Of grief

by | Dec 21, 2012

Let me tell you a story.

It’s a story about our land – our home – and our ability to live peaceful, harmonious, respectful lives upon it and in partnership with it.

And it’s a story about the big bad political structures and corporate institutions that conspire to stop us doing so, using the unspeakable, impenetrable black magic of bureaucracy and backhanders to bind our best efforts with frustration and fatigue.

Oh, you already know that one?


Ok, then maybe you’re ready for the next chapter, about what comes after?

Fine. Sit down, make yourselves comfortable.

But you should know that this isn’t a Hollywood story, about a heroic individual battling the faceless hordes of bureaucratic ennui and struggling towards an inevitable triumph.

No, this is a collective adventure, and a story I have to try to tell from the inside, as it occurs. Although perhaps it could be all the more powerful, for that?

This story really matters to me. To us.

It is the story of our lives. It seems you know the early chapters. The ones where the twisted power of the demons seems unstoppable, where calling the future uncertain sounds recklessly optimistic, where our humble efforts seem insignificant, and where our all-powerful superhero is nowhere to be seen.

And you know too that, as in the most gripping stories of our childhood, the stakes are higher even than death. Though death is at stake; for us, for our loved ones.

Higher than the destruction of our entire communities. Though their destruction is ongoing.

Maybe higher, even, than extinction: that death of birth itself. Though that too hangs in the balance, for us and for others.


Here I sense some of your eyes widen. What could be worse than that?

But some of you nod sadly, knowing that I speak of ‘undeath’. That living death that hollows all joy, pleasure and meaning from our souls even as our bodies continue to feast on all around us. The realm of zombies, of vampires.

This is our story, so we all know it is no fiction. Rather, it is the true story that some of us don’t dare to tell our children, because we know they will be scared, and that we may have no honest way to reassure them.


You should know that I do not speak of death lightly. Two years ago I lost both my closest partner and mentor, and my fiancée, both suddenly, and within a few weeks of each other. Shortly afterwards, my father suffered a double heart attack and barely survived.

I am coming to know a little of death, of its causes, and of what it leaves behind. And I am learning a great deal.

Eventually, painfully, I am beginning to learn what Nature tells us so clearly, and what our culture fights so hard to ignore.

That death is not evil. That death has its rightful place, as the partner of life, and it always will.

But that undeath does not. Undeath is the enemy of nature and of life. The enemy of art and of love.

It is the hollow-eyed, insatiable hunger that works to consume all that we hold dear, and takes no pleasure in that work.

But I am getting ahead of myself…


Instead, let me speak a little to those who feel their unity with their lover, Earth.

Those who step into the wild from which we came and can feel the terrible grief that she herself carries.

Unending, as all grief is. As all relationships are.

But who also feel something more from our wise, wise, deep lover.
That grief too has its place.
That feeling the loss of life, aching over it, is, truly, a triumph for life.
Grief cannot – stubbornly will not – overcome death, but it vanquishes life’s true enemy.

This is the gift we can eventually bring back from our time in the underworld, clutched tight against those from whose realm we return.

The gift of the tingling intensity of full life – the simple joys of a path untainted by despair, corruption or surrender. The exquisite tastes of food, the truth and beauty ringing in the music and, for me, always the dancing; my wild, beloved dancing. The aliveness that grief works to return us to – in its agonising, unhurried way – in the aftermath of beloved death.


And, possibly, the gift for which environmentalism hungers.

So often, when I hear the learnéd speak of environmental collapse, ongoing or long done, all I can hear is their pain – sometimes articulated, often not – lurking among the figures and statistics. Unresolved..

I hear a zombie speaking.

It is no great wonder that when a man seeks a podium to speak of his pain, the audience is limited.

Most flinch before this uninvited onslaught, are put out, offended, impinged upon.


Yet we can – I can – learn to speak from the place beyond agony.


The place that faces down death, even the death of birth, and finds life beyond that. In this world.

