial” – another form of protection.  

Denial: Denial, says Sunnyboy, is about disbelief.  “No, it is just not true,” says the mind.  And like shock, in the early stages of grief, it is beyond our control.  I have often heard the phrase “she’s in denial” as a form of put-down – a judgement that so-and-so should wake up and come to terms with reality.  In the protection phase of mourning, we can’t afford to wake up.  Denial is a necessary, healthy defense mechanism.  Denial of grief can often be sustained for a long time after a first encounter with traumatic loss.  A second loss usually opens the door.   Unfortunately, when this occurs, there is a huge legacy of unexpressed grief that burdens the grieving process for the current situation. 

Alan lost his father when he was in 8th grade.  Denial was his only comfort.  He began to build his personality around the refusal to feel.  His main comfort after his father died was a relationship with his grandfather that grew stronger and stronger.  I first met Alan at the beginning of 10th grade when his grandfather died.  I could almost feel the scraping of the lid off his denial.  He was still trying to hold it back and hold himself together.  Unfortunately for Alan, Samantha was also in this human development class.  Samantha had lost her dad in 9th grade.  Unlike Alan, her coping style was to express, celebrate her dad, talk about her healing process, and share her grief. Alan despised Samantha.  They had been childhood friends.  But ever since she lost her dad, Alan could not bear to be around her.  She was a trigger to Alan’s loaded gun.  And now that his denial was being ripped off by his grandpa’s death, Alan needed more than ever to control the pace of his grief.  He couldn’t do that with Samantha present. 

As a teacher, I was too new and inexperienced to recognize that Alan needed to be moved out of that section. Eventually, after too much disruption from Alan doing his best to make our class unsafe for the expression of any authentic feeling, I got it.  Meeting with Alan, his mother and the dean, I decided to grant him a waiver so he was not surrounded by students talking about feelings.  He needed the respect that allowed him to move at his own pace. 

I learned how important it is for me as a teacher not to take on what is not mine to handle, not to put “inclusion” above the actual needs of the child.

Denial may be unavoidable in the early months of a shocking loss.  But at some point, there is more choice.  There is a critical time when we either begin to go through the feeling stages of grief or shut down.  Denial is the primary mechanism for this shutting down.  Shutting down the grief also seems to shut down the capacity for deep feelings of any kind.  

Denial may be a necessary form of protection, a healthy defense mechanism at a time when too much feeling is dangerous.  And it may become an unhealthy dam, blocking the flow of feelings that will promote healing only when they are felt and expressed.

Moving into Feeling

Now comes the fork in the road. Do we find the support and the inner strength to move into our feelings or do we lock into protection, shutting down our capacity to feel deeply and stunting or delaying the healing process? The latter will often bring on a depression – which is not necessarily a phase of grief so much as it is an avoidance of grief.  Grieving may include sadness, deep sadness.  But the depression that comes from avoiding feelings is a flat, exhausted, isolated, hopeless and helpless place that settles in and is very difficult to lift.  

 If we choose the road of feeling, here are some of the emotions that may surface: sadness, anger, fear, or guilt.   For each person, for each loss, a different set of feelings emerges, a different sequence.  We all heal in different ways.  And these differences can add another challenging dimension to grief.  People who are grieving are often intolerant of those who are grieving the same loss in a different way.  Husbands and wives often feel unsupported, misunderstood or riddled with judgement and anger because their spouse doesn’t seem to be “really grieving,” or seems to be “unwilling to move on.” Perhaps this is one of the reasons that couples who lose a child often lose their marriage as well. 

Anger

When anger erupts in the cycle of grief, it finds many targets.  Some people are angry at God for taking their loved one, or requiring this unwanted move or change.  With suicide or divorce, anger is commonly felt and expressed towards the lost loved one.  Even when the person did not choose to die, or had very legitimate reasons for moving across the world or leaving this job, we may feel anger towards them for lurching us into primal feelings of abandonment.  When we are the ones required to leave, we may feel rage against life for making us lose a community or person or place that we love. That same anger can be directed against the very people from whom we have been separated.

