Community Grief Ritual: Getting to the Heart of the Matter

By Steven Libowitz   |   June 7, 2018

Grief is a given in this life and a natural part of the human experience, but many people refuse to allow themselves to dive fully into their sadness, and definitely not in public. Yet many other cultures throughout time have processed grief in community; its expression is a casualty of our modern times.

Good grief: psychotherapist Alexis Slutzky leads a ritual Saturday, June 9

Alexis Slutzky – a local licensed psychotherapist, wilderness guide, mentor, community builder, council trainer, and counselor who is also adjunct faculty at Antioch University, and affiliated with Pacifica Graduate Institute and The Ojai Foundation – created and began hosting community grief rituals in mid-2017, based on her studies with Malidoma Somé, several months before the Thomas Fire and Montecito debris flow last winter. Now, after offering complimentary truncated ceremonies at such locations as Yoga Soup in December and January, she has returned to leading full-day rituals at Arroyo Hondo Preserve, the land trust set on Chumash Land. The next one takes place 9:30 am to 5:30 pm this Saturday, June 9. Visit for details and registration.

Q. What is a grief ritual?

A. In most traditional societies, a part of every intact culture were ways to metabolize grief, so people could be current in their lives. We know that grief is an emotion, but in our culture, we think of it as a negative one. We want to try to numb it, or ignore it. We have a lot of ways to distract ourselves because it’s uncomfortable. We’ve forgotten that grief can be a gateway to feeling our aliveness and our gratitude…. A community grief ritual is an opportunity for people who may not know each other to bring grief out of the privacy of our own homes, or the therapist’s office, and back into the commons, where we can share the inevitable grief that comes from being human.

What drew you to this work?

Fundamentally, I lived a life of privilege growing up here in Santa Barbara, but still experienced a tremendous amount of grief, as we all do. And I always felt shame about it. I realized that it’s not something that we talk about openly – not in my family and not in our culture. It’s held behind closed doors, which intensifies the shame. I studied psychology to help me understand what it means to be a human. As I (learned more about) grief, I realized it’s not only my personal grief but about the world, including environmental and social injustice.

You talked about finding our gratitude from expressing grief. Can you explain?

It does sound counter-intuitive. But when we’re grieving, it’s because we loved something, because we care so deeply. We don’t grieve if we’re not connected. Whether it’s a death or a divorce or some other loss, or even just parts of ourselves that never received love, or something ancestral, it’s because of our great capacity to care that we grieve… In ancient cultures, they say health comes from grieving and giving gratitude. And they’re interconnected. You can’t do one without another.

What takes place at a ritual?

The idea is to bring balance to our modern culture, which is very focused on the mind instead of our bodies. So, there are opportunities to have time on the land, to share in small groups, do writing exercises, and really witness the thread of grief that each person is carrying that makes up a collective basket. Then there is a two-hour ritual involving a lot of singing. We create an altar to our grief. People can bring mementos or photographs of loved ones or things that remind them of their grief. And we honor those things for a couple of hours. When a person feels moved by grief in the circle, they go to the altar, though nobody goes alone because we create a village. They make their way with tears, a stone, an offering, and are witnessed, then they are welcomed back into the village (circle) and thanked for expressing their grief. Just having someone say, “I see you” and expressing gratitude that they helped empty the cup can be very moving.

People in Montecito and Santa Barbara, even those who didn’t directly suffer physical loss, are still grieving, even if from an altered sense of safety or a change in the beauty of the landscape, let alone survivor’s guilt. How can these rituals help specifically with those traumas.

One of the ways we don’t allow our grief is by comparison. It’s easy to say, “I didn’t have it that bad.” We minimize. Or we might not even know why we’re carrying grief. But we’re sensitive. We feel for all people. Part of the healing can be bridging in into a wider circle of the larger community, even if you’ve done things on your own or with family and friends. Trauma that happens in community, needs a community response. Anything that brings us out of isolation is so valuable. And it’s not always that we’re the one who is taken to our knees in that moment. It’s about changing the culture about how we support and value and move through challenging situations together. Everyone who shows up is needed. Maybe your role is just to help other people grieve in that moment. It’s not just about “What’s in it for me?” but “How can I help?”

Inner Engineering in Santa Barbara

Inner Engineering, a popular program designed by the yogi-mystic-visionary Sadhguru, provides tools and solutions to empower people to create life the way they want it. The course offers an intellectual exploration of the basics of life using methods from the distilled essence of yogic sciences, imparting practical wisdom to manage the body, mind, emotions, and the fundamental life energy within. The benefits of the practice are said to improve mental clarity, increase energy levels, raise the ability to handle stressful situations effortlessly, improve relationships and connectivity, provide relief from chronic ailments, and provide a greater sense of fulfillment, peace, and joy in everyday life.

