Welcoming Back the Collective Exiles of Death and Grief
I have always loved the invitation of "What wants attention?" to open a Focusing process. In my life as a Focusing teacher and in my personal practice as a Focuser, I used to think that this invitation was enough for whatever wanted attention to show up: that after I made that initial opening, the rest would happen by itself; that all I had to do was open the door and whatever wanted to be seen would wander though. Maybe it would take time to come, but eventually it would come and be heard and met. I had this image of opening a door and waiting...
But what if that ‘something’ on the other side of the door has not only been kept out by protective forces in you but has been exiled by the larger collective. What if that ‘something’ has showed up at many doors over and over and been turned away, hundreds and thousands of times... and what if it had done this for generations. How would it feel to be that something? Imagine being such an exile. Would it be enough to see an open door for you to go in, would you trust it after all the rejections? I doubt it.
I speak here of our collective exiles, (of which we have many.) Specifically I speak of the exiles of grief and death, but I am sure there are others in our collective life.
I am not sure how we ended up in a culture that hides the truth of death away, that fears it, that sees it as a failure. How come it is a taboo, or we fear appearing morbid for talking about it? How come we find it so hard to face this very essential truth – the truth that each and every living thing will die sooner or later? It seems all the stranger when you pause to reflect that our very existence is dependent in one way or another on the death of other organisms, both plant and animal (depending on what you eat). It seems strange when you reflect that a living forest needs the death and composting of a large proportion of its biomass to survive. Life needs death. All life ends in death, there is no exception. The cycle is interwoven. One does not happen without the other.
And how did grief become so hard for us to show? How come it too ends up in the shadowlands of our experience, allowed out for the occasional funeral at most, but no more. My nine year old son said last week that grown men should not cry! Where did he even hear this or sense it as true? We too easily keep grief bottled up and shrouded in shame. It has been driven into the dusty corners and forgotten rooms of our individual and collective life.
Over the past few years, I have been creating spaces.... spaces where these unwelcome guests of grief and death are invited in, and there is one truth I have learnt that these exiles and perhaps all collective exiles need to be invited in. They need to know we mean it. It comes down to this:
“It's waiting to be asked”
These were the poignant words that one participant shared in an exploration around death, and it formed the seed of this article. Yes, some aspects of us need to be asked in order to make an appearance in our being. Maybe because they have been exiled so long, or maybe because of some other more mysterious reason, they need to be asked. Like a spell that needs certain words, or a ceremony that needs a particular set of circumstances, like an incantation, like a particular name that needs to be used – our exiles need to be asked to come.
I have participated in many grief ceremonies and in most of them I have sensed a deep relief, even if not much grief flowed in me. It was just a relief that there was such a space where the truth could be met with some kind of open arms. I felt the same on my Somatic Experiencing training (Peter Levine's method for healing trauma). At last here is a space where the exiled is invited in (albeit in a very safe way in the instance of trauma). There is a great deal of tension required to keep away exiles... and I know that there are essential and good reasons that keeping away happens and I want to acknowledge the relief that welcoming brings, relieving and healing.
I also heard the same relief from the people on my recent online workshop exploring death, or what our bodies ‘know’ about death. They spoke of how good and needed and even joyous it was to finally speak about this truth they live with every day. The truth of their losses, and the truth of our inevitable journey towards that mystery we call death. Those words "it’s waiting to be asked" speak of some deeper truth that I can only partially articulate here... But I hope I have planted a seed that will help some part of you be welcomed back.