Alchemizing Grief with Meital Yaniv

Hi love, how are you? 

I’m listening to this song right now which feels like a perfect early anthem (to this conversation!)

Hi love, it’s freezing cold here today, and i just finished organizing my new work space so this feels like a celebratory landing of sorts, love this song!

How are you?

I’m really good. It feels weird to say that because I was just crying a lot. It’s nice because I had a very slow morning after two pretty intense calls and I think I’m beginning to realize that I actually need so much space to process, right… (I feel like you know this about me) but I guess those dimensions within myself are clarifying more and more, getting finer attunement and sharper angles. I used to feel a lot of shame for how much alone time I need and these days I’m seeing that it’s actually super powerful to name it. At the very least, for myself. So today I took a slow morning but then also needed to decompress a lot from these two calls that I had. So I did yoga, prayed and pulled Tarot… my morning ritual, all backwards. Then I ate a bison stew I made two days ago that’s warm in my Instant Pot… I don’t know, I just feel as if I’m in a state of  bliss. Maybe because I feel holistically held. One of the cards I pulled today was “Hummingbird” which in the Medicine / Animal Card deck that’s the card of joy, which is also what my name means in Arabic… so I don’t know, I’m feeling this deep sense of wholeness that I’ve been feeling more and more since the eclipse. 

Other than that, I’m really happy to be talking to you. So honored and excited to delve a bit deeper into your grief journey. I didn’t realize until recently that so much of the work that I’m doing is about grieving and grief. For my ancestors, but also my life – the sharp twists that my early life took that I’ve begun to untether from, but even still… I feel like what healing journeys rarely make space for is one’s grief, the totality and immensity of that experience. So I wanted to start there, at our grief. What’s your relationship to grief?

I love that our entry to grief is through joy and birdsong and slowness and nourishment and true names…i feel like grief holds all of these threads and so much more…a question i’ve been asking myself and my loved ones in moments of deep grief is who is here? Who is grieving? you said that your grief is for your ancestors and for your life and there is so much in that sentence….grief is life. And feeling it, being with it is a way we get to be in service of life. Our bodies, our senses, our sensitivities are asked to move, digest, operate in speeds and paces that makes it hard to be in the rhythms of life/death (i really feel this two words say the same thing) the disconnection we feel/ we are, that longing for belonging. so grief becomes this standby that is waiting to be express, i wonder sometimes if that is why grief usually moves in waves, overwhelming us and underwhelming us, because we never learned how to be in balance with it…so i think this question of who’s grieving when those waves rise is an important one, like a moment to catch up to ourselves, and everything that our body is caring, generations of grief.. And in that self our ancestors, the Earth, the past, future present are all here. My relationship with grief these days has shifted a lot as I recently completed a death doula training, and allowing myself to come home in many ways into death work is allowing me to be with the unknown of grief in a more intentional way…mmm…where do we go from here? Haha!

I think it’s cool for us to talk about grief, in general, but also because you and I are both really happy people, lol! Or that’s also one part of us, the joy – the ability to share it. I think I often have felt, though, that’s the only setting people like me at… and that conditioning started young, in the home, where I also became the absorber of the grief of violence within my body, my mother’s (and her mother’s) bodies, as well as the family’s body. I became a sort of living remnant of the familial tragedy(ies) of my lineage, a reminder. 

I think maybe that’s why my presence is very intense to people… as it was for my mother, because I hold so much, I remember so much. I also hold both feelings – joy and grief – so honestly and equally. I think both of us can do this, it’s a sort of alchemical power we both share. Because we transmute it and then offer it back to people. That’s what all the work we do is. So talk to me about death doula training. What called you to it?

