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Book blog: The Wild Edge of Sorrow by Francis Weller

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Oct 042021
 

Subtitle: Rituals of Renewal and the Sacred Work of Grief

You may have noticed, as I have, a growing number of grief tending workshops, grief rituals and similar events in recent years. What’s your reaction to them? I admit that mine has been a mix of mild interest and some resistance. Francis Weller is one of the leading American teachers in this field, and this book has the conviction of someone who has worked with groups for over 30 years, and has learned from many good sources, including tribal cultures. This book is not an easy read, because it digs into feelings that many of us bury, but it’s a very worthwhile one. Weller believes that most of us carry a lot more grief, and from a wider range of sources, than we let ourselves acknowledge, and I agree with him. This book is written with a lot of care and respect for the grief we all carry, and it is an excellent guide to this difficult territory.

This book offers a useful map of five gates of grief. The first is familiar: Everything we love, we will lose. The second is probably less familiar: The places that have not known love. This means the feelings and parts of ourselves that we have shut down and pushed away: the places associated with shame, trauma, and what he calls soul loss.

The third gate is the sorrows of the world. This is probably familiar to most of us, but he helpfully explains why this grief is so powerful in our times. He quotes the psychiatrist R. D. Laing describing us all as “Stone Age children”. Weller goes on: Our entire psychic, physical, emotional, and spiritual makeup was shaped in the long evolutionary sweep of our species. Our inheritance includes an intimate and permeable exchange with the wild world. It is what our minds and bodies expect.”

Weller’s fourth gate of grief is an intriguing one: What we expected and did not receive. This includes our ‘longing to belong’: he beautifully describes visiting Malidoma Somé’s village in Burkina Faso. He writes: “Every night near dusk, people would gather in the common area and share their day…. Children were there as well, weaving in and out of conversations, playing until they lay down and drifted into sleep…. Imagine how profoundly that would impact us, if we knew that we were welcome in any home and to find sustenance at any fire.” This gate is also about our hopes of fulfilling our gifts and potential, and being recognised for them, and our desire for a sense of oneness with all life, not just human. We need to recognise how far from this most modern life has moved.

The fifth gate is ancestral grief: I share his view that most of us carry unresolved traumas of many kinds from the generations before us, who rarely had the time and skills to resolve them. This is an extra weight that many of us carry, but at least recognising it is a first step to discharging it.

Weller regards ritual as a vital element in processing grief: he gives good examples of how this was used in different ways in tribal societies, and how we can use it in our modern times. He sees the crucial dynamics in ritual as being to provide both containment and release, and ‘making the repressed visible’.

If grief was a country, you could say that this book is an excellent guide to its heartlands, to what they contain, and how to access them. But even with a good guide like this, I feel it needs a lot of strength and courage to journey into these heartlands. In some of my groups, I explore the frontiers of this terrain, using processes like The Work that Reconnects, which provides a contained way to start feeling our grief, rather than a complete plunge into the depths. If this topic interests you, this book gives you an excellent sense of different ways to start your journey, and what that journey may entail.

 Posted by at 2:48 pm

Soul Resilience Retreat

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Sep 022021
 

How your core self can help you grow through storms

Feb 25-27, 2022 at Hazel Hill Wood near Salisbury
With Alan Heeks and Jane Sanders

As life gets more turbulent, we need to go higher and dig deeper to find a quantum step up in our resilience. This retreat is a chance to explore how the deep wisdom of your soul can help you to stay centred and positive, and clarify your purpose: why your soul has chosen to be here in a time of huge change.

The intention for this retreat is to create a safe space for shared exploration, with guided processes, sharing time, and solo space to reflect, rest, and draw insights from Nature. The ingredients will include:

  • Finding your own sense of your soul, and creating a dialogue.
  • Ways to deepen soul connection, including calling on a guide, Nature immersion, sacred chants, soul groups and anima mundi (Gaia).
  • Helping soul and body to cohabit, and create shared resilience.
  • Why am I here? Find your soul’s view on how to live with and grow through climate crisis.
  • Nourishing the soul, individually and collectively, as a key to everyday resilience.

Alan Heeks has been exploring resilience, climate responses, and the soul’s journey for many years. He is a widely experienced group and retreat leader. See www.naturalhappiness.net.

