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Evolutionary Grief and Super(human)Heroes


 

As I turn more to nature and the quiet of the woods, I have been less available to people lately. It’s been an interesting time in my personal life; one of those times when the Goddess grabs you, puts you in a headlock, shoves your face under the water and says, “Look here, daughter…I think you left some things in the deep.” Who am I to fight her grasp? All I can do is trust that She will not let me drown. I look around at the trees and sky, the turkey vultures and blue herons, the water in the creek, the frozen leaves, even the littered tire in the creek I haven’t yet fished out...this marvelous design of us. We are designed. We also design. The whole of the universe exists as one unit, ultimately. There is no separation. I am a piece of the design. My brain, the way I think, the way I love, the troubles I face, the despair I process – all circulate energy with every other piece of the Whole. Every breath I breathe exchanges energy with every other piece.

 

Kendrick Lamar said in his song, “United in Grief:”

 

I've been goin' through somethin'

One thousand, eight hundred and 55 days

I've been goin' through somethin'

Be afraid

 

It is the moments when I connect to the great design of All that I know what I am going through is simply my piece of what the Universe is going through, and nothing in the grand Design can be lost, wrong, or behind. As the gears of my growth are turned and turn, I know more in my bones that going through something is the way of becoming. It is the slow churn of evolution. We are all going through something. My mentioning of my own something is only to share in that reflective Grand Design of the Universe, that we are all going through something – and together.

 

At multiple levels (personal, family/relationships, vocational, societal, global), we are facing what we fear and living on. This is not to say that there are not varying degrees and types of suffering, particularly related to each of our positions in our worldwide systems of privilege and oppression. There are also times in our lives when the suffering becomes acute, or long periods of life that are more or less difficult. While I do not wish to compare sufferings or to equalize all suffering on the planet at this tumultuous time, I do turn to the idea of the givens of existence from existential psychology to find a way to touch the humanity of us all through the experience of suffering that is inevitable even if varied. The givens of existence (death, anxiety, freedom/responsibility, connection/isolation- I would add grief) are things we all face through life as human beings. They are things that we can say for certain that regardless of our position in society and in the world, we will face and experience in life. This is why I, as a white woman who has no idea what life is like for Kendrick Lamar, can relate to his song and find a place of connection to his art. Turning toward these givens and knowing that we are all experiencing them could be one channel through which we could care more about the suffering we are all experiencing, open our hearts, and seek to circulate energy of compassion and peace as we all go through something. To me, this sounds evolutionary.

 

My daughter and I sometimes muse about what it would be like to go back in time to witness exact points in evolution. For example, what might it be like to be present at the birth of the first human? My daughter always says, “But who gave birth to her? How was a human born if it wasn’t from a human?” We ponder the conundrum and say, “There had to be a first time!” We apply this to other things, like the first time an animal left the water to live on land, or the first time someone felt the warmth of fire. Those firsts in our evolutionary past feel so distant to us that we couch “evolution” in a filing cabinet and pretend it isn’t happening RIGHT NOW.

 

In his song, Kendrick Lamar says, “I grieve different.” And an echoing voice later says, “Everybody grieves different.” I love these lyrics – acknowledging the individual unique expression of grief and also that we each grieve in each other’s midst. We each grieve and we all grieve – sometimes similarly enough to see patterns, like the stages of grief – but sometimes with such uniqueness that it is only perceivable as grief in retrospect. We, as a planet of people now connected through devices that show us the horrors which have always been there but are now visible, are grieving together. We are grieving the current, most publicized genocide that mirrors the long chain of genocides, even those that happened under our own feet in the US and still are not widely acknowledged and have never been corrected (https://landback.org/). We are grieving as some of us slowly awaken to the previously hidden layers of identity, just how deep and wide systemic racism reaches into our psyches and into our lives, institutions, and communities; and some of us grieve as we wonder why it took so long for the others to start to see it – and why so many still don’t. Grief is a process. We move through it and are changed by it. When conscious, grief is evolutionary.