Anger after loss may find its target in the people with whom we share our grief when they are grieving in another way.  It may turn inward, a rage against the self we call guilt – which we will explore shortly as another phase of grief.  And often, anger is simply an energy in the system, simmering, boiling, spilling, erupting with no particular target in mind on anyone and anything.  An assistant superintendent, Duneen Debruhl, shared a story about an extremely angry middle school student from her days as a principal.  

I was the one in charge of discipline for the school, so I saw this boy again and again.  He was angry all the time and it took little for him to erupt and cause trouble wherever he was.  Grace allowed me to love that boy.  Each time he came back expecting punishment and anger, I greeted him with love.  One day, he just melted in my office.  That poor boy had just lost his mother, his home, his place.  He was in foster care now, and behind that firewall of anger was a blaze of grief. 

Anger, unlike denial, is a strong emotion.  But anger can also be a bridge, an intermediary step between denial and grief.  It can be a protection again the sadness that is the most vulnerable place on the wheel of grief.  While such protection may be necessary, like shock, in the early months after or preceding a loss, it can become dangerous when we become stuck there because we are too afraid to move into vulnerability.   Such refusal to move through the stages of grief can lead to a personality change – a person for whom anger is a way of life, a lens through which all of life is experienced and expressed.  But like the story above, deep caring and love for the angry mourner can melt that anger to expose the sadness underneath.  And once the sadness is felt and expressed, healing and hope are possible.  

Anger is a common emotional strategy among families who are preparing to lose a high school senior to the larger world.  Unconsciously, someone in the family – student, parent or sibling – “decides” that it will be easier to say good bye and move on if there is distance, not closeness. 

Guilt (big space here track down to continue article:)

Guilt is said to be a form of anger – turned inward against the self.  Like anger, its pain can feel more bearable than the abject vulnerability of sadness or fear that lie on the other side of the protection phase.  For in anger and guilt, human beings maintain some sense of control over life and death.  Blame – whether it is against another or ourselves – presumes control.  Without blame, we can feel ourselves at the mercy of a totally unpredictable world – an experience that is too vulnerable to be tolerated at some stages in life.  But while it provides protection to the unconscious, guilt can be a torment for a mourner if it takes hold and prevent the flow into healing.  

The curse of guilt is a well-known response of children to loss and grief.  Developmentally, children are all too likely to see themselves at the causal center of all that happens in their lives.  One of the most damaging effects of divorce is the guilt children take on because they believe they must have caused the animosity between their parents.  

Guilt can seize parents as an expression of grief when their child is born with a disability.  Parents blame themselves for the genes they passed on, the diet or other substances they imbibed which may have caused the mysterious afflictions their child is born with.  Through acts of omission or commission, they believe they have harmed their child.  Or they are riddled with guilt for any moment of failure to accept the differences in their child, to accept everything that goes with the role of being a parent to a child with special needs.  As I have listened to such parents, I discovered that redemption was deeply connected to an experience of forgiveness. Only when we can discover the strength to forgive ourselves, our lost or damaged loved one, God or fate, can we move back out of the inlets of anger and guilt and into the river of grief that will allow us to heal.  

Fear

In 1972, when I saw my husband’s dead body, I felt for the first time the reality of death. For weeks and months after, I awoke screaming in the night from nightmares of my own death.  A decade later, I watched my mother confront this same specter in a dream as we tried to sleep in the waiting room of the hospital the night after the surgery that killed my father.

When my friend Ken’s daughter Jenna died oversees, I worked to support a dozen of her sorority sisters.  Virtually all were afraid to sleep alone. I assured them that this was a common reaction in the early weeks to the fear that arises after an unexpected death. I told them my own story and stories of three families I knew with independent adolescent sons or daughters who had each moved into their parents bedrooms for months after a sibling died.