Jane Sanders has over 25 years’ experience in working with a mindfulness-based approach to wellbeing with groups and individuals, and draws on ecospirituality, deep ecology and Nature immersion.

Hazel Hill: is a magical 70-acre conservation woodland and retreat centre, 7 miles from Salisbury. It has simple, yet beautifully crafted off-grid wooden buildings with lovely indoor and outdoor group spaces, heated bedrooms and sleeping lofts (or camping), good hot showers and compost loos. See more about the wood at www.hazelhill.org.uk.

Practicalities:

Start time: 4pm on Friday February 25, finishing after lunch at 2pm on Sunday February 27.
Price: To be confirmed.
Booking: If you would like to reserve a provisional place, please contact Alan on data@workingvision.com or 07976 602787.

 Posted by at 2:02 pm

An introduction to Soul Resilience

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Sep 012021
 

If you hope to thrive and grow through your life, not just cope and survive, how will you do this in the stormier times we can see ahead of us? It needs a quantum step up in resilience, and that’s what Soul Resilience could offer you.

Exploring the soul’s journey is one of the best ways I’ve found to navigate my rising anxiety and bewilderment in the last few years. Try sharing my belief that the soul is a piece of wise essence in each of us, whose journey may last thousands of years, and which chooses each human incarnation it comes into.

This belief offers a radical and positive twist in the way you view your current situation. Instead of feeling you’re a victim of random challenging events, try asking your soul, Why am I here? In other words, dialogue with your soul about why it chose this life you’re in, and what it wants to learn, experience, or do in its time here on Earth with you.

You may ask, why would a soul choose a life with severe covid, or as a refugee? The best answer I can offer is this: I believe there are many more dimensions or aspects to life than the few we perceive, and from a bigger, soul perspective, there can be positive reasons. Viktor Frankl’s time in concentration camps is one example of how love can grow in awful situations.

The idea of choosing to come into a time of crisis may be a hard one to accept, but I invite you to explore it. On my new website www.soulresilience.net, you’ll find more resources to help you explore the soul’s journey and start a dialogue with your soul.

What I’ve learned from asking my soul these questions is that my soul is curious, and wants to experience how it is to live in a time of upheaval and dissolution. It doesn’t expect us to save the situation, but it wants to learn how to stay centred and positive in an alarming era, and how to be loving and supportive to people and the planet when it’s tempting to be self-centred and focus on survival.

I’ve also found that dialogue with my soul can give me lots of practical resilience advice: for example, how much to limit my intake of bad news, how to process difficult feelings like alarm, and how to balance them with gratitude and trust.

In the past couple of years, I’ve been involved in group exploration of these topics, and I’ve found that there’s a lot of mutual support and wisdom to be found collectively. If this might interest you, see the Groups section of my new website.

 Posted by at 4:35 pm

Climate alarm? Learning to live with it

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Aug 262021
 

The IPCC report this week on the climate crisis has left me alarmed and unsettled, maybe you too. I’m writing this blog for myself as much as anyone, as part of my long-running search for ways to live with this. There are plenty of good processes out there, and many of us have been using them for a while. However, I keep feeling that it’s like baling out a sinking boat with a teaspoon: my raw emotions are flooding in much faster than I can process them out.

Why is this? We’re now in a climate crisis which really is threatening our survival, the stability of our societies and our individual wellbeing. So floods of raw emotion could well be seen as a healthy, functional response to the current facts.

I also suspect that the emotional impact on us is aggravated by the pandemic. At root, humans are social animals: we need in-person eye contact, smiles, hugs, companionship, to nourish our sense of safety, and in an alarm we need to gather in groups to gain understanding, support, and a view on how to respond. We’re all in deficit for such contact because of covid, and still limited on what’s possible.

For millennia, in a crisis people would gather in circles on the land

One of the ways I try to meet a challenge is to look for the gift in the problem. Where are the upsides in the current climate crisis? One is that it’s getting very hard to deny that we’re in a climate emergency caused by human activity. So we’re all in this together. Another is that it’s affecting lives across the world, and clearly the crisis is here, now, not elsewhere or in the future. These views are confirmed by recent UK research from Climate Outreach, see my blog on it here.

