Creating Safe Spaces for Grief

"One of the things this society is most deficient in is safe spaces for truth-telling about the condition of our souls." - Parker Palmer

Last Mother's Day, as an alternative to the typical Mother's Day celebrations, I offered a commemorative yoga practice at my local yoga studio to honor the mothers who are no longer with us.

I knew I would be marketing an unconventional idea on an uncomfortable subject, but I believe there is a need for safe spaces where we can be alone together through our deepest and most difficult emotions; grief being one of them. Holidays such as Mother's Day are a perfect example of a time when people who have lost a loved one can feel even more alone, ostracized, or misunderstood.

My working definition of "safe space" is one I borrow from author and educator Parker Palmer:

One of the simplest [rules is] no fixing, no saving, no advising, and no correcting each other... what we're going to do in the absence of those behaviors is we're going to learn to listen deeply to each other, and we're going to learn to ask honest, open questions to hear each other into speech. Which I think is another of the most critical tasks of our time. So many people, unseen, unheard, they need to be heard into speech.

While the class I led did not include public sharing or ceremony, the intention was that these principles hold the collective space like invisible arms and allow for individual introspection that does not try fix, save, advise or correct. Space that allows for deep listening to one's own heart.

Approached from a trauma-informed yoga perspective, we practiced movement, breathwork, vocalization, and meditation tailored to the emotion of grief. We held space for grief the way our mothers held space for us in their bellies; lovingly and patiently.

The idea wasn't that practicing yoga was going to make people feel better, although sometimes it does, or to teach tools to help them numb or get away from their grief. It was to offer a safe space for commemoration of loss, for sitting with loss, and for moving through loss while staying rooted in the body and the breath, two anchors to the present moment.

On the day of the class only two people attended. I was tempted to label the effort a failure, even though I now define failure as not trying instead of trying and not succeeding. When the class was over one of the two students said to me, "Thank you for having this." I realized then that this was a needed offering, not just by me but by all of us. My offering was by way of yoga because that's what I know. Another person's offering may be by way of what they know.

Facilitating safe spaces where we can "listen deeply to each other and hear one another into speech" is crucial on so many topics, not just grief. It begins with listening to ourselves. If I can't hear myself without interruption or criticism, how can I hear you? If I can't bear my own pain, how can I bear yours? If I can't welcome my own grief, how can I welcome yours?

We each have a safe space to offer each other. It's called a heart and it beats and breaks in each of us the same, regardless of our color, age, or religion. May we offer them to ourselves and to each other in times of tragedy large and small. Perhaps one day we will become a society abundant in safe spaces for truth-telling about the condition of our souls.