From Pain to Love – Grief into Gratitude

‘Where there is great pain, there was great love before’

Our dear friend Hajo Müller, and our bridge of connection with Kedar has written a reflective piece called ‘Where there is great pain, there was great love before’.

He writes of his experience of the ritual that he attended in England and covers the topics of giving space for grief, connecting to our ancestors, the power of ritual, and the movement of grief to gratitude – a movement from pain to love. We will host the grief ritual here – aptly named, ‘Transforming Grief into Gratitude’ from 7-10th May 2020. The value of exchange is 260E for early birds. Here is link to the website of the host, Kedar S. Brown. To register you can follow this link

We share Hajo’s piece as a way of encouraging those who are considering coming to the ritual.

Below are the contact you need to register or book, or simply find out more details.

Where there is great pain, there was great love before 

by Hajo Müller

Fire, water, drumming and a visit to the ancestors. A report on a four-day stay in the woods, the connection to the deceased, hope and how much emotion you can find in a stone. And about great growing out of a grief ritual.

I am ready. I approach Mike and tap him on the shoulder, this is the agreed signal. He knows what to do. He walks me to the threshold where our world ends and the world of the dead begins. Together we enter the sphere of the ancestors. A forest in northwest England, it is night, but I’ve lost all sense of time. A fire is burning, the nearby river is rushing, I can hear drums and a strange, consoling African song. With the exception of Mike and Jenny, I have never met any of the twenty people present, and it’s been a year since I got to know them by chance. We were on the tiny Scottish island of Iona to visit a monastery founded about 1400 years ago. Sounds like a very long time, and yet the ritual we are experiencing today is thousands of years older. And though I have never seen these people before, I will feel connected to them all my life, for all of us will cross that threshold between the material and ancestral worlds. And return again.

My grandmother – my ancestor

In the afternoon we prepared the place for the ritual. We dug the fireplace, marked the boundaries with stones and branches, candles and flowers, built an entrance portal to the otherworldly area and set up a shrine for the ancestors as a place of remembrance. I slowly walk there with Mike, candles are burning and I sit down on the floor for a while. An old black and white photo in front of me shows my grandfather as a boisterous young man in the 50s, balancing on a tree trunk. Although I was very close to him and held his hand at the age of 17 when he died years ago, there are many things more I would like to have learned from him. Next to it is a picture of my grandmother. All the hardship she has suffered, forced displacement, poverty, murder of family members, illness, has not made her a bitter woman. That always inspired me.

I could not accompany my grandmother to the end of her earthly existence. At that time there was no space for mourning because at the time of her death my life was filled by big changes. I lived hundreds of miles away, a challenging job lay ahead of me, a relocation was about to happen, moving in together with a woman with whom I hoped to start a family. But that did not happen. The relationship broke dramatically and it took me a long time to get over it. I remember one special encounter. My grandmother was thrilled when she saw my then girlfriend for the first time, afterwards she flung her arms around my neck and said to me in her typical heartiness: “God has brought you together!” As I sit in front of the shrine, I realize how much these words meant to me back then. Probably because I often had a hard time even reassuring myself in life situations when great disappointments had happened before. But now my grandmother was gone, she would never be able to say that sentence about another woman again. Her confirmation and confidence was something I would miss very much in the future. With her life experience, she has always taught me that everything can turn out well.

You are the result of the love of thousands 

Suddenly all my ancestors are behind me. 

Be quiet, they say. Watch and listen. 

You are the result of the love of thousands.

(Linda Hogan)

Give space for grief

In this world in between, I can tell my ancestors everything else I want to say, thank them for the love I have received, and ask for wisdom in difficult situations and decisions ahead. Everything is still very rational, my emotions are blocked until Mike says to me in his soft voice: “It’s okay!” and puts his hand on my shoulder. Suddenly my sadness is released, and with it my tears. After an indefinite time with other deceased family members, I am ready to go back, back to the world of the living. A wise man once said to me: the call of the dead is not that we should die with them but rather to live with them! After I pass the threshold again, the community welcomes me very affectionately. The people surround and embrace me, they let me feel that my place is (still) here.