Beyond these basics, the picture gets muddier. We can see that many people can’t live with the alarming realities of the climate crisis: even if they don’t take refuge in denial, many will go to despair or apathy, feeling there’s no way out. All too understandable.

So where to turn? Deep Adaptation is in my view one of the best guides in this bewilderment: see my overview blog here. I agree with Jem Bendell that the first step is to accept, learn to live with, and grow through, all the big emotions this crisis stirs up: fear, overwhelm, despair and more.

In Jem’s view and mine, one of the best processes to do this is one from Joanna Macy, known as the Work that Reconnects, or deep ecology: see my overview writeup here. But there’s a catch: the key to this process is having your feelings witnessed and validated by others. Not easy to arrange these days!

So, back to the gift in the problem. The best I’ve come up with so far is these steps:

  1. Self-care: Accept how alarming this situation is, and love the parts of you that feel panicky, that want to hide in a cave or find someone to make it right for them. Give time to support yourself in whatever ways work for you, e.g. time in Nature, prayer, rest, singing, creativity.
  2. Mutual care: Find chances for mutual support wherever you can. Take a risk, look for this in social settings, or people you don’t know well, as well as close contacts. Recently I was chatting with an acquaintance, who suddenly said, “My wife and I just admitted to each other we’re terrified about the climate crisis.” That helped me hugely.
  3. Practical steps: Resilience research shows that it helps us when we take action, and support others. Recently I’ve been drafting a short briefing on practical local steps we can all take as climate responses: you can see the current draft here. Comments welcome! I’m planning to use this in various ways in my local community, including a briefing event for Great Big Green Week in September.
  4. Communing with Nature: Clearly the natural world is in crisis as much as the human one, and seeing them as a unity will help. For deep insights on this, see Thomas Berry. I’m finding a sense of mutual support by meditating outdoors, in my garden or elsewhere. Just as trees handle storms by deepening their roots, we can do the same see more on my website: naturalhappiness.net. And if you believe (as I do) that there is some divine power as well as material reality, pray that we’re all guided through this, and that suffering is relieved for all forms of life.
  5. Love and disruption: Turbulence and glitches in daily life are already rising, and the risk of bigger disruptions is rising too. We can’t stop these, so we need to find a better response. I recommend a blog by Jem Bendell, called The Love in Deep Adaptation. It’s a deeply-considered call for us to move beyond alarm and self-centredness, to meet others (and ourselves) with love and compassion. This, surely, is the gift in the climate emergency we’re having to live with.
 Posted by at 9:13 am

Learning to Unlearn

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Aug 262021
 

Yes, it’s a paradox, but our ways of thinking, our habitual responses, are so deeply set that a deliberate effort of unlearning is needed if we want to see things as they are, and be able to find a fresh response.

I’ve been exploring Sufi teachings for over thirty years, and they’re a great aid in unlearning. One of the early books that inspired me was The Last Barrier, by Reshad Feild. It’s a moving, personal tale of his search for a Sufi teacher.

Reshad’s teacher is tricksy, elusive, constantly forcing him to unlearn, to live with ignorance. The teacher at one point actually tells him, “the purpose of the Path is to bring a man to the point of bewilderment.” Although the book was published in 1976, it’s very relevant in the current crises.

Another body of Sufi wisdom is poetry. Dip into Rumi, Hafiz, Shabistari, and you’re constantly opened up by paradox and insights that feel totally fresh, even though they date from the thirteenth century. For example:

Penetrate the heart of one drop of water 

You’ll be flooded by a hundred pure oceans

The limbs of a fly are like an elephant.

A hundred harvests reside in a germ of barley seed

Cosmic rays lie hidden in the pupil of my eye,

and somehow the centre of my heart

accommodates the Pulse of the Universe

— (Shabistari, translated in Desert Wisdom, N.Douglas-Klotz)

If you want a way to explore the subtleties of Sufi wisdom, The Sufi Book of Life, by Neil Douglas-Klotz is a good start. On page 84, he comments on unlearning, and offers a sound mantra which can help you be open to flashes of insight, “states of grace”.

So much of our upbringing and education tells us we ought to know, we should be on top of the situation. Whereas real life, in ever more forceful ways, is bringing us to the point of bewilderment, and hopefully teaching us to accept the state of not knowing.

 Posted by at 9:16 am

Meaning, Purpose, Connection: what does inspiration mean to you?