Fear can take many forms in grieving. And the source is often not conscious or clear.  We can be afraid of our own mortality.  We can be afraid of ghosts, of guilt, of punishment, of succumbing to sadness or to the terrible vulnerability of helplessness and loss of control.    We can be afraid that grief will drive us to madness or will drive away everyone that loves or cares for us.  

This very last fear is so unnecessary and yet so true in a culture where we are averse to grief.   People who are grieving do often lose friends, family and colleagues.  The best antidote I have found to this very real fear is truth.  Acknowledging the reality of avoidance that can greet mourners seems to ease some of the fear.   Internal or transpersonal resources may come into play when we realize the rejection or abandonment from our community is not personal, not about us so much as it is about a person and a culture afraid to sit with the feelings of loss. Compassionate truth-telling is especially important for children and youth who may use this rejection to fuel their guilt, which we have seen can stop or stall the healing process.  

Sadness

When we feel safe enough to be vulnerable, we can feel and express the sadness that is almost inevitable at some point in the journey towards healing from loss.  Tears, hurt, loneliness – all of these may flow.  Liz Sunnyboy suggests what she calls 7 natural healing processes that allow us to move into this vulnerability that will ultimately allow the feelings to move through and out of us.  Talking, crying, sweating, shaking, laughing, yelling, yawning or sighing – this unlikely family of actions can release and express deep grief.  

A fourth-grade teacher, Brian Geraghty found a strong current of sadness flowing in himself and his students as his first year of teaching came to an end.  

It was my first year of teaching and the learning curve was extremely high.  I had this great group of kids and we grew closer than I ever expected. It was the year of the Columbine tragedy, so we had to do a lot of talking.  They were able to see a lot of my feelings.   Just seeing your teacher cry and realizing it was okay for a teacher to show feelings in the classroom—it brought us so much closer. 

 They gave me so much.  And when the end was coming, I felt such gratitude, I wanted to give something back. I had so much feeling.  I didn’t know how I was going to say good-bye. 

 I wanted to write a song for them. We were talking about stars, about constellations.   And I was talking about that light  — how the star could have died in the time of the dinosaurs, but we can still see the light.  

And then the words just came,  “You’re all stars, shining so bright.  Keep shining on, so people can still see your light after your gone.” I played and sang to them a few days before the end.    I bought a package of glow-in-the dark stars and gave each one a star to remember our class.  There were two big stars in the package, which I gave to the two kids moving out of state big “You need to burn brighter,” I said, “because you’ll be farther away.”    

I still get choked up thinking about it. I put one star on the end of my guitar – I keep it there as a reminder.

On the last day of school, the parents came too and we had a fun day.  The parents asked me to sing the song – the kids had told them.   I sang it and then, everyone was crying.  I was crying, the kids were crying the parents were crying.  Lots of hugs going around.  It was my first year, so I didn’t know if I’d ever see them again.  

You know, it was definitely the most spiritually rewarding experience I’ve had in teaching so far.  It was so fulfilling to be in that role and to touch their lives that way.  I broke down when I was talking to them in April about Columbine — “I can’t even imagine what would happen if something like this happened to you.  

I love all of you guys so much.”

And I reminded them on the last day of school.  I’m not afraid to tell my students that I love them.   And sometimes I don’t have to tell them; it just shows.  I never thought I’d be telling my kids I loved them.  None of my teachers would ever have said that.   

I opened myself up so much to these kids.  It was such a profound loss, such sadness when it was over. When you open yourself up for that, you’re opening yourself up for everything.  Then I was so surprised at the end – whoa, I didn’t want it to end.  

The willingness of this teacher to share his sadness – both in response to the traumatic losses in Littleton and the ordinary loss of ending the school year – opened wide the gateways to love in himself and his students.  He brought an intention and creativity to good-bye that was an essential lesson for his students in the possibilities for real completion and commemoration when it’s time to leave. How often can we bring such an undefended heart to our students?  How sweet the communion and learning when we can.  

Healing

 Once the challenging feelings have had the opportunity to flow – at whatever pace they may need, healing becomes possible.  Acceptance comes, and with it, hope.   Liz Sunnyboy offers the voices of acceptance:  “I am alright, I had a loss and I went through it and I’m not alone.   I can make choices about how to care for myself. I have a new appreciation of life and my own life.”

