Sound is integral to life. Upon our first breath into the world we let out a wail.
Like life, lament also starts with a wail, says Brother Stefan Andre Waligur, a member of the Benedictine monastery of Shantivanam in India. He’s also a musician and the founder of Community of Peace in Louisa, Virginia. Having studied and researched the practice of lament, he concludes: “We need to wail—just wail when we’re in throes of grief.”
Lamentation is an expression of grief, sadness, or pain. It’s “crying with words.” This entails plentiful wet tears and intense sound to unleash what’s inside of you. “The entire repertoire of the heart needs to be released,” emphasizes Waligur. “It’s passionate and poetic.”
As an ancient tradition led by women, lament expressed the despair of entire communities and families. Men would step back and give the women space to enact the custom. “Lamenting helped to sustain the community,” Waligur says. “It was a powerful healing experience.”
Women cried out and wept, carrying and tending to the sorrow of a culture. As funeral keeners, they would yell and bellow, yank at their clothes, and fall onto the ground in fits of fierce sobbing, exteriorizing the grief of everyone.
“Lamenting is really about opening your heart,” he explains. Whatever comes up, let it arise. “Letting it out is the way.”
Waligur suggests five ways to lament and acknowledge grief.
Use Your Voice
With lamentation you’re processing emotions through vigorous sound and song. So sing or call out to the spiritual deities.
Hearing your own voice is therapeutic. As Waligur puts it: “The sound of your voice is the presence of the Divine. And God sings through you.”
Find a word or phrase and recite or sing it again and again. Repeating a mantra is a way of embedding something and becoming one with it. Repetition is a form of prayer and worship—it’s a holy exercise. He suggests singing a song like “All Shall Be Well” or “This Too Shall Pass.”
Create an Altar
Lamentation is a type of ritual, so use the corner of a room in your home to make a sacred space for ritual and healing. Add photos, candles, crystals, incense, flowers—whatever has meaning for you. This is a holy place, a mini temple that holds you while you grieve, pray, and connect with the Divine. Cultivate your own daily ritual—whether it’s kneeling while uttering an evening prayer or rubbing a stone or lighting a candle. Find what works for you.
Look to Poetry
Poetry is a container that serves the passion of lament like “the banks of a river moving the grief where it needs to go and flow,” Waligur notes.
Drink in the verses. Say them out loud. Let the energy of the lyrics permeate your body. Move with the tone and cadence. Waligur likes to recite lines from the poems of David Whyte as a means of solace and support.
Write your own poem or lament. Proclaim it out loud.
Silence promotes truth. And this helps you attune to your feelings, “bringing you back to yourself,” Waligur notes.
Carve out time for silence three times a day for 10 minutes, he suggests.
Through stillness and quiet, you’re getting in touch with the most important thing—which is your heart. “You’re listening to your heart … learning to feel,” he explains. And by tapping into your inner self, you access and generate the means to lament.
The more you sit in silence, the easier and richer it becomes, and the more benefits you reap.
Just as lamenting was typically done on behalf of a community in groupings of women, find or start a group where members gather to reveal pain. “Sharing sorrow in a communal setting enhances our own experience of lament,” says Waligur. This can be a weekly or monthly meeting in which people express individual and collective loss through singing or chanting.
“You’re never alone, you’re not isolated,” Waligur asserts, adding that your ancestors, spiritual guides, and invisible helpers are always present to assist you through grief.
“You have help in the unseen world.”
Want to know more? Read: “The Wisdom of Lament” from the March/April 2022 issue of Spirituality & Health.