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Aug 262021
 

The literal meaning of inspire is to draw in spirit, from the Latin spiritus, signifying both breath and a bigger connection. I know the word spiritual is hard for some people, so replace it with inspirational if you prefer. I’m using it because I believe that spiritual aspects of life and resilience will become more vital for most of us in the years ahead as turbulence grows. I’ve chosen three qualities which inspire me and lift my spirits:

  • Meaning: our sense of meaning in our own life, and the world in general, is badly eroded by the power of fake news and social media. To find meaning, we have to use our intention and seek it at a higher, non-material level: and this includes the meaning of difficulties, worries, setbacks.
  • Purpose: in a market economy, it’s sadly understandable that we’re constantly exposed to messages persuading us that we and our lives are pointless unless we buy Brand X. The best antidote is to find a higher purpose, one which inspires you and serves more than material and personal needs.
  • Connection: consider how your ways of connecting have changed in recent years and even more since covid: more online shopping and messaging, and less face-to-face contacts. Probably your life is more full of technical connections, information, stuff, but fewer connections with people, Nature, purpose and meaning.  A main part of my spiritual life is  feeling the connections between life of all kinds, a sense of fellowship which I find very nourishing and meaningful.

William Bloom is one of the best UK teachers in this field. His books include The Power of Modern Spirituality. In 2015 he started an educational charity, Spiritual Companions Trust, which now has the first fully accredited UK course in this area: a Diploma in practical spirituality and wellness. The website lists a number of resources, with some useful videos and a booklist. See more at www.spiritualcompanions.org.

William believes, as I do, that one’s spiritual beliefs need not connect with organised religion or with belief in a deity. He describes three behaviours at the heart of all spiritual paths, whether or not these fit within a named tradition:

  • Connection – with the wonder and energy of life.
  • Reflection – on one’s life and actions, and how to change and improve.
  • Service – a clear sense of what is right and what is wrong, and acting so as to do good for others.

If you’d like to explore inspiration and the spiritual dimension of resilience, here are sources which have helped me:

  1. Nature connection: this is much more than feeling good in greenery. Try feeling at one with the vitality and wisdom in all life, including all of Nature. Imagine there’s a creative desire we share, which can guide us through the climate crisis.
  2. Woodland wisdom and stewardship: there’s a special depth to the connection humans can find with threes and forests. I’ve found this most at Hazel Hill Wood, the conservation and retreat centre I founded. Stewardship is the idea that humans are here to care for and co-create with Nature, not exploit it, and this is a big inspiration for me.
  3. Sufi wisdom: this has helped my sense of purpose and resilience for many years. Its core is seeing divinity in all forms of life, and keeping an open-hearted approach. You can learn more at another of my websites, living-organically.com.
  4. Dreams and myth: American eco-philosopher Thomas Berry highlights the importance of dreams (visions of hope), and of changing our myths or prevailing beliefs. He highlights the amazing creative wisdom of Gaia, Planet Earth, in evolving through repeated crises, and the need for humans to connect with this. See more at thomasberry.org.
  5. Deep ecology: a process created by Joanna Macy, drawing from Native American and Buddhist sources. She believes that most people are pushed into denial and inertia because they can’t process their pain and despair about the state of the Earth. Deep ecology is a powerful way to do this, and involves the support of a group as a key element.

Clearing our negative feelings enables us to find inspiration and a positive vision to engage with the troubles of our times. See more at www.workthatreconnects.org.

Meaning, purpose and connection are more a direction of travel than a destination we reach. They can help our journey through life to be one of discovery and service, even in these turbulent years.

 Posted by at 9:19 am

Deep Adaptation and climate change: An intro to the work of Jem Bendell

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Aug 262021
 

Back in 2018, the sense of urgency about the climate crisis rose sharply, helped by several key voices, including Greta Thunberg, and Professor Jem Bendell. Whilst he strongly supports all efforts to reduce climate change, he cites extensive scientific evidence that it is too late to avoid serious worsening. Jem uses the term Deep Adaptation as a focus for facing and adapting to the major climate and related challenges of the coming years: I agree with his view that we need to find responses which go well beyond resilience in the way it is mostly understood.

