The Bookends of Grief.

March 25, 2023

The Bookends of Grief.

May 29, 2023

I recently returned home to my wisdom watering hole at Modern Elder Academy. As the guy, who was once dubbed the ‘Youngest Modern Elder,’ I get a true sense of gratitude knowing I have started this migration earlier in life and get to continue to meet those who also chose it for themselves for years to come.

For someone who has spent hours having on-air conversations about grief, written a book on the topic, and experientially survived losing a brother, a father, and a friend - I was reminded on either side of this magical week why I am a forever student in life and death.

The bookends:

My adventure started by flying in a day early to meet with my mentor, friend, and MEA founder Chip Conley. Those of you may remember his recent Wisdom Well post, where he wholeheartedly shared the return of his cancer and a podcast episode we recorded about mastering the swirls of grief. From the moment I read that post, I knew that I wanted to see him, to look into his eyes, and I thought to ask him questions about his life and if he had fears about death. This was the one man I could ask anything. On the day I found myself sitting across from my blue-eyed compadre and forever friend, I felt like a child who knew nothing. Or perhaps I acted like one on purpose. I suddenly didn’t want to know, nor did I ask for more information about the words that were being used around his prognosis; metastasized, lymph nodes, radiation. Then my own swirl of grief thoughts began. What if we never get to chat like this again? Ask him if he’s afraid? Ask him if he’s going to be ok? Ask him if you should worry? Ask him everything you may not be able to one day!? Can you MAKE him promise you he won’t die? I thought of all of these and asked none of them. Instead, I told him about a movie that had touched me recently, and as we continued our conversation, I focused on how I felt in his presence. Awe, ease, calm, relief, loved, grateful. I let go of trying to know what to do, and I let myself learn.

We ended our chat talking about moral beauty and its ability to create awe. I didn’t ask those questions, but I was gifted a tool to return to this awe-inspiring feeling my mentor gave me. How beautiful and simple that all it takes is experiencing or creating kindness, generosity, beauty, and empathy.

I walked away thinking about how when we lose someone, others ask us questions about them. What did they do for a living? What successes or things did they accomplish? How old were they? How rich were they? I decided I would like to start asking - How did you feel the last time you spent quality time with them?

Insert an incredible workshop, meeting new MEA family members rebelling to learn and grow together within the magic of Baja. To say that I was touched in some way by every person I met between my two flights is an understatement. As someone who has spent half his life navigating intense grief processes - this was truly the most grounded in learning I've ever been. The biggest takeaway for me was the idea of focusing on what success feels like. A monumental shift happened when guest Faculty member Shelley Paxton lovingly nudged me to consider life and how I measure success. Instead of it being an external checklist (existential), allowing it to be an internal check-in (experiential). When asked to focus on what success feels like, a familiar string of words began to surface- awe, ease, calm, relief, loved, grateful.

I returned home from MEA feeling a sense of family, love, and clarity I had not felt since before the losses that inspired my grief work. I felt available to my full experience. My four visits to MEA now process into a potent excitement for living beyond the awareness of death.

I woke up buzzing, excited, and open to the idea of love, even if it meant I would one day grieve fully again. Moments later, I found myself breathless, my muscles like liquid, as I learned of a loss of an MEA workshop member and new friend.

The opposite bookend was a slow, visceral infection of grief re-entering my system. As someone who wrote a book about the importance of honoring grief and not fixing it - I suddenly wanted a quick fix. I felt like I had never met grief before and like I knew nothing. I feared my friends would lean on me, given my thought leadership, and I wanted to retreat. I felt the physical, mental, and emotional shifts of grief, making itself known. Distilled down to a child-like place, I could only use the images of animals to describe the feeling.

I saw a deer or gazelle at a watering hole - calmly tending to the everyday need for nourishment. Calm, ease, awe, relief. When suddenly, an awareness that it is not alone. A predator is somewhere in the grass, unseen but fully felt. A visceral mental, emotional, and physical fear takes over the serenity of the everyday moment. The remembering that we are at home, but we are in the wild. This feeling of fear became freedom when I realized it solidified the new love of not knowing, not teaching, and not outthinking. Choosing instead to remain a forever student of life and its beautiful and necessary counterpart, death.

Addison Brasil shows up in the world as a writer, producer, and speaker after finding himself Just to the Left of Death three times during his formative years. In response to the loss of his brother, father, and friend, he has worked to share his bestselling book First Year of Grief Club: A Gift From A Friend Who Gets It and is also the host of Grief Club: The Podcast with Addison Brasil. You can learn more about him and his work at www.addisonbrasil.com.

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