Reflections on loss

Reflections on loss

Photograph © Juliet Fay San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge 5.30pm Thursday 19 March 2020

Author’s note: I’m now safely back in the UK, and in a period of 14 days of self-isolation, though feeling fine.

As is I sit at Gate 6 tonight waiting to board one of the few flights departing San Francisco, bound for London, the mood is subdued. It’s a ghost town.

The lack of tannoy announcements emphasises just how severe the curtailment of air travel has been in so very few days. A shadow of its former self, the daily commute over San Francisco bridge had melted away.

At the airport, face masks and gloves are common on staff and passengers. A little more distance is offered and sought. The much loved hum of a busy transport hub is eerily absent.

Tears today as I leave my love in California, not knowing when we’ll see each other again. Wanting to stay yet knowing it’s time to go (while it’s still possible).

Feeling such gratitude for all the unseen hands that made this journey possible: the gentle telephone operator at British Airways, the staff at the airport and the crews who are taking so many of us home.

Suddenly so many in the frontline are becoming visible to us all

Yesterday my 16 year old daughter called me, in shock at the announcement of school closure and the sudden cancellation of the summer exams.

Something she, and many like her, sitting milestone exams have focused on for many months. She was in a turmoil, as were her friends. The future they’ve imagined dissolved by the utterance of a few words carried on the airwaves from a distant seat of government, just one of the myriad responses to a threat we cannot see.

It reminded me of when I lost my father suddenly 20 years ago. ‘Your father has died’; four small words whispered into my just waking ear, and my world spun, dissolved and I lost two weeks as my mind tried to catch up with the new reality that didn’t include my Dad.

I’m struck by how we are collectively reeling from loss upon loss, as the world we know transforms before our eyes. And this will continue. We are losing loved ones, mobility, function, jobs, routines, pay packets, income, contracts, goals, freedoms, trips, hugs, closeness, autonomy; we are losing our certainties and the security of our imagined futures.

And this can feel scary, like being in free-fall

And you begin to see that loss is a universal human experience from the seemingly minor; losing keys to what we consider major losses, like redundancy and bereavement. The emotions we feel at times of loss can be heightened, contradictory and obey no rhyme or reason.

Feelings of shock, disbelief, numbness, anger, despair, frustration, black humour, hopelessness and profound, heart wrenching sadness tumble through in no particular order. We catch our breath at the force of the waves of emotion crashing under our ribs.

And I am seeing anew the wisdom of our body mind system in the face of what can feel like a ceaseless battery of loss.

When our minds shut down, it is wisdom gently and beautifully saying ‘enough’ with trying to think your way through this. You can’t.

The body wisdom takes over to give your poor system a much needed breather. When tears fall at the security gate, the body is releasing pent up emotion that wants only to wash through. When the noise of unexpectedly ‘at home’, arguing children feels unbearable and you get propelled outside to breathe the cool night air, that is wisdom nudging you to minimise harm in the moment and give you a mini refresh.

When tempers flare and fights break out over toilet rolls in the aisles, or cereal at breakfast time, that too is a kind of wisdom, the misdirected survival instinct grabbing onto what looks like it would bring some comfort and security in these times of blindly charting the unknown territory ahead. The power surging through our systems, reminding us forcefully that we’re alive and being alive is a precious gift.

In some of the programmes I’ve delivered at a local mental health charity, loss is a recurring theme, but so too is renewal. As we adapt to living without the thing, function, person or imagined future we held so dear (and let’s admit, took for granted often), something gently beckons our attention.

It is the space that holds the loss. As we loosen our grip on the loss, our focal-length changes and the space comes into view. It is the space of the not yet known, the space of possibility, the space of infinite wisdom. The space where something new can flourish and grow.

And something new, always, always begins with a fresh thought

Throughout our lives, we have faced loss after loss and sometimes, without us even noticing that loss is transmuted into something achingly beautiful.

In the stinging freshness of raw loss, like lemon juice in a cut, we can’t conceive how this event could feel anything other than piercingly painful and yet, and yet our minds refresh our perspective again and again sometimes over years until one day, we think of the loss with gratitude and tenderness, as the kaleidoscope of experience is seen from the distance of months or years and its wondrous pattern is revealed.

And too, among the losses we think we cannot bear, we notice losses that leave us lighter of heart. Losing grudges, bitterness, jealousy, resentments, worrying, comparing, judging, criticising, competing, self-importance, fascination with our selves and being constantly offended or outraged. Finding the trivial and petty gently releasing its grip on us. These things lose their importance as the bigger picture comes into sharp relief.

And in their place we discover a new found kindness, compassion, humour, warmth and wonder spontaneously arising at this being human business.

And it gradually dawns on us we never did have control and our futures were never certain, we just told ourselves they were.

And while we have been going about our days, every day, millions have been experiencing loss and renewal over and over again. Because this is the nature of life.

These losses, the gentle falling away of beliefs, concepts and ideas that keep us grasping blindly for certainties that do not exist, these are the treasures. These are gifts. Like scales falling from our eyes, they enable us to feel our shared humanity, our intimate interconnectedness.