In that place I find the other voices, the non-human and the no longer human. The others who share in the life of this planet, and those who no longer do.

All speak in this place.

And those dread, tender voices speak of death. Shatter undeath. Bring life.



There is a time for everything – a time for grieving, a time for reflection, a time for action, a time for silence. I feel that the time for storytelling, and for sitting comfortably, is drawing to a close.

On Dark Optimism I sometimes speak of the paths I am choosing to walk, and if they seem a little inadequate in the face of the big bad, well it is because they are. But they bring me life – true life – and a little voice whispers to me that that is enough. That that is everything.

I know that voice, and I love her.


in memory of Maria Elvorith, 13/06/82 ~ 21/12/10


  1. Trish Young

    A really beautiful piece of writing Shaun !
    So well expressed, so wrought from experience.
    Dark Optimism indeed !
    The place beyond agony …
    Great to read

  2. jason palmer

    The World Is Too Much with Us

    The world is too much with us; late and soon,
    Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
    Little we see in Nature that is ours;
    We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
    This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
    The winds that will be howling at all hours,
    And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
    For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
    It moves us not. –Great God! I’d rather be
    A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
    So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
    Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
    Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
    Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.

  3. Roger

    … we came from endlessness, yet what we see all ends, yet it gives us a rule for what goes on beyond ‘undeath’ for many of this life, this world …the simplest word for the rule is Love, to be whole with oneself and kind to all in that wholeness … and there is the mystery of the paradox of ‘undeath’, that we all know Love would be a better way of life for everyone if we all played our part , yet most men live in denial of playing that role all their lives , that is why Love is life … that is the single most important Truth in life and men are wholly ashamed to ignore it and live the way most do… and the special thing about mankind is that we can understand endlessness by Love , we can be whole, and yet the world is possessed by men who use every lie and trick to prevent all men becoming free [Spinoza’s sense of freedom] by Love of one another … and this paradoxically is what God and Jesus require of men , for god is the endlessness, but even religion is corrupted to keep men sinners all their lives and tell them that is enough… but they know in their own hearts it is not enough for sin is the very opposite of Love ,religion of sinners is already the very opposite of God’s rule for men to be happy …and the sadness is that Jesus died unjustly in terrible pain to gain the communication from endlessness about Love for us and yet few tell the story whilst many claim to be Christian :-
    John 16:7 Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you.
    John 14:26 But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.

    … to know God, to know endlessness , all one has to do is become whole, , to Love ,not sin abusing others any more in any way… but neither the religious nor non-religious do so, but just a very few who require of themselves to be whole , to cease from lying even to themselves and bear to look at the world men made, as it is, destroying itself in almost every way man can destroy the earth… in the name of profit of money… but there can be no profit longer-term in destroying ourselves , save that we have become un-Loving and death&resurrection resets our ways so we can start again toward what God requires us all to play our part in, OUR happiness! … and it takes another earth because so few Love yet, just enough though to set up a Loving kingdom before the many are reset to the next life… so that many are guided straight away by a loving life, unlike what happened to us in this world… that simply is how blind, short-sighted, the man is , just a few ready to see that what we see ends. but endlessness is the essence of what we are… and ‘bizarrely’ some even now Love despite the world and so know from God what is coming [as has been written also from the beginning , but few trouble to read and understand] … most folks are either rich enough to be complacently blind that we do not know unless we are told by inspiration because we become whole, or are the disenfranchised poor of the evil system mankind falsely keeps saying is the best we could have … capitalism and religion of sinners is the very WORST system and we shall not cure ‘undeath’ until we EACH play our role in Love of one another , all of us Loving all of us,no exceptions… so we are all happy in life … as it is God has said how few will make it in this life, but countless billions in the next life… so there is the basis of my deep lifelong sadness, none can save this earth, none can cure the ‘undeath’ of the masses until the kingdom come … the work then is to find and trigger those who will Love now in this world who will build the kingdom come and rule and minister to the many when man is brought to stop denying Love sadly most folks only by death [Romans 6:7] …
    why must it be so ? … simply that to stabilise the human brain it must have inhibition, but that makes lying possible , and because men can lie most do , and so denial is born, lying to oneself even about what one is simply because of desires far more empty than the desire to all be happy… the mind of most men is just not ready to think long term , we have not developed enough to even see that we could all be happy now if everyone played their part … we destroy the earth before we get their, so the creator gives another chance to be like Him, undivided, whole… one might call it the reason for creation… but for the few, one must bear the sadness that there is no better way than that which the creator tells us will be , there is just the one way to happiness of all , and just as evil is the power process of this world, so will Love be in the next, the ‘day’ of Light follows the ‘night’ of darkness… the few inspired by one Jesus will save the many by creating the example Loving society in the new earth , big enough for everyone who ever lived…