Deep Adaptation has attracted widespread support and involvement, and  pushback, some of this from within the environmental movement. Jem’s work highlights the argument between giving people the bad news and alarming outlook full force, or softening the message to avoid turnoff. Both sides in this argument cite experience and psychological research that supports their view. It’s not a debate that can be resolved, but it highlights a key factor: that emotional responses, not factual information, are what limit many people’s engagement with the issue.

As of 2021, Deep Adaptation is best summed up as a large informal network and body of resources (blogs, videos, etc.) which have grown around Jem’s original paper published in 2018. This blog offers my view of the main elements of DA. You can get a good overview and entry routes at www.deepadaptation.info. To see Jem’s updated version of his original 30-page paper, click here.

One of the many things I value in Jem’s approach is that he acknowledges the deep emotional and spiritual impacts of facing a bleak outlook, and points to ways to process these impacts, including faith, and “a vision of people sharing compassion, love and play.” Having led various groups on Deep Adaptation, I support the view that the first step in engaging with the climate crisis is to face and work through emotional responses, which may include fear, grief, bewilderment, and despair.

I share Jem’s belief that one of the best ways to process these feelings is the Work that Reconnects, initiated by Joanna Macy. Having space to voice your emotions in a supportive group, and have them witnessed, is an alchemical step that enables people to move forward whilst living with their feelings, and I’ve seen it work repeatedly. For my summary of Joanna’s process, click here.

A distinctive part of Jem’s outlook is his belief that societal breakdown is likely in many countries including the UK within the next ten years. The most probable trigger for this is global food shortages. He shares the view of many experts that a Multi Bread Basket Failure is possible anytime from now: this means major crop failure in the same year for the few countries and staples most world population depend on.

Jem’s expectation of societal collapse puts him at the pessimistic end of the climate experts I’m aware of. At the 2019 Findhorn climate change conference (see my blog here), I asked some of these other experts for their view, such as Jonathan Porritt, Vandana Shiva and Charles Eisenstein: they don’t think societal breakdown is likely. My view is that there will be turmoil in many countries, and huge stress on western Europe from refugees, as well as food shortages. I’d hope that the UK can organise food rationing and maintain societal stability: but this will need a lot of preparation. I have commissioned research on how UK food growing can adapt, see research report here. I am also leading pilot work on raising food security in my hometown of Bridport, and we are happy to share what we learn: see more here.

Overall, DA has two major, related strands:

  • Inner adaptation: exploring the emotional, psychological, and spiritual implications of living in a time when societal disruption/collapse is likely, inevitable, or already happening.
  • Outer adaptation: working on practical measures to support wellbeing, ahead of and during collapse (e.g. regenerative living, community-building, policy activism).

One of the most widely used DA frameworks is the 4R’s, summed up here using some quotes from Jem’s original paper:

  • Resilience: recognising what we most want to keep, and skills to do so, including how to handle deep emotions such as fear and grief. Facing the emotional impacts enables us to act more clearly and coherently.
  • Relinquishment: This “involves people and communities letting go of certain assets behaviours and beliefs where retaining them could make matters worse.  Examples include withdrawing from coastlines… or giving up expectations for certain types of consumption”. We need to make voluntary choices where we can.
  • Restoration: This “involves people and communities rediscovering attitudes and approaches to life and organisation that our hydrocarbon-fuelled civilisation eroded.” For example, the mutual support of local communities.
  • Reconciliation: “With what and whom shall we make peace as we awaken to our mutual mortality?” This recognises that the pressures ahead may intensify polarities, extremism, scapegoating, and we need to get beyond them.

The Deep Adaptation approach has attracted widespread support and participation: you can get a flavour of this at the Deep Adaptation Forum here. It has also attracted criticism from various quarters. You can see a good response to this in the article in Deep Ecologist by Naresh Giangrande, who is a Deep Adaptation Advocate, and was previously a leading figure in the Transition Network: see article here. Jem has published a recent blog with his response, and introducing the updated version of the original paper: see more here.

If you start exploring Deep Adaptation online, you can soon feel overwhelmed. So here are a couple of suggestions on where to start.