As our sense of separation recedes, the world can transform before our eyes

And transforming it is.

As the world’s foot eases back on the accelerator of intense human activity we notice losses we can marvel at: the loss of air pollution letting great swathes of urban populations breathe easier; the loss of noise pollution, as that background cacophony subsides, we notice birdsong and the sigh of wind in the trees; as the waterways of Venice are recovering from years of pollution, stories of sparkling clear water; as the rush of the commute grinds to a halt, couples, families, neighbours and communities are discovering each other, as if for the first time.

And as with any adjustment, at first it may be bumpy, but as we collectively re-set, we may uncover something extraordinarily beautiful in the ordinariness of just being, being alive, loving each other, helping each other, caring for the earth and all its creatures.

We are already seeing things that looked inconceivable just last week (some countries are ahead of others with this, but surely more will follow?): financial support for the vulnerable, sharing of resources more equitably, care for those who are scared, failing, lonely or sick. Businesses turning their resources towards the common good, people offering their skills, time, expertise or funds to help others.

A collective reset on what we value: the carers, the teachers, the healthcare workers, the trash collectors, the childcare providers, the farmers and growers, the volunteers, the millions of helpers who have always been there. And that’s just in the short term.

A volunteer working on our organic veg box scheme in the 1990s, wisely observed (having grown up in Chile):

‘the two most undervalued roles in the Western world are: raising children and growing food; yet they are fundamental to life’.

Volunteer Tony

Perhaps that is about to change.

Imagine what this upheaval and loss may open up in the longer term. New ways of working; new types of economies, new ways of caring for ourselves, each other and our planet.

Now at this time of accelerated loss, let’s collectively join hands in virtual solidarity as we open our hearts and eyes wide to the grief yes, but also to the unimaginable vastness of the unknown which has always been before us.

We like to make up certainties because we imagine that way safety lies. Those certainties obscure the fact that your next moment to moment experience is entirely unknown and up for grabs. Not what’s going to happen out there but what your ever changing experience is inside.

And change does not have to take years or be hard.

Innovation is the offspring of chaos

And what initiates innovation? Simply, a new thought that takes you not just to an adjustment but to an as yet unknown reality that can arrive in the mind of a person or a group in the blink of an eye.

And innovation creates its own momentum. Instead of seeing reasons why not, we begin to see possibilities we never imagined.

Now is not the time for timid steps, but for giant leaps of faith

As those certainties dissolve, we may discover in the midst of our grief, something extraordinary and yet so simple. Something we’ve always known.

Certainties are false idols

They do not provide the security we crave. That comes from within. From a deep knowing that we are intimately and intricately connected to all life. A knowing that what arises in us and through us comes from a far greater intelligence than we can comprehend.

A knowing that life is a mystery and that’s what makes it so profoundly awe inspiring. Knowing too that change is the only constant. Experience is life in motion. All the ups and downs, highs and lows, that’s what life is, a wild ride and we are asked simply to surrender to it.

Feeling the pull, following the thread of what our hearts know is true, grounds us into a quiet knowing, a knowing that ‘all shall be well, all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well’ (Julian of Norwich) even as we grip the rails for this white knuckle ride. When it neither looks nor feels okay.

As we begin to wonder at what powers us, and all life, we begin to see certainties are nothing more than a figment of our imagination. Let’s face it: sometimes things work out as we planned; mostly they don’t. In the end, there is nothing but this present moment.

The past has gone; the future will never happen. The present is all you can ever lose

As we reel from loss upon loss, take heart dear ones, open your heart to all of it: the outrageous grief, the disbelief, the dismay the howling hysterics as toddlers, teenagers and adults with jangled nerves throw tantrums right, left and centre and let those things course through you like the storms they are.

And as they subside, let your heart overflow with the unbearable tenderness of memories of loved ones, moments of raucous laughter, sunlight falling on the kitchen sink and inappropriate belly laughs that lighten the weight of fear.

And notice, just there, just out of focus is a sense of peace, amid the cacophony of unchained emotion. Look to it.

Know that all this is just the ride, not the essence of what we are. Take your time, be gentle, wrap yourself in love and more love; care for yourself as if you were indeed just getting over ‘the flu’.

As I sit, high above the clouds in an Airbus flying over Greenland, appreciating the magic and the mayhem of air travel (and wondering how the industry may evolve), I recall the lovely story of the Chinese farmer. This is how I remember it….

There was once a poor Chinese farmer who had a horse he used to plough his field. One day, the horse escaped and ran away. The farmers’ neighbours rushed round when they heard the news and said, ‘how terrible!’ The Chinese farmer replied,

“We’ll see”

The next day, the farmer heard the sound of hooves approaching. His horse had returned bringing with him a wild horse. The farmer opened the gate and in they came. When his neighbour’s heard about this great good fortune, they came rushing round to see the new horse. ‘How wonderful’, they said. The Chinese farmer replied,

“We’ll see”

The following day, the farmer’s son, excited by the arrival of the wild horse, decided to try and ride it. The horse bolted and the young man was thrown to the ground, breaking his leg in the fall. The neighbours, eager to commiserate at this terrible bad luck, came to visit saying, ‘how awful, what will you do?”. The Chinese farmer replied

“We’ll see”

The country was at war and the very next day the local recruiting officer arrived to conscript the young men from the village. The Chinese farmer’s son was not fit for duty and so they passed him over. The neighbours heard the news, and were eager to congratulate the farmer on his good fortune. But the Chinese farmer replied, you guessed it,

“We’ll see”

Wishing you all well at this time.

