Sojourning with Grief-Ancient Wisdom, New Breath

Early admission to Stonehenge allowed us to walk among the stones. I first “met” the stones when I was thirteen and you could still touch them. It was a powerful experience to be among them again with my retreat friends and engage in sacred ritual. Photo by anne richardson.

Early admission to Stonehenge allowed us to walk among the stones. I first “met” the stones when I was thirteen and you could still touch them. It was a powerful experience to be among them again with my retreat friends and engage in sacred ritual. Photo by anne richardson.

Slowing the Inner Clock

What can you teach me?” I ask this question to the rocks and stones I meet on my sojourn. To hear even the faintest reply I must slow my inner clock to ancient time. To liminal time. For the souls that reside in the salt-and-pepper speckled gneiss, the chalkboard-black slate, the meringue layers of limestone, and pigeon grays of common igneous hued surfaces I tread on, caress, sit and lean upon speak an unfamiliar language. I have felt an intimate connection with rock and stone during this sojourn. In the wild places, I place my hand against a rock face and wait. Sometimes the warmth of sun fills my palm, or the cool of shadow absorbs into my skin. Rough edges prod my fingertips to ask deeper questions. “What edges of yours need smoothing?” Or “Are those rough edges part of a wildness you need to keep?” Many of the rocks and stones have facial features, as if they are trying to communicate in way we can understand if only we would stand still for a moment longer.

Chalice Well, Glastonbury, England. Photo by anne richardson.

Chalice Well, Glastonbury, England. Photo by anne richardson.

Flow of the Journey

I spent five days on retreat with five other kind souls and a retreat facilitator at Chalice Well in Glastonbury. Our facilitator, Judith Tripp, has returned to this site and the surrounding areas for thirty years and her respect and love for what can unfold is evident in the pacing and care she provides. We stayed at Chalice Well, which allows us to embrace the gardens day and night and I found myself rising at 5am two mornings, entering into the peace of running water, rising sun, opening flowers, and the echo arising from the well—The Chalice Well.

The Chalice Well is a natural spring that runs red and evidence suggests it has been in constant use for at least 2000 years. Wells are significant in Celtic spirituality, which is my interest, and to be able to kneel and look deep into this one, to breathe in the cool air that flows up from the stone-lined cistern, to see my reflection in the dark water and wait for what arises from the Chalice Well and my own inner well is a gift. The poem, “The Well of Grief” by David Whyte, comes to mind and I imagine falling into this well. The feel of my body being embraced by cold, red-stained water. My hands skimming the stones that have been laid by hand to honor this place, but a thousand years ago, it was likely a secluded forest where pilgrims came for healing (as they do today.) I plunge deeper into the water, no longer in need of air and soon I am flowing, following the path of the aquifer beneath rocks I touched on the surface days before. Light is absent and the rocks whisper, “trust.” They have partnered with water over millennia to carved out the path, there is no wrong turn, for wherever I surface, I will be where I am meant to be. When I rise from my knees, back to the sound of song birds and cars passing by, I am ready for the unknown.

Those who will not slip beneath/the still surface on the well of grief//turning down to its black water//to the place that we can not breathe//will never know/the source from which we drink/the secret water cold and clear...
— David Whyte
Early morning in the garden. Photo by anne richardson.

Early morning in the garden. Photo by anne richardson.

Sacred Places, Sacred Stories

The unknown. We spent time at sacred places where the stories of Avalon abide, Christian history is seeped in the landscape, Celtic rituals hold deep meaning, and the ancient Druid mysteries are being pondered. Stonehenge. Tintagel, Wells Cathedral, West Kennett Long Barrow, Avebury, Glastonbury Tor, Glastonbury Abbey. What would be revealed? What would remain hidden?

Connecting with Sacred Stones at Avebury Stone Circle. Photo by anne richardson.

Connecting with Sacred Stones at Avebury Stone Circle. Photo by anne richardson.

I was overlooking the Irish Sea once again, this time toward the island where legend says King Arthur is said to have been conceived. Photo by anne richardson.

I was overlooking the Irish Sea once again, this time toward the island where legend says King Arthur is said to have been conceived. Photo by anne richardson.

At Tintagel overlooking the Irish Sea once again, I sang to Grandmother Ocean and the wind responded, allowing me to understand a few “words” of wind language. And there, sparkling in the sun, a gneiss rock, rough to touch said, “Keep listening.” I ask, “Will you teach me your language, too?

In the womb of West Kennett Long Barrow, an ancient burial chamber, language without words moved me in a way I can’t yet share. Amid the magnificent stones at Stonehenge, our group offered prayers in that amplified space that has existed for over 5000 years. And at Avebury Stone Circle, a broken circle divided by roads, perhaps the message the stones offered that is settling deepest in me: “There is no new wisdom. It is all ancient. But wisdom needs new breath. How will you breathe it into this world?

The stones and rocks remind me over and over again what it means to slow…way…down… And yet, against that backdrop there are birds, butterflies, sheep, trees, flowers and the seasonal life that says there needs to be balance. Liminal time. Rock time. And seasonal time. Sun-Moon cycle time. The both/and of this journey.

Invitations from my Mentor, Grief

And so I ask my wise mentor, Grief, as I continue to reflect on my retreat, “How does this relate to loss?” Grief offers:

  • You cannot hurry a journey through loss. Take the time needed.

  • Time around you will continue on at a seasonal pace while you feel you are moving at a rock’s pace. They are congruent. You can live in and appreciate both worlds.

  • Listen to the whispers from the deep well of grief. When you are ready, dive in and trust. You will rise to the surface again, just where you are meant to be.

  • If you need to find a “womb” to crawl into and take time out to rest, allow yourself that gift. The seasons will continue without your active participation. (Yes, I know on a practical level, bills need to get paid, meals prepared, etc. So you can define what this looks like, even if it is no social media from sundown to sunup for a month straight.)

  • Allow yourself to dream of wild places and go there in your dreams, and for real if possible.

  • Find a small stone to hold in your hand. Do you have a question for it? Does it have something to say to you?

And so Grief, I am once again grateful for all I have been offered.

When was a time you slowed way down? What did you hear? What ancient wisdom is breathing newly in you today?


I have completed six of my nine weeks of this sojourn, inhabiting both rock and seasonal time. Week seven is a week of rest and connecting with family. I’ll be scattering some of my mother’s ashes on her (our) cousin’s land.

When I landed in Scotland I shared that I felt I had come home. I still feel that deep connection. And I continue to hold the unfolding of this journey loosely, allowing each day to stand on its own. I am changing—not with the slow pace of rock or with the rapid expanse of spring. But change is present. I am becoming more comfortable living in the both/and of rock and seasonal time.