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Catharsis in Creativity, Eulogies, & Intentions: Lessons from the Pandemic – Part 5

This is Part 5 of a series – click here to read other Parts!

Continuing on through our list of the Ten Touchstones of Grief from Part 4, and how they can help us with Recovery, Reengagement, and Reimagination in the wake of the Pandemic…


Touchstone 3

Moving through Anger & Conflictedness

with CREATIVE PRACTICES (LIKE ARTS & CRAFTS)

Another source of inner turmoil is our anger and conflictedness about the pandemic and its collateral damage.


Considering everything we’ve been through, we can all easily find reasons to feel upset. Whatever our political persuasions, we can all point to individual and institutional failures and frustrations from this time. Maybe we even harbor a more existential resentment, toward the virus itself, or toward Nature or our Higher Power for allowing this crisis to happen.


And as is often the case with anger, it may be messy and complicated. We may feel guilty about our emotions, questioning whether they’re fair, and how, in spite of everything, to extend forgiveness. Thus we can be torn, conflicted.


Whatever the case, nowadays there are few, if any, places we can express these fraught feelings to their fullest extent. In part that’s because our culture so readily conflates anger with blame, and hesitancy with weakness. We’re encouraged to locate ultimate responsibility for our pain in some (usually convenient) target, then to punish or ostracize them, without mercy or a second thought. The truth we know deep down is that this rarely brings us satisfaction, let alone justice. And if our anger or the target of our ire is deemed inconvenient or taboo, we’re expected to stifle our emotions altogether.


We ultimately want repair rather than retribution or repression. We want our and others’ anger to be a constructive force, not a destructive one. And we want the complexity of our emotional lives to be honored.


So how do we manage anger constructively, and honor conflictedness?

  • We need to give these emotions a creative outlet.

In my experience, most people lose their cool when merely speaking or hearing about these unsavory feelings, quickly collapsing a conversation. On the other hand, when we get to experience our and others’ anger and conflictedness via a creative medium (like arts and crafts), there’s much more room to breathe.

A poem, letter, song, drawing, or other artifact, infused with our emotions, becomes a vessel for them, holding them on our behalf. The anger and conflictedness get displaced from us directly. This enables us and others to observe and interact with them more objectively and graciously than we otherwise would. With these emotions that can get so up in our faces, this puts them at arms-length, helping everyone feel safer and more productive in the conversation about them.

I’ve seen that channeling our anger and conflictedness creatively also allows us to be more raw, yet more refined at the same time. These emotions can be as hard to express as they are to hear about, and we can get tripped up by overwhelm and taboos when we speak to them. Listeners can also become reactive around them, prone to interruption while we sort through the already-thorny problem of how to articulate ourselves well.


But when we consolidate our whole messy message in one symbolic representation, we’re able to communicate in one fell swoop. The poem, letter, song, drawing, etc. – there it is, how you feel, all in one place. Then people who witness what you’ve made can absorb your point more contemplatively, and if they have questions, they can ask them more open-heartedly.


I provide some recommended creativity prompts in the free ebooks and videos on the Lessons from the Pandemic Hub. and practices for convening a sharing circle, where people can express themselves with minimum judgment and maximum respect and authenticity.


Touchstone 4

Moving through Sorrow & Sadness

with EULOGIZING

Sorrow and sadness may be the most obvious emotions we’re carrying from the Pandemic Era, and we hardly need to recount more reasons why than we already have in this blog series. What might not be so obvious, however, is what we do with our grief.


How can we create adequate catharsis for our most painful emotion?


From my life and work, I’ve realized what I now consider a sacred principle: grief and the grieving process are unique, individualized experiences for everyone.[1] Each person must listen deeply to what their particular sorrow and sadness asks of them, and as much as possible, act only on that. There is no formula or template, and any attempt to impose one does injustice to the Soul.


Yet I’ve also seen that, as we move through sorrow and sadness, our culture harms the Soul just as much in its failure to provide adequate options and guidance. We can walk the path of hardship without external leading, and can even do stretches of it alone – but that doesn’t mean we can or should go without any help whatsoever. It’s self-defeating to attempt to bootstrap grief.

So I hold this as a sacred principle too: grief and the grieving process are only possible with support. While there is no paved road, it’s essential for us to have a sense of the resources and healing practices available to us on our way.


What are these healing practices on the grief journey? I believe our best answer is to look at the wisdom accrued across as many cultures as possible, across the longest span of time. What practices have humans everywhere, throughout our history, found helpful? Our common heritage indicates at the very least:

  • Time and space for the grievers to be in solitude, with intimate loved ones, and among broader community – we cover this in Touchstones 6-10

  • Rituals in each of these three contexts to honor the sacredness of the person (or experience) that has passed, e.g. a funeral/memorial and mourning period – we covered this in Parts 1-3, discussing Transition Ceremonies

  • Opportunities for grievers in each of these contexts to speak to the legacy of the person (or experience) that has passed – a eulogy

Contrary to popular belief, eulogies shouldn’t necessarily be purely positive narratives – they are often more powerful when they can articulate pain and complexity as well (as any eulogy from the last few years may need to).