 Acceptance can come after a long period of sorrow and anger, or can come in a flash.  Two of the sorority girls were experiencing ecstatic joy when I met with their group just a few weeks after their loss.  They had been blessed with the opportunity to fly to the memorial service and to share in a communal expression of profound grief and love.  Returning home was a journey fraught with challenges graced by strangers providing solutions. They began to feel their friend was watching over them.  They felt her ongoing presence in their lives and with that loving presence, an explosion of mystery and joy.   While their sorority sisters were angry, accusing them of denial, I felt they had been catapulted through the stages of grief in an intense and rapid way that graced them with the acceptance and hope that usually come much later.  

 In my friends who lost children, I watched the first signs of acceptance come only after many years filled with turmoil and anguish.  In each of these parents, I saw their own capacity to accept their loss deeply entwined with their ability to provide service to others in a way that grows out of the strength they have discovered in navigating this perilous journey of grief.   

 In these acts or service to others who are grieving, or who need to respond to someone in grief, or to young people with the same interests or illnesses as their deceased child, I see them rediscover hope.  I cannot separate acceptance from hope in neat, clean categories.  They flow together.  “A ray of light after darkness of loss,” says Sunnyboy , describing this stage of hope: 

I got help and others can be helped.  I survived a loss and I can be supportive to others.  

  • I have new energy to look forward, to plan new things. 
  • I can feel again and I can accept reality.
  • I am stronger now and I may have a better understanding of my purpose or of life’s meaning
  • I can live, love and laugh again!
  • And I am not thinking so much about this loss.

Perhaps the greatest gift of fully experiencing the process of grief is this emergence into a stage of character in which we can feel more deeply, love more fully, serve more generously, and have a new clarity about why we are here and what matters deeply in life.  The hope that can break through when one has fully lived the grief is not the pollyannish hope of innocence and naivete.  It is an attitude towards life and the living that includes an awareness of limits, of the inevitability of endings, of the depth of human suffering and the possibilities of human strength

Endings and returns

I experienced melancholy beginning in September of every year for about ten years after Carl died.  Often it was not until October when I would begin to see all the signs of Halloween coming in the stores that I would realize I was having an anniversary reaction.  Once I knew what was going on, I was less frightened that depression was about to take hold.  I was better able to manage the return of grief and find ways to express it and honor it so it could move through me. 

“Like adults, children don’t work through their grief on a particular timetable,” writes Naomi Naierman in Educational Leadership.  “…Young people may grieve intensely, but sporadically.  A major loss in early childhood can reverberate through the years as the person progresses through life’s milestones –first date, graduation, marriage and parenthood.” 

 As educators, we must be sensitive to these anniversary reactions if we want to respond to our students with compassion and care.   The child who lost his or her mother at four or twelve or sixteen may become moody and depressed or angry as he or she approaches these milestones without having any idea what is causing this suffering.  Buried in the unconscious are feelings of immense regret that this parent can not be there, witness and support them as they navigate these joyful or challenging events.  And of course, it can be useful to know this about ourselves and our colleagues as well. 

Using this model

 I wrote this chapter primarily to support educators in making friends with their own grief so it does not block the door to the full flow of love possible with their students.  I don’t offer this model to be employed in a didactic way in response to a loss.    People who are grieving do not feel loved when their feelings to be put in a box, a construct, a generalization. When you are working in a classroom with an immediate loss – be it personal, or what might be called tribal losses such as Columbine or September 11 that can touch an entire community or nation, you can choose from a number of ways to support the students deeply affected by grief.   Let’s look at some options.

