The Grief Inside

Leslie Booker
June 5, 2020

There is a deep grief inside my body. And there might be in yours as well. 

In the United States, we have lost over 100,000 folks to COVID-19; 370,000 worldwide. But these aren’t just numbers, but human beings...folks with hobbies, and bad habits and kind hearts. They are someone’s child, someone’s parent, or great - grandparent. Family friends, neighbors, spiritual leaders, husbands and wives, aunts and uncles.

And still, greed, hatred and delusion are alive and well in our country; these three poisons that cloud our judgements, and make us forget that we belong to each other. I know this because of street crimes that have shown us a new face of  xenophobia, and because Black men are still being hunted down and shot for jogging. Because Black men are still being accused of being sexual predators, while bird-watching on a weekday morning, and because another black man couldn’t breathe under the knee of a policeman.

My grief has been showing up as restlessness; the bones of my physical body feel rooted and grounded, but just one thin layer below or above….  there’s this buzz that keeps an agitation in my body.

For some of you, grief might be showing up as anger, or as a loss of vitality in the body, or as complete and utter confusion of what to do. We might be pushing these feelings away, not wanting to deal with them or even acknowledging that they’re there, because it’s simply too painful to bear. 

And for others, there might be a pulling it in so close and identifying strongly with it, giving it no space to breathe or to be seen for what it really is.

Roshi Joan Halifax once said that “to deny grief is to rob ourselves of the heavy stones that will eventually be the ballast for the two great accumulations of wisdom and compassion....  Grief is a vital part of our very human life, an experience that can open compassion, and an important phase of maturation, giving our lives and practice depth and humility.”

In my case, this restlessness in my body has historically been something that is in my way, something that I need to work through in order to meditate.

Yet each moment we have a choice, to move towards liberation or to move towards suffering, and somewhere in the middle, there’s a stillness, this sacred pause for discernment, for clarity and for wisdom.

So I’m holding my restlessness, my grief, as an opportunity for a sacred pause, an invitation to stop, to take a breath, and to see it as a portal to wisdom. To ask myself “What’s true right now?”  To find equanimity in this stillness, and to be guided to what to do next.

Which, for me, has meant to rest; which has meant to climb an embankment to help shut down a highway; which has meant to love and to care for others through deep listening.

I was on a call the other day with over 600 spiritual practitioners from around the world: all Black, Indigenous and folks of color. In this space held by Ruth King, (author of Mindful of Race: Transforming Racism from the Inside Out), she asked us during these times, “How do we love and stay holy?”

We know now, more than ever, how deeply our lives are intertwined; how deeply interconnected we are. How integral it is to care for each other because we belong to each other. I know that my personal liberation is absolutely dependent on your liberation, and yours on mine. And so we protect the quality of our hearts and minds from getting caught up in this hatred;  it will only colonize us and lead us to deeper grief.  

And if that feels like too much right now… which almost everything does, we can see if we can stay present with what’s happening right now.  So, take a breath.  What’s happening right now?  We are sitting, standing, walking or lying down.  There is contact between body and earth.  There is breath breathing itself in, and breathing itself out.

And, right now, our world is in a global pandemic, our cities are on fire.

I was part of a 24-hour vigil last week called #NamingTheLoss, and I found it to be a great healing, to call folks by their names, and to share a bit about them. They are not just numbers. The beauty, the love, the music, the wisdom they shared with their dear ones on this earth, will not be forgotten.

Honoring the lives of those who have died through the global pandemic or who have been murdered through the hate crime of police brutality, reminds us that they are now our ancestors: those we can call upon for support and guidance. If you feel moved, you can read these names out loud with me:

First, from the New York Times’s list of those lost to COVID-19:

Ancestor Martin Douglas, 71 NYC: maestro of a steel-pan band.

Ancestor Lorena Borjas, 59, NYC: Transgender, immigrant, activist.

Ancestor Antonio Nieves, 73, Chicago: Always seemed to be busy with some home project.

Ancestor Skylar Herbert, 5, Detroit: the youngest victim of the pandemic. 


Ancestor Ahmaud Arbery, 25: Avid jogger, loved to stay in shape.

Ancestor Breonna Taylor, 26: EMT, planned to become a nurse and a mother. 

Ancestor George Floyd, 46: Moved to Minneapolis to start a new life.

Booker teaches the integration of ancient wisdom practices that support us in navigating our modern world. She shares her expertise nationally as a guest lecturer at conferences, universities, and meditation centers, on expanding our vision around culturally responsive teaching and care.

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