Thank you for this articulation, perhaps the intensity is in the joy of feeling grief, not because it’s fun or joyful but because it is real…and in that feeling we remedy our roles as absorbers, we offer ourselves digestion time that can be expressive, creative, alive. That living remnant you speak of, the survivor within and without, that alchemical power, in many ways that is life being reflected as itself and life is intense as fuck! So that intensity we carry is the spine trembling from grief and trauma while also dancing in joy of its own aliveness. The both and of everything. Which is also death. I think death is teaching me how to see and be in between the binaries. What called me to death work, mmmm, my ancestors, my prayers, Fire, some determine ravens, an ancient familiar force i cannot articulate, it wasn’t an invitation or even a choice it was just is, this is the work, here is the teacher, breathe in and walk towards. Death work as I hold it is the unknown work, we know nothing about death (aside for the fact that we are all going to die, which means we are all already dying) but we do know life and our senses offer us the essences of life. In this very moment we are alive (or we live a life that we think is alive) so death work to me is life work in the unknown. Which to me translates to heart work, as this inner beat is the only thing i have to offer to myself and the dying. 

What is your relationship with death?

I think we are also constantly in a state of dying (I mean, of course) but also that’s the point of both an ending and beginning. In learning how to live—and I mean this by living in accordance with the land, Morth Earth, the spirit world and laws — within that state comes an acceptance that we inevitably learn how to die… but I feel myself getting really overwhelmed by that reality sometimes. Since I was about 10, and this coincided with the first time I learned about Nostradamus, I had maybe my first “awakening” lol which was a panic attack in the middle of the night, realizing that we’re all going to die. It’s a punctuating, breathtaking experience to remember we will die. The last time I had a similar “awakening” (which could be otherwise misread as a panic attack) I was watching a movie with my friend Sophie, this was maybe around 2015, and I remember being like, “Holy shit, I’m not going to be here one day.” That always spins me out, it’s such a wild acceptance to make. But it’s also such a humbling reality and I think to honor that, to walk with death awareness, is a similar calling I’ve responded to. As you know, I’ve also had a similar download to be a death doula, as one of the many life vocations I’ve been called to do. I don’t feel ripe for the work yet, but I do think I’ve already started the work, ardently. I love living with death awareness because it clarifies life so much more. You begin to see how potent everything is. To me, this is my tutelage as a Muslim, to come back to Allah, the Earth, as we all must, is to submit to life. 

You’ve been through a lot of motions in your life. As an israeli who has left that land, I want to talk to you about your relationship to death with the land of israel, but also how you transmute that identity into the liberation of Palestinians. How do you do this work?

Thank you friend, i’ll start with ‘learning how to die’ which is a widening vortex as we probably all know how to die, that and birth are the two things we all do, so then i ask myself did we forget we know? Or do we remember by doing? Learning how to die, is learning how to live and both of those things translates to learning how to be of the Earth that we are, how to be the elements and minerals we already are, how to be in connection with all that we are already connected to, how do we tend to the land by tending to ourselves, how do we offer ourselves to the land, how do we be reciprocity, how do we be the offering itself. So this notion of land, home/land/s, outside of borders and colonial, imperial forces, leaves us with the lands of our bodies….i am holding this thread in one hand and will continue with another in my other hand with a prayer for braiding…

‘The land of israel is a dream (some of us will say a nightmare) it is an identity that is based on sacrificing the lands of our bodies for a grief that has lost its root and is operating on imaginable fear. It is not real. The land of Palestine, is the homeland of so many lineages and peoples, traditions, technologies, plant-life, medicine-life. The state of israel is a machine-manmade growth that was implanted on the land and we need to support it in dying, so that the land can be. The israeli identity is being force fed by this machine, so in order to help it die, apart of us (israelis) need to die and in going through this dying process within myself i can say that it feels like a premature cut of an umbilical cord, that is how strong the nation/state brainwash is. 

Once we doula ourselves into this death, our horrific imprint of occupation apartheid and geneocide could die with us and the land could be, and the peoples could be.  

In Muslim and Jewish death traditions the bodies are wrapped in a sacred sheet and are placed in the Earth with no barrier, between our Mother and the offering we are. We have so much to offer back to the Earth in our dead bodies if we allow the Earth to compost us. My prayer is to doula this israeli nation/state to its death, so that Palestine is free, and the peoples are free, and the olive trees are free, and the waters are free. 