Accommodation

 “Accommodate these students,” is a core piece of guidance to teachers from Ken Druck, executive director of the Jenna Druck Foundation.  “You might liken it to accommodations in the workplace or for children with special needs.  Invite the child to sit in the front of the room; allow her to reorient certain work projects to themes more in accord with the powerful experience that is commanding all of her attention.”  Ken speaks with gratitude about the high school teachers who were willing to “relax their standards” to accommodate the grief and disorientation of his younger daughter following the sudden death of her sister.  He urges teachers to see such times as a “transient state of special need” and asks them to be willing to adjust their expectations for “a work product to a level she’s capable of.  Provide take-home tests. Understand that she’s not going to be able to function at a certain level. And realize that students who have just sustained a traumatic loss will have a “rough edge socially – they’re not going to be able to engage in ordinary conversations.” 

Commemorate:

“Schools have an ability to commemorate and honor the loss of a child in a way that helps everyone cope with the grief with love and grace. “  Ken describes the cooperation between a school and his “Families Helping Families” program to provide this kind of conscious grieving for a child who died and all the mourners left behind.  

One of our parents lost a  7-year-old daughter.  It went from “I have a headache, Mommy,” to seeing her child dead in 3 hours.

Our facilitators went in to the classroom and did a debriefing with all of the kids. We explored the idea of leaving her desk intact for the rest of the school year.  The children decorated it—it was a way they could express their grief. 

Instead of “let’s cover this over and remove the desk quickly,” this teacher and her students created a sacred place in the classroom, where they could hold a place for her in their hearts, a physical place where she could be remembered and loved.

The parents picked up all the notes – they loved reading them.

Now we’ve created a program for helping teachers deal with the grief of the other kids when there’s a death—it’s called  “Janelle’s Chair.”

The Jenna Druck Foundation also offers teachers the tools for helping students sort out what to say, and what not to say, to children returning to class immersed in grief.ii  “The object is not to make someone feel better; it’s about being a loving presence.  In the presence of someone who’s loving and free of judgement – we at least don’t feel alone.  Alone is one of the most devastating social aspects of grief.  We not only lost the person, we lost our world. And for children that world is their classroom.” 

Expression

When our entire classroom is dealing with grief because of an experience like Columbine or when a student or teacher in the class or school has just died, we can create a safe structure for all the feelings to be shared.  Alone, or with the support of a colleague or trained professional from the school or community, you can work with your students to set the ground rules that make such disclosure feel safe and appropriate.  You can offer a sharing circle or council in which each person has the opportunity to speak without interruption for a brief period or to listen respectfully in silence. iii The option to pass is essential.  At the end, you may find a gentle, respectful and personal way to weave some information for your students about the way that each of us may find ourselves at different places on the wheel of grief at any particular moment and that they are all legitimate.

If you do choose to offer such a circle, your willingness to speak first, from your heart, about your own feelings, is a powerful foundation for the safety of your students.  Your own tears and heartfelt sadness can help students feel safe.  Uncontrollable hysteria will do the opposite.  

Please see  jennadruck.org for many resources for families and students, including “The Compassionate Classroom, “ and the Teen Grief Curriculum for teachers and counselors, created by Scott Johnson, MA our Child Bereavement Specialist.

Please see my website for information on methods and trainings that support teachers creating safe and respectful community in the classroom where feelings can be shared:  http://www.passageways.org

So ultimately we come back around to the question of whether or not you have made friends with your own grief.   If you are terrified of grief – your own and others – you may convey a stone-cold feeling that disallows the free flow of your students feeling.  Or you may feel your grief erupt like a volcano that is completely beyond your control.  If you have worked with your own grief – past and current—in the privacy of your own world or with colleagues outside the classroom, you can bring yourself to the grief of your students with the capacity for authentic and appropriate expression.  

Conclusion: On to Hope and Love

When we know how to let ourselves grieve, we can lose a loved one or end a relationship, a class, or phase of life with a sense of completion and fullness that allows us to love again next time.  When we are willing to feel the sadness of grief, we can afford to care deeply for those with whom we must eventually let go.  When we have never had the support and guidance to grieve in a healthy way, endings of all kinds can feel like a vital piece of ourselves is being ripped away.  Why would we ever want to be that close, care that much ever again? When we are so afraid of grief that we close our hearts to sadness, the doorways to love, to beauty, to joy are closed as well.