Many local practitioners have learned the program online, but this weekend an Isha teacher directly trained by Sadhguru is coming to town to offer a four-day workshop known as Inner EngineeringTotal Immersion, which includes interactive sessions, guided meditations, simple yoga postures, and Shambhavi Kriya, a 21-minute energy technique that brings your entire system into alignment so that your body, mind, emotions, and energies function in harmony.

A one-hour Introduction to Inner Engineering session at 6:30 pm on Thursday, June 7, prior to the start of the weekend training, explains the fundamental approach of the program in a live setting with the opportunity to ask the teacher questions about the program and practices available. Admission to the event at Center of Heart, 487 North Turnpike Road, is free. Registration for the weekend cost $325. Visit or for details.

Exploring the Santa Barbara Channel

While engineers, surveyors, climatologists, and other planners are busy mapping the practical path forward for Montecito following the massive mudslide and debris flows from last January, Rebecca Dawson is offering a different perspective on the mudslide and Thomas Fire. The Australian channeling expert, speaker, and author who has been in practice for more than 20 years and has facilitated 2,000-plus private consultations, is coming to Santa Barbara next weekend to bring new insights and perspectives on the many changes that our area has experienced.

The event, slated for 6 to 9 pm on Thursday, June 14, at the Impact Hub Chapala Center, is aimed at discovering what is unique about Santa Barbara from a spiritual perspective to understand why there has been so many natural disasters in recent months. It will explore why there has been so much physical change in the area in recent months, and what part the community plays in the global shift in consciousness being experienced.

Dawson will conduct a “live channeling” session as part of the event, which includes a Q&A with the “Masters” she channels, Serapis Bey, St Germain, and Kuthumi. The intention is that as you are guided through a new paradigm of belief, you will gain greater insight into how to move forward with confidence into a new era of creation.

The event is being produced by Santa Barbara resident Valerie Bishop, who professes her own early skepticism about speaking with a channeler, but reports that “The wisdom that came through was so pure and profound that I couldn’t deny the value… When I was told The Masters that she channels had specific information they wanted to share with the community of Santa Barbara, I wanted to provide a space for her to come and share their wisdom with us.”

Impact Hub is located at 1221 Chapala St. (Entrance from the parking lot, or on State Street.) Admission is $60. To register visit or

Living the Intuitive Life

Wendy Cooper‘s The Intuitive Life – a group dedicated to intuitive-based learning, including psychic/mediumship development, meditation, unity consciousness, chakra healing, and Reiki, flower essences, and other energy healing modalities – meets again this Saturday, June 9, at Unity of Santa Barbara. The “Develop and Practice Using Your Intuitive Abilities” session at 10 am will include discussion of the various types of intuitive abilities. Participants will be provided with several tools to discern, develop, and manage intuitive abilities, which can be used to make decisions that are in alignment with your highest good and your authentic self. The abilities may also be employed to help others, including offering intuitive readings, which will be practiced on-site. Cooper will also offer self-care information to help intuitives and empaths avoid suffering from low energy due to giving their power away.

The Intuitive Life meets upstairs in the Bride’s Room at Unity, located at 227 E Arrellaga St. The fee is $30. Visit

Kriya Coming

Sunburst’s Kriya Initiation & Retreat is designed to help participants learn to heal and re-energize using scientific meditation practices in the lineage of Paramahansa Yogananda, who was the direct teacher of Sunburst’s founder. The weekend, which takes place June 21-24 at Sunburst’s Sanctuary near Lompoc, includes Kriya meditation initiation; Yoga, pranayama, and techniques of concentration and inner listening; spiritual fellowship; “Sacred Silence” quiet time; and opportunities for discussion; as well as nourishing meals, all taking place amid Sunburst’s surroundings of pristine natural beauty within its 4,000-acre compound. Paramahansa Yogananda called Kriya Yoga the “Highway to God,” which strengthens whichever spiritual path you are inspired to follow. This ancient science of advanced pranayama calms and purifies the heart and mind, offering a space where breath and life force are consciously redirected and revitalized by circulating them up and down through the spine.

Sunburst, which is located at 7200 S. Highway 1, Lompoc, about seven miles west of Hwy. 101, is no longer putting course fees on its website (, so call 736-6528 or email for suggested donation, camping/accommodations details, and more information. Registration by Wednesday, June 13, is requested.


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