Yes <3 I’ve recently been thinking a lot about “land back” which was something I first heard through Lorna Munro, an Australian Aboriginal woman and poet. I was on a panel with her back in 2019 and she talked about land back, saying all allyship is a performance on stolen land and I just remember having chills. Because I heard the truth. I was like, “Wait, it’s possible to give land back?” I was in shock. I remember just being so silent on the panel, just absorbing all this knowledge from the other panelists — all Black and/or Indiegnous Australian women speaking to something that felt so radical, revolutionary and yet the most obvious next direction for us. 

Now we think of the climate apocalypse that we’re currently in and the inevitable future of our species (if we don’t heal and rematriate this land) which is possible extinction. We look at land grabbing, and the inevitability of commercial interests moving towards privatizing water. It makes you realize how mindless and debased the colonial imagination is, and how scarcity driven you have to be to think that you can claim anything in a world where you will eventually die. It proves our hubris as a species, and the denigration of capital and what it’s done to us spiritually. The fact that we just absolve ourselves of our greed, our hypocrites, I don’t know there’s a mass death awareness that needs to happen here. Anyway, to me, land back poses a utopic chance to start again, to rematriate the land, to let it live in accordance with the custodians that want to cherish it… that’s the future for me. 

In Palestine, I think of the lemon groves, of the generations of farmers and families that have been displaced from their land. To me, giving land back is the only option and this work is the work we must do for our ancestors, to heal their wounds as well. Perhaps the ones they didn’t even know they had. As a Bangladeshi, I think of how the lands of my parents might be one of the first nations to sink into the water. Bangladesh has already been collapsing, and I’m thinking about the large-scale climate migrants that will be born out of the losing land, again, to a thief, to the colonizer. The cyclicality of this violence is so deep and I carry that grief. The pain of the people from my land. I feel it in my body. That’s what I think it means to work with death, it’s to grieve the collective pain for others. But I’m so grateful that we’re both doing this work together. It’s the only meaning I can make within such a space of darkness. It gives me humility to remember that I’m doing this for Creator. For liberation. 

Ok, last question, how do you keep this prayer alive? How do you nurture this prayer that is unfolding everyday? This commitment you’ve made in this lifetime is a big one. 

I think a lot about the land missing its people, not from an ownership or a statehood place, but just missing the bodies/lands that knew/know how to tend to the body/land. Coming back to this cyclical movement might rewire the one of deep violence you speak of, the spiral of remembering. This commitment, this prayer is a daily practice of remembering who I am, and why I am and where I am. I am a guest on this land (Turtle Island) and I try every day to deepen into my understanding of what it means to be a ‘good guest’ (in the words of Corrina Gould, Sogorea Te’ Land trust) I am getting very emotional as I am writing this answer, a lot of writing and backspace deleting is happening…this prayer I hold and tend to is not just my own, which takes me to the beginning of our exchange when I wrote about asking who is here? The known and the unknown, seen and unseen, the liberation of Palestine is the liberation of the land of my body, and my body is not just my own, I tend to this prayer by tending to the land I am currently on. By holding a Redwood tree and feeling the Roots of an Olive Tree Oceans away. Bringing an Owl to burial on this land with a death prayer I learned in a native tongue that comes from a different land. Tending to Seeds of love, of a heartway, tending to all my relationships, tending to the death of all my identities which I see as a form of queering death. I appreciate your wordsmith, that medicine you carry in the languages you offer, I water those seeds today, the language of a life remembering itself through the hearts, I water the seeds of your heart. Isn’t it wild to think about all the hearts that are beating in synchronicity all the time. I want to learn to listen to that sound. One last thought I want to share in relation to what you’ve written about extinction and climate apocalypse, I recently had this thought about reincarnation….if our species will be extinct, if we all die here, are we still going to incarnate as a human form?

meital yaniv (b. 1984, Tel-Aviv, israel) is learning how to be in a human form. they do things with words, with moving n still images, with threads, with bodies in front of bodies, with the Earth. they are a death doula tending to a prayer for the liberation of the land of Palestine and the lands of our bodies. they are learning to listen to the Waters, birdsongs, caretakers, and ancestors as they walk as a guest on the lands of the Tongva-Kizh Nation, Luiseño, and Cahuilla peoples and ways.