    2 Peter 3:13 Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.

    Revelation 21:1 And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.

    the struggle of the few is every bit as hard as Jesus’ sweating blood in the trial of his Love, most saints have already been killed, few live long lives because of the paradoxical intense hatred of anyone who shows or even mentions a better way than the norm of evil of society and religion of sinners ….

  4. Roger

    A hall of mirrors set in time
    the fire of earth
    …insidious illusion so sublime
    and we induced
    its birth
    doors open
    doors close
    so many wander
    a lifetime long and grey
    in circles
    on riddles old…
    some wander as they may
    but others come in from the cold
    a narrow way
    till fateful day
    of lust undone
    by stories old
    when all will come to
    kiss the sun…
    so death where is your sting
    from wedding to our sin ?
    … for open too to many who
    the wider door
    doth fling

    but one so fair
    on eagles wing
    and wise
    he flies
    yet ‘cross the skies
    for few
    their sure demise

    What riddle this set true today:
    Two ways to One
    Two earths
    three heavens
    peace at Last…

    as first we fast
    as last be first
    the first be last
    and yet all thirst
    this rest in peace
    for love of love
    all things above

    love freely given
    we receive
    free give again
    the joy of heaven

    life bounteous then
    to all in need,
    through love
    be life to which we’re freed
    so at the end we all will thrive
    for everything
    that now we give

    … and tears now shed
    will turn to blood
    yet God
    will call them from the mud
    first feel the fire
    as they could
    as know and do
    that which is good
    and so the saga wends its way
    as all will live
    and love
    …one day

  5. Ian Christie

    A beautiful, honest and deep meditation: thank you. I know something of your grief, having been widowed and left in profound grief as you have been. There is no remedy in this life, but there is restoration, and it comes from the love of friends, family, the causes for which we’d die but never kill; from the ache and balm in the sight of autumnal trees, owls, migrating birds, the coiled spring of buds in March, the signs that deer and badgers shared your path in the wood, the mounded soil on our loved ones’ graves, the Good Earth.

  6. Meagan

    Hi again, thanks for sending me the link to this. I share the sense that the path I walk is inadequate for the healing work that needs done in the world. I wonder if it is self-indulgent to process all my feelings about these tragedies, and yet i see that if I don’t I cannot act from a place of wisdom or groundedness. I am particularly moved by your insight about hearing the grief behind the statistics. I think that is a good place to focus on and come together to acknowledge. We are not able to convince people with statistics, it takes something more. One example of some good work for the Earth–the Appalachian Mountains, specifically–coming from a spiritual center is EQAT, Earth Quaker Action Team. I highly recommend looking them up; they have been targeting PNC bank to divest from mountain top removal for a number of years and have recently made some headway.

  7. Shaun Chamberlin

    Hi Meagan,

    I love the words of Thich Nhat Hanh. When asked, “what do we most need to do to save our world?”, his answer was:
    “What we most need to do is to hear within us the sounds of the Earth crying.”

    As you say, feeling fully is essential to grounded wisdom, and desperately needed.

    Joanna Macy wrote magnificently, tenderly about this here. I share her words wherever I can.

    And thanks for the heads-up on the Earth Quaker Action Team



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