  • This recent blog by Jem gives an overview in a few paragraphs of how DA has evolved, plus a listing of his blogs, in categories, with links: click here.
  • The Love in Deep Adaptation: a really well-considered piece about the huge focus in Western culture on individual needs and control, and how deep adaptation and rising uncontrollability offers the potential for a return to compassion, curiosity, respect, and love: click here.
  • Notes on Hunger and Collapse: a useful overview of the limited info currently available on food impacts of climate change, plus references: click here.

For a short, 14-minute video of Jem giving the essence of Deep Adaptation, click here; for a fuller, 44-minute version click here. If you want to go deeper into Deep Adaptation, and get actively involved, you can find out more at www.deepadaptation.info, and you can also join the Deep Adaptation Forums, including Food & Agriculture, Community Action, and more. You can also contribute to the discussion on Facebook: www.facebook.com/groups/deepadaptation. Jem and Rupert Read have co-edited a book, due out in May 2021, titled Deep Adaptation: Navigating the Realities of Climate Chaos, with a range of impressive contributors, which should provide a good overview of this complex and controversial field.

 Posted by at 9:21 am

From Before to Beyond: exploring the soul’s journey

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Aug 262021
 

Life is getting more changeable for most of us.  Many of us these days have to face mortality more directly: perhaps because of our own health, or the passing of a friend or family member.  Sufi teachings and other traditions urge us to face our dying to enrich our living: by getting through fears and denial, we can reach a view of death as a positive transition, and our soul can help us in this process. Exploring the soul’s journey was a weekend retreat on these themes, which I co-led with Jilani Cordelia Prescott in 2015.

One of our reasons for organising this event was a hunch that exploring these topics would be helped by the collective concentration and support of a group, and by having a whole weekend to explore deeply, with a mix of group and solo time, and two nights to sleep and dream.

It can be illuminating to imagine that we have a soul which exists before us and chooses this human lifetime, and the family we’re born into, to provide experiences and learning which it needs.  Believing that the challenges in our life have a positive purpose has helped me hugely, and stops me feeling like a victim of circumstances.  However, finding the positive aspect can be tricky!  The retreat offered various ways to help us to listen to our soul, and seek its guidance on questions about our life, death and beyond.

Before the weekend, we shared a number of questions we hoped to explore, so that the soul and intuition would already be engaged with them. Does some part of us have a life of its own, before and after our time in a human body?  If we call this our soul, why did it choose to experience life through us?  Can it give us some guidance, for this life and beyond?  How can we hear its voice?  Our aim was not to prescribe answers, nor to assume we all shared the same beliefs, but to share teachings and processes, and create a safe space for each person to explore their own answers.

One of our main sources for this weekend was the book ‘The Soul’s Journey’ by Hazrat Inayat Khan, a leading Sufi teacher in the early twentieth century.  He believes that each soul chooses its human life, and is guided by departed souls and angels.  He says that “ignorance of the self gives the fear of death”, and the antidote is to identify more with the soul than the body.  One benefit of drawing on Sufi teachings is that they are un-dogmatic, centred on open-heartedness and a sense of divine unity in all life: so they can fit alongside many other spiritual teachings.

Another main source was the work of Neil Douglas Klotz, who has explored the deeper truth of Christian and other teachings by re-translating them from the original languages.  This often adds great depth of meaning compared to traditional translations.  See more at www.abwoon.org.

Here’s an example of Jesus’s teachings on this topic: “unless a human being returns to that sameness with the cosmos that feels like death – the dark, moist place of birthing, the place where only flow and animating spirit, only water and breathing, exist – that person cannot enter the reign of unity, the “I can” of the cosmos…”  This is Neil’s rendering of John 3:15, in the King James ‘Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God”.

The retreat proved to be a powerful, illuminating experience for all of us, with a lot of depth and tenderness. This was partly because mortality was a live, current issue for most of those who came: several had recently been closely involved in supporting a parent or friend who had died, and others were facing that situation in the near future. The level of trust and mutual care which evolved in the group from early on was remarkable, and there was a strong sense of collective wisdom, where we learned from each other, and the atmosphere in the group took us further.

 Posted by at 9:24 am

Learning from extremes: hospices

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Aug 262021
 

In my exploration of resilience, I’ve become interested in what we can learn where this quality is tested to an extreme. Death is a pretty severe test of resilience, not only for the person dying, but for family and professionals, and my research with hospices has been fascinating.

