My Dark Companion: Grief

Sometimes we are supposed to be falling rather than standing upright. I am thinking of the life cycle of a leaf. A portion of a leaf’s life span consists of being firmly rooted on the branch of a tree, while at some point in time, the season comes where the leaf falls from the tree to the earth. If I could put myself in the experience of the leaf for a moment, I imagine the liminal moment between the leaf being firmly attached to the branch and the leaf finding itself unfastened by this uncontrollable gravitational pull to the earth, a moment of grief and fear. I understand our human lives to be similar to that of a leaf. There are times when we feel deeply resourced, held, and maybe unshakable by any wind that blows our way. Nonetheless, there are other seasons where we find ourselves tumbling, disconnected, and feeling as though we are being thrown around again and again through the fiery pits of the human experience. 

A month or so ago, I posted a message on my social media channels, “If we don’t learn to grieve…” That was my entire post. No follow-up post about grief, just that one. It was a complete statement. I wasn’t pretending to be making some prediction or giving some prophetic proclamation as we see happening on social media all the time; I simply shared what was alive for me at the moment. And I think it is fair to name the obvious, many of us feel this unfathomable amount of grief. Some of the grief makes sense, and some of the grief feels ancient, and from beyond this realm in a way. Therefore, I don’t think it is far-fetched to conclude that our human soul is aching, and we can no longer afford to continue to deprive ourselves of being in ritual and ceremony in honor of the grief that we are holding. 

I am sensing that there is a gap, a generational collective absence of initiation into the dark. We lack rites of passage that help us to learn the stories of our ancestors, mythical and real, that support us in not becoming weary as the transformative nectar of dark encounters in our lives molds us. I know for sure that I never learned about grief or how to identify and tend to grief growing up. Looking back, I don’t even think the word grief truly entered my mental space until I was an adult. 

Grief is dark; full of complex entanglements beyond time and space that can leave us feeling confused, hopeless, and depleted. And what I am beginning to learn on my journey is that we are made to see and exist in the dark. We are from and of the dark. Here, I am intentionally not using the word darkness but choosing the word “dark” instead. I chose this distinction because of the collective connotations and fear-based undertones associated with darkness. Many of these associations, although passed down to us, to this day, color our capacity to truly interact with grief in a way that creates an opening for the presence of the dark on our journey. Instead, we encounter our collective agreements about the dark, the stories that have been transmitted to us through generations, and the perspectives that many of us have adopted to survive dark times. Through these unexamined transmissions, we often find ourselves trapped in this cycle of constantly being at war against life itself. So this is why I simply choose to use the word dark. Let me also name that I am keenly aware, from my own former religious indoctrination, that darkness is often imprinted in our minds from a young age as being connected to the devil or demons, entities, and energies that are out to kill us rather than a messenger of life. These narrow interpretations of the dark are extremely limiting and draining to our nervous systems’ ability to embody resilience. 

So when I use the word dark here, I speak of our direct encounter with the tenderness of the human experience and life itself, unfolding and contorting us so that we might become new. Sometimes, it expresses itself as liminality, unexpected diagnosis, chaos, deaths, the unknown, tragedy, and silence. 

What happens when we face grief as a primordial and, therefore, dark ingredient of life itself? Have we considered the impacts of failing to know grief as a dark ingredient of life? These questions could aid our orientation toward the relevance of spiritual approaches to navigating dark times. When I say navigate dark times, I am not referring to this notion of facing to quickly come out of the dark. No! I mean facing as a way of practicing within the dark, living in the dark, and feeling in the dark without the pressure of arriving in the light. We have to disrupt the idea that there is only life in the light (that is a whole other article). 

I am not saying that this is easy. It actually takes a lot of training. This type of training is not preparatory but only capable of happening from within the transformative conditions of the dark itself. The dark is the condition that accompanies us on our journey into the depths of the awakened heart. In this space, there is no promise of land on the other side of grief, but grief is the landscape itself. An uncharted landscape full of nectar for our collective soul, which includes the earth. 

I want to be clear that I am not saying that the desire for freedom from pain and suffering is wrong. On the contrary!! What I am attempting to say is that so much pain and suffering comes through our inability to welcome the possibility that the dark is not always our enemy. Grief is often full of pain, sadness, and discomfort. But what I am pointing out is that at some point, we have to want to know grief for what it is before we lay our conditioning on the reality of grief and distort the fullness of what it brings and provides. This means we must develop the spiritual infrastructures to lay down the tricks and tactics we often use to escape the dark. When this surrender occurs, the dark opens us beyond our limited mental constructs of who and what we are individually and collectively. We become stretched and torn but also transformed by the life of the dark. 

