My New Favourite Grief Model(s)

By Emma Pearson

September 25, 2022

5 March 2022

Main image by Олександр on Unsplash

This week is the Climate Coaching Alliance Festival – from 3-8 March 2022. I’ve joined it for the third year running.

I joined it in part because coaching with the climate and our planet’s well-being in mind is increasingly part of how I work.

I joined it because coaching – and other organisation transformation work – needs to have the climate in mind if I work systemically.

I joined it because I knew I would learn a tonne, as well as connect with fellow professionals wanting to challenge leaders to think in more holistic, integrative and long-term ways.

And I joined it to mourn the loss of one of the founders, Alison Whybrow, a woman I barely know, but whose unexpected and untimely death will result in enormous chasms in too many people’s lives. I am so very sorry for all who love Alison. It takes my breath away to consider some of what her husband, daughters, and close friends and family now need to absorb.

What I did not anticipate was just how much of the festival was going to be about Grief – quite aside from Alison’s death just days before. I realise that I have been living under a rock for a number of years, but I had not realised that the climate activism field was so articulate around Grief. And as I reflect on it, it makes total sense.

Some of the sessions I attended, and one of the conference’s red threads, centred on The Work That Reconnects – a body of work originating with Joanna Macy many decades ago. There is so much I can learn about her work – and I will do that. But a few highlights, and how it resonates with Grief…

She talks of how we can tell three stories of this time that we are living in – all of which are true.

Business as Usual – head in the sand, ignoring signs and science, denying that anything is wrong

The Great Unravelling – falling into despair, being powerless, becoming undone and staying undone

The Great Turning – intentionally choosing to behave, to act differently, despite the Truth of things

These three stories apply to business and the world of work.

These three stories apply to politics and conflict.

And these three stories apply to Grief after the death of loved ones.

All three stories serve a role. All apply at times. But being aware of the story you are in makes a difference. Being aware of the story you are creating – intentionally or unintentionally – makes a difference to quality of life, emotional and physical resilience, and more.

But then, once you choose the story you want to live in, to live into – then what?

Joanna Macy’s work is again Grief-relevant here, I feel. She offers a beautiful spiral (ongoing, iterative) framework that is probably among the better Grief models I have seen, even though I don’t think it was intended to be a Grief model.

Joanna Macy’s Active Hope Model from The Work That Reconnnects

Using a dandelion image, the four, ever-spiralling stages are –

Gratitude – when we can remember and be reminded of what we are grateful for (still, despite it all), gratitude provides a vital balm and resource for staying out of overwhelm. It can help us meet the vital next step of …

Honouring our Pain – leaning into what is lost, what fills us with pain, so that we can stay connected to what is important, and remain compassionate – both to ourselves and to others

Seeing with New – and Ancient – Eyes, which for me is about putting on different lenses to gain perspective, to learn from others, to draw on timeless wisdom, to shape unfolding new wisdom, and

Going Forth – with intentional and wise action, new insights. And so on back to Gratitude.

Which just about sums up how I try to live.

From a place of Gratitude – when I can remember to.

Leaning into my pain – when I have the courage and resilience to.

Seeing with new and ancient eyes – reading and re-reading others’ wisdom and sharing my own, knowing that things are forever evolving.

And Going forth – again, again, again. And again. Slowly sometimes. More quickly other times. Treading water and trying not to go under yet other times.

And so on back around the spiral.

The work resonates. The models comfort and soothe. The language of collective activism speaks to me at so many levels – professionally and personally, emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually.

I can’t get behind many Grief models, but I can get behind this non-Grief model that is more useful, more insightful, more supportive than most Grief models.

I didn’t think I would find something that so related to my whole life at the Climate Coaching Alliance Festival.  

And yet – it is so evident to me now, that this should be so.

I am Grateful.
I go forth.

About Emma Pearson

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