Seeding our Future’s groups on Nourishing the Front Line, aiming to build resilience for health and care workers, has brought me into contact with staff from several hospices. I’ve also learnt a lot from the book The Art of Dying by Peter and Elizabeth Fenwick, which draws on large-scale, structured research with hospices.

My early management training means that I still risk slipping into simplistic problem-solution mode in tough situations. I’ve been impressed at the very different, organic resilience which hospice staff bring to their work. It felt like a continually evolving response, guided by observation not prejudgement.

I was touched by the huge compassion and tolerance which hospice professionals have for their patients and their families. Clearly, this situation brings up intense fear, denial, guilt and many other strong feelings. The key response by staff is what several of them called ‘simple presence’: witnessing feelings with respect and sympathy. One told me, “we always say to student nurses, focus on what you can do, not what you can’t do. It’s the sensitive little things that make a difference.”

Another topic that fascinates me about hospices is how staff sustain their resilience when facing such emotional demands almost continually. It seems that the quality of community and mutual care among staff is central to this: one nurse told me how they will juggle rotas to relieve someone who’s exhausted by an abrasive patients.

Maintaining your emotional boundaries is also key, for example, with the Green Door image: “Your patient can only come so far: beyond that you need to protect yourself.” But I was glad to hear that staff do express their feelings: to each other, when it’s safe. And one nurse said, “we sometimes drive home in tears. We have huge expectations placed on us, and we know we’ll never meet them all.”

An explicit part of resilience in hospices is the spiritual dimension. One chaplain talked to me about ‘centering prayer’ and mindful silence, as practices which could help with staff, patients and families. And it was clear that some deaths are uplifting to be with: where patients reach a calm place about passing over, and feel a contact with loved ones in the afterlife. The Art of Dying confirms that these experiences are quite common.

I believe one reason why hospice staff are resilient is that facing death can help us all value each moment of our life more fully. This was born out on a recent retreat I co-led, Exploring the Soul’s Journey, where we invited our group to try this, and saw how it helped.

 Posted by at 9:25 am

Enriching your life through the soul’s voice

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Aug 262021
 

Although I’ve led many groups and retreats, a recent weekend was one of the edgiest: on the theme Exploring the Soul’s Journey.  My co-leader Cordelia and I both felt nervous about helping people to contact their souls for guidance about good living, good dying, and what my lie beyond.

Our weekend at The Abbey, near Oxford, was a deep, illuminating shared journey for all of us.  Cordelia and I began it by emphasising that we did not offer answers on these delicate questions, merely teachings and processes which might be helpful.  It was clear that a collective journey in a smallish group (fifteen people) enabled all of us to gain insights which took us beyond where we could reach individually, many of them from the experience of others in the group.

One factor in this was our use of Dances of Universal Peace, a form of moving mediation using sacred chants.  Over the past three years, Cordelia and I have led a range of groups where we have successfully used these Dances to enable a group to build trust, and deepen their connection to spiritual guidance in some way.

Dance, walking, meditation and sound mantras all proved peaceful ways to move people beyond everyday awareness and into a profound conversation with their soul.  We explored the idea that the soul is a ray of divinity which chooses a particular human life for its own growth, and which continues its own growth, and which continues its life beyond this human one.

All of us made deeper contact with our soul in some way, and found rich guidance from this.  A common message was to slow down, do less, and enjoy every moment of being in a body, with all its scope for sensual delight.  Several people struggling to care for frail, demanding parents saw ways that this served their own soul’s growth.

Cordelia and I did a lot of research for this group, and found some excellent books.  One which was much appreciated is Testimony of Light by Helen Greaves: dictated to her by a dead friend, offering a detailed and affirming account of the afterlife.  Her experience after death is “life separated by density-that is all!”  She finds that one can only understand one’s human life after it: “our ‘inner eyes’ are opened… to the errors of our old patterns… We are allowed to progress into such experiences as will help us put right these errors.” Click here for my blog on the book.

One aim of this weekend was to face our fears and prejudices around death, and explore it as a passing over for our soul.  The conversations with our souls certainly helped this, as did some touching accounts from several of the group of deaths they had been present at.  These are supported by research showing that many people find more peace as they approach physical death, and feel themselves being welcomed and helped by souls from the other side.

The Abbey, Sutton Courtenay
 Posted by at 9:33 am