 

I was watching a video clip of Aaron Johnson, co-founder of Holistic Resistance (https://www.holisticresistance.com/) and founder of the Chronically Under Touched (C.U.T.) Project on Instagram a few weeks back. The clip was Aaron narrating a video of himself and another Black man engaged in an active grief ritual that included their bodies. They grappled – arms locked, on a beach. They pushed their body weight against each other. At one point, Aaron fell to the ground on all fours. His partner in the ritual maintained bodily contact, and pushed on Aaron’s back. At this point, I must admit I stopped listening carefully to what Aaron was saying in his narration. I was struck by the emotional impact of what I was seeing. I could feel that the grief of hundreds of years of oppression, brutality, neglect, and ancestral trauma, was being invited to come up in the body and be met in the body, moved in the flesh so that it could be moved up and through and out – and it could be an agent of transformation in the evolution of humanity. This could be seen as an aspect of healing from white supremacy certainly, and that would be accurate. However, in that moment, it was that and more. It was an example, right before my eyes, of one of those “first times.” I am not saying that Aaron and others have not before engaged in these types of activities. I mean that this evolutionary, revolutionary act of engaging the whole of human capacity in body, heart, mind, and spirit – was a first and important step toward the future for us all.

 

This is the type of heroic human action needed for our evolution.

 

Superhero movie/television franchises like Marvel have increased in popularity dramatically in recent years. Even just 20 years ago, superheroes were something only a small segment of the population seemed interested in. My stepdad recalls that he and his friends would play Dungeons and Dragons for hours in a friend’s basement, and take breaks from the game to read comic books. He still tells me these interesting facts about the superheroes and their back stories because he read all of the characters in their original comics decades ago. Much like the kids depicted in the show Stranger Things, D & D and comic books were part of the geek culture that was marginal. But now, superhero movies are for everyone, and are a part of mainstream culture in the United States. In 2019, Avengers: Endgame grossed 2.798 billion USD (statista.com).

 

When I was first introduced to Marvel by my Godson, I was excited to see the films so that I could connect with him about his interest. His favorite is Spiderman. He has sent me incredible fan art pieces of Spiderman he has done over the years. I watched many Marvel films at his urging, and enjoyed the witty humor above all. The violence was overdone for my taste. But I enjoyed hearing my Godson’s excitement and passion about the characters, and some of the story lines were interesting, particularly those having to do with multiple dimensions and time lines. As a Trekkie, I have always been interested in the subject of multidimensionality and time travel. I can’t help but think the extreme rise of popularity of superheroes who somehow save the day with larger-than-life violence and destruction is related to the parallel extreme rise in hopelessness about being able to change things. Generation Z is comprised of people, like my son, who have grown up with the mess that our systems have created being in their faces all day every day on our handheld computer devices. I would posit that regardless of one’s position in the mess, one’s opinions about the mess, one’s reaction to the mess, or who one blames for the mess, there is an unrest about the mess that can be felt deeply today. And Generation Z is more willing to speak of struggle out loud. Megan thee Stallion’s album, Traumazine, is an example of this. She shares her struggles with anxiety, her confusion about the judgment and criticism she faces, and expresses the grief she lives with after losing both of her parents. She shares, in her way and style, what she is experiencing, and it inspires us to be a part of a new conversation in which naming the confusion and sharing the emotions that are connected to that are normalized. We’re all going through something. That something is evolution NOW.

 

From one angle, we could explore that one of the ways the interlocking systems of oppression keep people stagnant and immobilized is through distraction. We are perpetually “wowed” by the latest superhero extravaganza overwhelming our senses with not only the movie but the pre-release hype, the Instagram posts, the tiktoks and the discord fandom threads. All those distractions keep us focused on something that not only is an impossible and implausible solution to any of our real-world problems, but is actually a problem in itself because it is a characterization of a hero that is not merely a human, but enhanced in some way with supernatural power. Superheroes employ magical powers that humans will never have and destroy everyone who is supposedly evil- as though destruction of the “bad humans” to make more room for the “good humans” is the answer.

 

Perhaps when we watch superhero movies, we see the characters, desperately trying to do good, but struggling and sometimes failing with catastrophic consequences, and we feel understood and reflected. We are in a time in history where conflict is on the rise and it will be slow to resolve. Perhaps sometimes we feel astounded at what we have survived and continue to withstand? Perhaps we see the superheroes throwing their magic bolts of light and we feel understood as we continue in the face of systems of oppression and still love one another, or even ourselves. We see the things we must forgive ourselves for in supersize on the screen. We see the ways we must try to forgive others, and keep working toward a change and evolution together – even when it seems all is lost. Maybe, like children listening to Grimm’s fairy tales, learning how they can face terrifying ogre’s and tricksters, we are “children” in the theater, watching a tale of conflict, struggle, and rising above with something we don’t quite have access to, but sorely need.