Nor do they have to be in the form of a speech – they can be expressed as a letter or a story, written but unspoken, or rely on languages other than words, like music or visual or tactile art. They don’t even need to be original, relying instead on the language of others, like a playlist, poem, performance, or movie testifying to one’s feelings.


The only requirements are that they are truthful, given from the heart of the one in sorrow, and received by hearers with a spirit of generosity. Such honesty is healing; the truth sets us free.

  • As we move into the Recovery Era, we can all benefit by crafting eulogies of the Pandemic Era.

This can help us honor people and experiences we’ve personally lost these last few years, as well as ones we’ve seen others lose. It can help us find our way through the wilderness of sorrow, and eventually come out the other side.

  • And so much the better if we can deliver these in the company of loved ones or community, and in the context of an acknowledged funeral, memorial, or mourning period.

We can multiply the potential for transformation by creating a special occasion for us to witness and be witnessed in each other’s grief. My recommendation is to simply host people around a bonfire, and give anyone who has a eulogy the chance to read it.


Beyond this, I’m also developing what might be the first-ever comprehensive, practical, easily-accessible course for helping people process grief: Guide for the Grief Journey: Ten Touchstones.[2] One of the primary activities in the course is crafting a eulogy. Stay tuned for updates on that.


None of this, however, guarantees a straightforward process. Grief cannot somehow be resolved in one momentous event. We may need to courageously return to the pain, to the eulogy, to rituals, maybe many times. We must continue to listen to our sorrow and sadness and follow where they lead. If we do, we can be sure it leads toward a new and better horizon


Touchstone 5

Moving into Gratitude, Hope, & Purpose

with INTENTION-SETTING


So far we’ve discussed catharsis mainly as release and resolution for troublesome, heavy emotions. But we must also have a chance to release our buoyant emotions too, our gratitude, hope, and purpose.


Despite all the trials and tribulations of the Pandemic Era, we’ve all gotten to experience these uplifting feelings as well, even if only for moments at a time. Maybe you have a new appreciation for your health, home, Nature, relationships, work, or the essential workers that make our lives possible. Maybe you’ve been inspired by people's heroism, or by the support of community. Maybe you want to find a way to make new friends, focus on your creativity, or help people recover from the pandemic.


These emotions too must be honored and expressed. Just as much as with doubt, anger, and sorrow, if our gladness and optimism remain trapped, it can diminish us. If we liberate them, they bring renewal and forward momentum, reinvigorating us with the passion we need. Indeed, gratitude, hope, and purpose are what all our turmoil resolves into, and even if we don’t yet feel complete resolution, we can still nurture goodness in our lives.


So how do we nourish our gratitude, hope, and purpose?

Sometimes these feelings arise in us spontaneously, in which case, we can just lean into and appreciate them. However, these spikes of positivity tend to wear off quickly. The more troublesome emotions can hijack our attention, or we can simply get sidetracked with the busyness and routines of life. To make sure we leave room for an ongoing connection to gratitude, hope, and purpose, we do ourselves a huge favor by actively, consciously focusing on them.

  • This starts with setting intentions.

We take proactive time to identify what we’re grateful for, our hopes, and our goals. We make lists. We treat them as resolutions, commit to holding to them. Thus we plant a memorable flag in the ever-flowing tide of life, something we can always swim back to.

  • Then we maintain our intentions.

We keep our lists in places that are easily accessible amidst the hurly-burly of our life, places we frequently visit in our daily rhythm. We continue checking back in with ourselves on them. We keep swimming back to the flag.

  • All the while, we stay in accountability with others.

We keep checking back in with trusted people on what we’re each grateful for, our hopes, and our goals. We support one another’s commitment to the intentions. We keep each other from losing sight of the flag.


Like with swimming, the more we practice this, the easier it gets, and the easier it is to rebound when we face adversity or inertia again. Furthermore, by setting and holding to our intentions, especially when we do so in community, we kindle new visions for the Recovery Era and the Greater Reengagement.

By setting intentions for ourselves, we may find we’re also setting intentions for something much bigger. We’re participating in the Greater Reimagination, and therefore setting the stage for the world we’ll be creating on the other side of recovery.


What kinds of intentions might we set? Where might we find a renewed gratitude, hope, and purpose?


In fact, we’ll explore some possibilities for this in the next article! I’ll identify ways we can restore a sense of time and place, relationships, and community.


Stay tuned for Part 6: Support Structures - Sacred Times!

If you’re looking for some practical insights before then, check out the Lessons from the Pandemic Hub on my website, where I offer some recommended intention-setting prompts. And if you’re looking for ways to help the Recovery, Reengagement, and Reimagination effort ASAP, share that Hub page and share this blog with people you know, especially if they’re struggling with these things or are a leader who can make a difference in your community.


Works Cited, Further Reading
  1. Bard, B. (2022, January 3). Simple settings for spiritual growth – part 3: grief, calling, & vocation. InVocation. https://invitedinvocation.com/post/spiritual-growth-grief-calling-vocation

  2. Bard, B. (2023, March 21). Guide for the Grief Journey: Ten Touchstones. InVocation. https://invitedinvocation.com/grief-journey-guide

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