So once again, I return to my earlier statement, we are made to see and exist in the dark. We are made to walk in the dark. We are made to live with grief. For there is a sacred message of the dark that is medicine for our world if we could only learn how to listen from the depths of the dark sea of grief and not become fatigued by the striving for light. We must enter into the womb of our hearts, listen to one another, make offerings to Mother Earth, and be open to the wisdom of the moon so that we might remember that we are not only creatures of light but also spiritual beings of the dark. This is why we need all of our spiritual practices. And we need each other to be committed to waking up. Spiritual practices that allow our minds to both rest and open, transcend and descend! Embodied practices that reconnect us to the beauty of black bodies, black animals, and dark mothers and fathers. We should be returning to our ceremonies that took place under the dark night sky. And not to forget, the work of remembering the sacred feminine as often depicted in archetypal expressions of moon goddesses and wrathful dark deities. 

For me, the beauty in all of this is that we can return to the dark within the community. The fact that grief feels personal doesn’t mean that we have to attempt to process our grief in isolation. It is my belief that we were never meant to suffer alone. Yes, on a very relative level, each of us must do our own work of tending to our grief; however, that does not imply that this dark work of grieving can’t happen within the care of our chosen community of support. This is hard for many of us to consider because our society centralizes individuality, self-sufficiency, and a capitalist survival of the fittest mentality, but it is possible. 

My prayer is that we relinquish the rigid polarities of dark and light that we often collectively worship. May we be accompanied by all of the dark messengers as we learn to navigate the everyday reality of grief. May each breath remind us that life is a gift. May we remember that we come from the dark and will someday return there.


1. What happens in your body when you imagine yourself engulfed in the dark? 

2. What experience has shaped your perception of the dark and/or grief? 

3. If grief is not a mistake, how might you consider living with grief from this moment forward?


Rashid Hughes (he/him) is a writer, meditation teacher, yoga instructor and a restorative justice facilitator. He is the co-founder of the Heart Refuge Mindfulness Community, a Mindfulness Community in Washington, DC that is dedicated to inspiring Black, Indigenous, and People of Color to live with love and courage. Rashid is an Affiliate Teacher for the Insight Meditation Community of Washington DC and he is also a teacher of the Presence Collective. He holds a Master of Divinity Degree from the Howard University School of Divinity and has two recently published articles in Mindful Magazine “R.E.S.T.-A Guided Practice for the Tired & Weary” and Lions Roar Magazine “When Aggression Masquerades as Compassion.” 

7 comments on “My Dark Companion: Grief”

  1. georgina g says:

    Indeed Mr Hughes … Feeling everything in the moment …and beyond. The unbearable lightness of being … forgive me my trespasses and frailties as I wade deep into the rivers of grief.

    These tainted tears, oh caverns, caverns of dark pooled grief…. Harness our reflected courage to face the sooted mirror.. surrender ignorance and release contempt to the glamour of light’s illusion . Call on compassion for the shadow of our human condition lest we drown not knowing we could have saved one another with one more chance to love more fully.

  2. Lucas Wilson says:

    thank you so much for this. a buddhist friend shared it with me. the imagery, message, invitation, and assurance feel right for my life now, and for this uncertain time in the world. i will find ways to read/reflect more on your writing. peace 🙏🏾

  3. Doreen says:

    Beautiful and inspiring! Thank you. 🙂

  4. Catherine says:

    Thank you
    Finally acknowledgement !
    I can’t say enough about your words and their meaning.

  5. Jennifer says:

    I appreciate your very resonant, lovely and inspiring act of self-disclosure in service to community.

    Times of grief in my life have been profoundly isolating, due to the fear and aversion of others that you cite. When my kids were small and afraid of the dark, I used to tell them that everything good, helpful, supportive and blessing resided in the dark. If their grandma (who had passed) was in the darkness, how could there be anything but love? Our fear of the after-death realms and the unknown feel like a betrayal of the ancestors who lie in wait, hoping to assist and attend, to provide love and succor, directly from the darkness as unexpected gifts.

    Thank you for your work. As a DC native, I would look forward to connecting in-person sometime.

  6. Carol Burrows says:

    I have been trying to articulate this idea all my life. Thank you for helping to put it into clear words. That liminal place between grief and the joy is where so many of us spend our lives. We know that to create we must first destroy, to inhale we must first exhale, and to find joy we must also learn to live with grief. My deepest insights have come on the wake of that existential grief that accompanies a postcard-perfect forest scene, or the sight of a vast, blue sky. We must constantly move through the portal between grief and joy. We came into the world in the dark, in that muted oneness with the universe around us. In the dark we can find that oneness again. Thank you.

  7. Camille says:


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