Lamentation and Self Care
August 26, 2020
By Maria Mandarino, LAc, DipAc (NCCAOM), LMT, CSD, MSEd
We are living in unprecedented times. I routinely hear directees tell me they feel trapped by life, that they just don’t have enough alone time, they are overstimulated, they are not sleeping, they are overwhelmed by work, they are stressed by kids at home doing online learning, or worried about kids who have returned to the physical classroom in a pandemic. They are terrified by this world. Everyone is wishing for an exit ramp back to a safer and more sane time.
Some have said they need a “time out.” Time out is a disciplinary tool though for kids who have misbehaved.
We don’t need a time out. What we need is time to grieve. What we need is a sabbatical, time to feel, to process and sort things out, to find a new way to heal from a pain that is ongoing. We need a chance to rest and replenish. Mostly, we need time to reconnect with something we’ve lost: faith.
But before any of this, grief must come first.
Our culture has a skewed definition of self care and perhaps this is part of the challenge. Rather than facing grief, we think we simply need to “do something nice” for ourselves. Authentic self care is not a spa day, however. It is not getting a massage or a facial. It is not a manicure, a bubble bath, or a ceremonial glass of wine.
Meaningful self care is presence to all that is. Presence to our pain, to our fear, to our anger. Meaningful self care is getting out in nature, connecting to a benevolent and renewing Source. It is regular practice. It is sitting in spiritual direction and doing soul excavation work. It is crying. Sometimes it is screaming. It is lamentation, something wounded people have done throughout the ages. Lamentation is part of real life. And in our culture we run from it.
When I was 21, my uncle died. I traveled to his funeral in Sicily and encountered a shocking display of grief in a culture that was so unlike the one in which I was raised. Sicilian grief is large and appears endless to the unindoctrinated. It is overwhelming and intense. In some ways it even seems like theatre. But when it is over, there is one thing that is certain. The griever has claimed and released their sorrow. There is no shame at such an overt expression. You don’t stuff it down in this culture. Sicilian grief is not neat and tidy. It is undisciplined, it is raw, palpable, and visceral. It is powerful. And if nothing else, it is an experience of being fully present to pain.
In Paula D’Arcy’s book, The Gift of the Red Bird, the author recounts the moment just before childbirth, when it seems imminent that she will have a caesarian section. She rages at God. Only six months prior, D’Arcy’s first child and her husband had been killed in a car accident caused by a drunk driver. She was the only survivor of that accident, being three months pregnant with her second child. Having to face a caesarean seemed like the last insult she could take. She raged and asked God what he wanted. He said, “Paula, I want you to want me more than you want anything.” It was then, when she surrendered to God’s will that her body released and she went into labor.
Grief is a dance, much like in the story of Zorba the Greek. It is a dance of lament, a shameless expression of our pain, and ultimately a surrendering to that which is greater than us. And in that honest expression, Divine love enters into relationship with our soul. The broken spaces in us become entry points for wisdom and grace. We experience healing. THIS is self care.
D’Arcy says in her book, “being a good person doesn’t mean life won’t wound you. God is in the abyss with you, waiting.”
Ten years after her daughter is born, D'Arcy finds herself living a life that overwhelms and drains her. She says “suddenly my life is going a hundred miles an hour.” She recounts a life where she rushes to the market 15 minute before she needs to make dinner, a world of clutter, dragging the trash to the curb in her nightgown as the hears the garbage truck approaching down the road. She says, “how can I know myself if I am constantly busy and never alone?”
She becomes ill shortly after this and reflects on the things that have owned her: the telephone, child appointments, her career, her friends, the television, her need for approval, her guilt.
The list sounds tame, I’m sure, compared to what most of you are managing in the midst of a pandemic and deep civil unrest. Yet it was enough to put her into a crisis point. Shortly after, she visits a retreat center in Texas, where she spends days alone in a canyon, surrounded by nature and treacherous storms where there is no shelter available to her. It is in this place where she meets her benevolent Creator and realizes she was never alone, not in the storm, not even in the darkest moments of her life.
How raw, honest, and shameless can you be before God in these trying times? How are you meeting God in your storm? What does your lamentation look like? How do you define self care? Who holds you in the space of vulnerability so you can grieve, cry, scream, and be spiritually held? Where and how are you meeting your benevolent Creator?
It is my hope that you already have a spiritual director. But if you don’t, I would be honored to hold space with you in this time of lamentation, to walk with you in your transitional time, to wait in the liminal space with you, and to listen for the voice of the Spirit.
Blessing and peace on your journey,