Saturday, March 03, 2007
Martin Prechtel on Grief and Praise
Recently I was gifted with a CD of a lecture given by a Tzutujil Mayan Shaman named Martin Prechtel titled "Grief and Praise". Pechtel, a half-blood Pueblo Indian, trained in the Tzutujil Mayan Shamanic tradition, gives a delightfully engaging and and surprisingly humorous lecture on how the inability that many people have in our culture to grieve (weep) properly for the dead, is deeply linked with the inability to give praise to the living. In our society, grief is something that we usually experience in private, alone and without the support of a community. Prechtel explains that this is the reason for much of the social and cultural maladies that we are currently experiencing. According to Prechtel, "When you have two centuries of people who have not grieved the things that they have lost properly, the grief shows up as ghosts that inhabit their grandchildren." These ghosts, he says inhabit our children, and can manifest as disease in the form of tumors, which the Mayan refer to as solidified tears, or it can show up in the form of behavioral issues and depression. He goes on further to suggest that this collective, unexpressed energy is the long held grief of the Ancestors manifesting itself, and much work has to be done to free up this backed up energy. While listening, a sense of knowing filled my soul as I recalled countless times when I wanted to mourn the loss of something or someone, but held it in for fear that I would be viewed as weak or overly emotional. In our culture, tears make people feel uncomfortable, and we work hard to cover up such emotions and train our children to do so as well. According to the Mayan as well as the Dagara of West Africa, grief and tears cleanse the soul and make way for life to be fully expressed in light of who and what was lost. Grief and grieving allows us to express our great appreciation for the dead, the life that they lived and the contribution that they made. In his opinion, such an outpouring should never be repressed and in fact is healing in of itself. Martin talked about the women in his village that he referred to as "professional weepers." These women, and sometimes men, who are known throughout the village because they are "sensitive to life", come and listen to the story of the departed. These professional weepers begin to tap in to the collective grief of the community and help usher in the process, by recounting the life of the person(s) who has died, thus opening the gateway for the community to grieve. For the first time I felt a sense of validation as a sensitive soul and a self proclaimed empath.I know that if I lived amongst the Maya, I would be (and many other people I know) one of these women!
He goes on to talk about how in the Mayan culture, grief is inextricably linked to praise; in fact according to Prechtel they are different sides of the same coin. In the Mayan worldview, being able to grieve properly which quoting Pechtel means, "Looking bad after you are done" shows the human ability to show appreciation for what was lost. Just as praising someone is the ability to show appreciation for who they are and the gifts that they bring into the world. Often, in our culture people go unappreciated for the gifts that they bring into the world and even for their accomplishments. According to Prechtel, people who carry a huge amount of unexpressed grief are those who were not praised properly for something worthy when they were small. Again, in order to praise someone properly, it takes an entire community to acknowledge the person’s contribution, as the contribution benefits the entire community. How many little ones go without communal praise for their worthy achievements? Achievements that are not based on a spirit of competition, but on ones uniqueness, beauty and strength. To have a community praise someone when you create something wonderful, achieve a goal, even give birth to a wonderful idea, shows that they value your life and want you to continue to live! A large number of or youth learn the opposite about themselves, are shunned for seeking acknowledgement and act out this feeling of invisibility in their homes and in our society. As I witness the violence and destruction that many of our youth are expressing, I liken the extreme behavior as a cry for acknowledgement and praise (the reason why they are giving us so much grief!).
We have much to learn from the wisdom of our Mayan brothers and sisters as well as many other indigenous cultures such as the Dagara of West Africa, on the "Dignity in grief and the nobility in praise".
For more on the work of Martin Prechtel and to learn about obtaining a copy of the CD titled "Grief and Praise": http://www.floweringmountain.com/martin/index.html
Also a link to a an interview titled "Saving the Indigenous Soul visit: http://hiddenwine.com/indexSUN.html