 

For the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday last year, my daughter and I watched Dr. King’s last speech as well as the film Selma. During the scenes of violence and brutality in the film, which were reenactments of historical events, my daughter struggled visibly. She had a hard time sitting still, and she even said aloud at one point, “I don’t want to watch this anymore. I am so sad.” While I struggled watching these parts of the movie as well due to the harsh reality of injustice and murder that shows the very worst of humanity, I feel it is important to watch these films. For me, as a White person, to shy away from the reality of the situation is to hide in my privilege. For my daughter, as a teenager of color, it is vital that I supplement her public-school education so that she can feel in herself the reality of our country, the country in which she is growing up and will likely live out her life. She must be prepared. Because I am a white parent of a teenager of color, it is even more important that I watch these things with her so we can discuss it and share the pain of our hearts breaking for not only what people suffered through then, but for the suffering that ensues to this day for BIPOC communities and individuals, and the dread we feel about the risk she lives as an Indigenous Black teenager. While I don’t do it perfectly due to the blinders of being white, I am committed to anti-racism even when it is uncomfortable. There is a lot of grief to be felt and when we feel it together, we find a shared value system in which to move forward, evolving.

 

As we continued watching the film, I was deeply moved, as I always am, by Dr. King’s words and by the perseverance and courage of all of those who stood with him. As I sat there so removed from the historical events being recounted in the film, and yet filled with a roaring infuriation, I thought about the incredible rage that Dr. King was focusing into his brilliantly crafted words and their delivery – and always with a passionate acknowledgement of his awareness that he was a servant to the Greater Being in which he unfailingly believed and by which he was guided. I thought about how writing as prolifically as he did must have been an outlet, a purging for that emotional energy that must have been a constant all of his years and moments. It was energy circulation. It was a way for him to not keep it in his body, and to give the Whole a chance to move that energy with him. I thought about the way he used his energy to work, gain education, and to hone a skill, and how he demanded that his organization work strategically – never succumbing to the stereotype threat slathered upon him and his partners in the movement. To me, this is alchemy – and Dr. King was a super human hero, calling us to evolution through conscious grief and transformation.

 

Following the assassination of President Kennedy, and the murders of Medgar Evers and the six children in Birmingham, Alabama, Dr. King said these words:


In a sense we are all participants in that horrible act that tarnished the image of our nation. By our silence, by our willingness to compromise principle, by our constant attempt to cure the cancer of racial injustice with the vaseline of gradualism, by our readiness to allow arms to be purchased at will and fired at whim, by allowing our movie and television screens to teach our children that the hero is one who masters the art of shooting and the technique of killing, by allowing all these developments, we have created an atmosphere in which violence and hatred have become popular pastimes.


This words are 100% applicable today. We could read them bitterly, and say that things have only gotten worse since then. However, evolution is happening at such a slow rate, it is hard to point to those firsts that mean something has changed. Let’s read these words again, and again. Let them sink in and guide us in our slow evolving. Let’s add to our reading with song, mindful grieving, collective conscious grieving, guided by song leaders and grief guides like Aaron Johnson. Everybody grieves different, but everybody grieves. Perhaps we are learning how to do it together.

 

Part of being human is being mortal. We are part of something that is ever-changing and ever-evolving, beyond our finite existence in one lifetime. When I stand in my yard and look at the trees, birds, sky, and creek – I have moments when I see that nothing is missing and nothing is wrong. Everything is part of the grand design, even the grief and struggle. Without the struggle, we wouldn’t have the creative energy that comes from that suffering and is turned into beautifully accurate crafted words, whether by Dr. King, Megan Thee Stallion, or Kendrick Lamar – or all the other writers and artists expressing our personal and collective evolutionary grief. These things we think we would rather not experience or face are actually growing us, evolving us as we live through time. We are in need of a method for personal and collective shadow integration. Tenderness, listening, respectful working relationships, humility, creativity, feeling…these things need to be rescued from the shadow for us to move into evolution as individuals and as a group. Every single superhero story shows a journey of how a part of oneself must be faced in order for true greatness to be revealed. What does that look like on a societal level? What does it look like for you? What if we saw evolutionary, conscious grief as an opportunity to become more than we were yesterday? Dr. King invited us to be that method of shadow integration by becoming more conscious and connected. Dr. King’s life didn’t need to be perfect. He just kept showing up and doing more the next day, alchemizing his sorrow into words and actions that continue to guide, inspire, teach, and motivate us all. Leaders and artists of our time reflect our superhero-like capacity, on our own scale, to pull from the shadow our ability to find joy and fulfillment amidst inevitable evolutionary struggle.

 

 

 

 

 

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