April 22, 2021

Shadow Work is Grief Work—& Grieving is Healing.

Healing work is grief work.

Shadow work is grief work.

Grieving is the healing.

Without the grieving, we obstruct the flow of the divine intelligence of life that wants to move through us, that pulls us into deeper alignment with our greatest aliveness.

It’s no small thing.

It’s scary, and why we have collectively gotten stuck in a spin cycle reflected in our culture and our compulsion to self-improvement, which lacks the depth of soul to hold the grief of our longest held painful truths. It’s why we can be spiritual and remain disconnected from our hearts for so long.

We are taught to be afraid of our grief because it is wild and untamable. It reminds us we are in a co-creative relationship with something greater than us, something we cannot control, and a power that isn’t so petty to judge us for our human foibles. In cultures where the wildness is conditioned out of living, where death is feared into an industry, this necessary and innate aspect of our experience keeps us from really experiencing all that we long for.

Where there is joy, there is grief.

One of the reasons joy, or even opening to love again, feels so vulnerable is the awareness of the grief that lives inside of it. Inside of our vulnerability, inside our love and attachments, inside the shame (fear and grief) that arises to remind us of the ephemeral nature of all things.

When we embrace the process of grief, we can more fully and fearlessly embrace our joy too.

We no longer have to wait until we are free of shadow or pain or loss or mourning to get on with our flourishing. Our joy and flourishing is not a disloyalty to our grief and loss, but an honoring of it, of what was, and how we loved.

And it all has its own wise timing that cannot be rushed.

In the myth of the phoenix, a potent symbol of rebirth, there comes a time in their life where they know it is time to complete a cycle. The phoenix then builds a nest (a funeral pyre) and with a clap of its wings, goes into flames and, perhaps like caterpillar soup, is remade in the alchemy of the fire.

As it rises out of the ashes, the ashes left represent salt, or that which cannot be burned, the life force of life itself.


The phoenix uses myrrh to create an egg out of the remains. And then takes this egg and leaves it on the altar of the Sun God as an offering and a prayer for creative regeneration, for more life, and in gratitude for what was.

In this myth, there is a recognition of death, of a time to complete a cycle. To give something up.

Usually, we experience through loss, the death of a loved one, or another initiation of loss. But we are often also asked to give up our patterns, beliefs, worldview, identities, cultural paradigms, hopes for the future, dreams, longings for what will never be, or even the expertise we cling on to when life wants us to expand into more possibility.

Recognizing this space, the phoenix knows it must sacrifice what is precious in order to generate more life. It offers the bones, the salt, the life force of life itself, that which cannot ever be destroyed, to the altar of the divine to create more wholeness.

This is our own personal spiral of grief, where we enter the spiral through loss and change, or healing crisis, where we must let go. In that fire, we offer what needs to be recycled in the fire, to be reborn into something new.

We encounter our losses, parts of self to let go of, other parts to resurrect and reclaim. We learn what our relationship really is with the unknown, what needs to be healed there.

We meet the ache that never goes away, the pain of grief and longing and joy where our wound and Eros, God, dances in our continual becoming.

The more we embrace that this is a natural cycle of human-ing, the less we have to “work” on ourselves like projects on a “to-do” list, because we come to trust the natural cycles of our soul’s evolution.

In intimacy with the ache, we understand what is needed, what our particular Chironic medicine is cooking up within us, what to leave at the altar of the divine, how to spread flower petals with tears of our prayers and come back into resonance with what can never ever be destroyed living inside of us.

What’s ready to be offered to the fires of life?


Read 10 Comments and Reply

Read 10 comments and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Dr. Mia Hetenyi  |  Contribution: 54,085

author: Dr. Mia Hetenyi

Image: Aaron Huber/Unsplash

Editor: Lisa Erickson

Relephant Reads:

See relevant Elephant Video