Others use the ritual mourn their parents, unborn children, suicides, partners, broken relationships, missed opportunities or even our brutal exploitation of the earth. Grief is often about a lack of emotional expression, whether it is sadness, anger, feelings of guilt or feelings of abandonment. Sometimes there is an unfinished business, shock, or a simple refusal to accept death. This can lead to sickness in the long run. Tonight, together, we offer this collective grief that serves our ritual community and the earth we stand on. Together, it is easier to allow the pain, if necessary scream it out, and the often suppressed feeling becomes suddenly bearable.

The gift within

Hours later, after the ceremony, we head back to the camp, up the hillside in the light of the lamps, past the trees and horsetails that already populated the planet before humans existed. I stare silently into the fire for a while and then, exhausted, go to sleep. According to the tradition of West African Dagara, every person carries an important gift (“medicine”) that the community desperately needs. At birth, however, we forget what this provision consists of and it is the task of each of us to find out and implement it. It is all about connectedness, with the ancestors and the great-grandchildren, the neighbors and the most distant ones, temporally and spatially and even encompassing not only the human species but all of creation. All beings and elements are interwoven in the great web of life. It is about mindfulness, respect for each other and their own inner processes.

We all originate from water and fire: before birth, we grow in the amniotic fluid in our mother’s womb and eventually a spark causes our first heartbeat.

Grief and Gratitude – from pain to love

The goal of our retreat is to let go of unnecessary baggage and achieve a perspective of gratitude. This is expressed in the little rituals we perform together as we gather around the flames or the water. Every morning, a small offering is made to the fire and the water, in recognition that we all originate from these elements. We spend the months before our birth in the amniotic fluid, and at some point in that time, a spark or electrical impulse causes our very first heartbeat. Kedar Brown, a therapist and healer who conducts the retreat, has been learning these rituals from various indigenous cultures for many years, including Malidoma Somé and Stephen Foster, and combined them in a unique way.

His experience, kindness and prudence shapes the necessary trust to get involved in the processes. It was surprising how naturally all these rituals feel. Is it because we tap into our archaic cultural heritage, way before languages, traditions, ideas and territories have shattered humanity a thousandfold?

The participants here have different backgrounds and are all fair-skinned Westerners, which is quite ironic. As we leave after the four days, something has grown between us and it is difficult to say goodbye. At the farewell ceremony we line up with a stone in our hands, we face each other one by one, and knock the stones together as we mutually encourage us for the time ahead. My stone still has a prominent place in my living room.

The power of rituals

Although the retreat was very enriching and valuable, I had no real idea where it would take me. But just as there were signs that led me to this experience, I got reminders again and again to appreciate and recall my experiences. A short time later, at a conference in Prague, I met a doctor who has also worked with Malidoma. In a therapeutic training I was urged to imagine a dialogue with a deceased family member. On an Africa trip, I could watch a traditional mourning procession by night. And then there are all the little things that I have maintained. From time to time burn dried sage, to watch phases of the moon and seasonal changes more consciously. Or just be amazed by the light in the clouds and the bird’s voice in the tree.

Nothing is more valuable than life itself.

And the love that brings life.

One could describe the effect as follows: A door has opened, which has freshly connected me with experiences from my own biography and with what one could call the spiritual family heritage. My attitude towards it has changed: where formerly bitterness and pain were dominant, I now can feel more respect and compassion. That I exist and the way I am is the result of numerous encounters of people and many events. Of calamities and decisions, struggle, courage, despair, faith, hope and love. From this perspective everything feels more whole, maybe even holier. The thought that my grandmother cannot confirm my future partner as the right one no longer feels so painful. I have the reason to hope that my intuition (which includes everything and everyone that I have met) will realize what is good for me.

We are never really alone.

The ancestors never leave us!

The very first Grief and Gratitude Ritual in Portugal with Kedar Brown will take place from 7-10th May 2020, hosted by the Mount of Oaks Community.

More information from the author at


Malidoma P. Somé (2004) On the Spirit of Africa.

Stephen Foster & Meredith Little (2012) Vision Quest.

About the author

Hajo Müller is a certified psychologist and, after starting his career in business and education, today works as a licensed psychotherapist in a clinic in the Berlin area. He is leading a mindfulness-based addiction group. For several years he has practiced yoga, meditation, zen-archery, and studies nature spirituality, Christian mysticism and transpersonal psychology. He is convinced that the rediscovery of old traditions not only enriches us individually, but can also provide healing aspects for our postmodern society.

It would be wonderful to hear any feedback that we can offer directly to Hajo or that we can learn from.

In deep gratitude, emma.