Educators can make the difference in the lives of students and colleagues who are struggling with challenges or reaping the harvest of meaning that come with grief.  If we can make friends with all the feelings that may come, we can offer comfort and companionship when others are running and shunning in fear. We can learn to help ourselves, our students and our colleagues to roll on the whole wheel of grief through the landscape of change and trauma and the ordinary good-byes of moving from one stage of life to the next.

There is no “right” way to grieve.   Everyone grieves in their own time and sequence of feelings.    “To heal the world, we must feel the world,” counsels an ancient prayer.  Whether it is our own personal world or the larger communities in which we participate, allowing ourselves and others to feel our grief is an act of courage that can transform wounds into gateways to love. 

 


 

[1] Based on the commonly known model of grief developed by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross,M.D.  In her seminal book, On Death and Dying: What the Dying Have to Teach Doctors, Nurses, Clergy, and Their Own Families.

Their stages were: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance.

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“Don’t lose what you have, to what you have lost.”

This quote from Lucy Hone’s beautiful book Resilient Grieving, succinctly points to one of the purposes of grief tending. If we do not find a way to healthily engage with our grief, it can eat not just our own lives and dreams, but also impact that of our families and communities. On a wider level, if you listen to the profound understandings of Martin Prechtel in relation to grief, he sees war as a manifestation of unmetabolised grief, and war can eat entire generations. The work of metabolising our grief may take courage and not be easy, but its gifts of the healing heart can be many.

One of the things Mel Lamb firmly asked before she crossed over, was that we continued our grief tending work, and also for three of us from the grief tending team to play a part in her funeral.

The first weekend of December was when Mel consistently booked us in to High Heathercombe for a long weekend of grief tending in community. Lockdown has made the possibility of doing that physically together on this occasion feel too uncertain, and over the year Sophy and team ( i stepped back for a bit having had what felt like my own brush with covid in the spring) have continued to offer and explore how this work can serve surprisingly effectively also in community on line, with very positive feedback.

So I am delighted to say we are going to offer a grief tending in community online over this first December weekend and three of us are working out the finer details of it at this time.

We are also aspiring to a physical gathering (lockdown allowing) in the Spring, as well as further apprenticing offerings, so do get in touch if you want to be kept updated and keep an eye on https://grieftending.org/events/.

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Remembering Mel Lamb

Dear wonderful Mel left her physical body this spring.

Mel was a great ally having in common a love of so many things!

As well as our friendship, this meant High Heathercombe with Mel at the helm was an important venue for work often initiated and administered through RegenCo which Mel also almost invariably joined us on (she also joined our general council to support us as needed/able). These included hosting Meredith Little and Sylvia Talvera for a five day “forgiveness and reconciliation” iniatory exploration, hosting Joe Provisior offering training in “Council for Educators,” and hosting “Grief tending in Community” offerings and apprenticeship which became at her insistence and our joy, a regular in the calendar, first with Maeve Gavin supporting us to establish a team in Devon,  with the support of Fern de Castres, Sophy Banks, Ruth Jenni and myself as team, gradually migrating to Sophy and myself as leads, with a morphing and wonderful team primarily of Ruth, Wizz, Mel, Henrietta, Nigel, Felicity and Dita, with regulars Johnny and Charlotte often in support holding the hearth/kitchen.

Mel also had a great love of NVC (non violent/compassionate communication) so this was also a strand we shared exploration in, though it couldn’t resolve every issue, it and mentors strong in it helped her in the many complex dances that can arise holding group work and a centre, and so working with so many different needs and people.

There are so very many special memories of times at High Heathercombe and with Mel (mostly there as she didn’t have a car so travel much), both in groups and as friends. As was acknowledged at her Melmorial at High Heathercombe and then grief tending ceremony co-held for her at Epona the day after, she had a tremendous gift of warmth and friendship for people.

Thank you Mel, and though I sense you in the ether and memory, I also miss you.

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