Love Juliet

Afterword: As I opened my front door after 24 hours of travel, I marvelled at how the inspiration to write this came through and occupied me on and off through the long, long journey, away from my love, towards home. The kindness of wisdom can be breathtaking. 

Poem: Hovering

Poem: Hovering

HOVERING

~ remain poised uncertainly in one place or between two states ~

Hovering
Shimmering
Dipping
Rising
Darting
Circling
Parting
Falling

Embracing
Awakening

Stumbling
Rising

Over and
Over again

 

© Juliet Fay 2018

Photo: https://www.pexels.com/photo/animal-avian-beak-birds-372634/

 

 

Three Principles Facilitator, writer & speaker on wellbeing, creativity and enterprise

Helping individuals, groups and teams find more resilience, ease and joy in life and work. Find out more

Freelance Facilitator for Llanelli Mind. Accredited Wellbeing Mentor Coach for Wellbeing Coach Certification training for Wisdom & Wellbeing Consultancy, London, UK

“If the only thing people learned was not to be afraid of their experience, that alone would change the world.”

Sydney Banks

Poem: spiral

Poem: spiral

It is the way of things
To start at the beginning
And return home
Again and again.

Journeying through
Spirals of unknowing.
Bumping up against
Lost parts of our experience

Like amputated limbs,
Ghostly presences, felt
In the body system
Unable to depart

***

At times the heart opens
Views the world
Through Love Goggles
Rosier by the day

***

Now and then the lost part
Cries out for recognition
And Fear Goggles
Turn the lights out.

Plunging the world into
Darkness, full of shadows
Perils at every turn
Waiting to consume us

***

The spiral turns again
Love rises embracing
The lost limb
Honouring its presence

Feeling its pain and
Desolation. Its
Howl of terror
Echoing through the night

***

The limb, the part, the belief
Illuminated for the first time
Shows its magnificence
The knight in shining armour

Always keeping you safe.
And now its work is done
We humbly thank and
Praise its tireless service

The iron grip releases
The lost part dissolves
Returns to source
For a happy retirement

***

In saying farewell
There is no triumph
Or victory song.
The spiral turns

A phantom emerged
Revealed and released
Who knows what more
Will come as the spiral

Turns and turns again.

© Juliet Fay 2018

While we continue to believe that parts of our experience (emotions) must be excluded, we will experience a painful dichotomy in our experience. It is this belief itself that needs to be loved and held and accepted as being present so that it too can dissolve and fall away.. Be seen for what it is …. a thought oft repeated that has become a belief and has guided and protected us until we no longer needed its guidance and protection. Humbly thank it and wish it farewell as it departs.

***

18 lessons from past creations

18 lessons from past creations

Six months ago, I published a prose piece, Leave Go on this blog (read the original at the end of this post). It marked a change of tone in my article writing, leaning more towards the poetic in style. Risky? Maybe. Yet the feedback suggested it touched people. Recently I felt stuck, uninspired. It occurred to me to take a gentle stroll through my past writing and I’m so glad I did.

A note on creativity: in case you think ‘creative output’ means art or poetry or prose. It doesn’t. Every time you bring something into form that didn’t previously exist, you create:

a meal, an Instagram post, a photo, an outfit you put together, a sketch, a song you sing, a spreadsheet you populate, a piece of code you write, a hairstyle you create, a picture you frame, a sand castle you build, a fire you lay, a flower bed you dig over, If it doesn’t ‘feel creative’ that is just the thought you’ve overlaid on to the act.

What might you re-visit?

Behind the scenes of this creative process

Here are 18, whimsical and practical, things I discovered on reviewing LEAVE GO:-

REFLECTION (BEING)

  1. The experience of reading the piece I wrote was a pleasant surprise. If you feel stuck or discouraged, remind yourself of past creative output. If it isn’t still in form (a cake, flower arrangement or beach art), perhaps look at photos, notes, sketches, or plans you made about the creation.
  2. It seemed incredible that the same ‘I’ created this piece of work because this ‘I’ wasn’t ‘feeling’ particularly creative. A great reminder of how unreliable, illusory and changeable any concept of I, me, my capacity, talents, creativity etc actually is. I.e. best disregarded as often as you can.
  3. Reading this piece took me straight back to the feeling I was in when I created it (and that was revitalising).
  4. Something created, captured and shared, is re-animated, every time someone looks at it, listens to it, watches it, shares it (and that includes you the creator of it). Why not relish what you spent time creating in the past.
  5. A fresh idea occurred to perform the poem (spoken word poetry) and record it (something I am just beginning to explore) and make a little video. INSPIRATION comes from contemplating the wonder and mystery of creation (ours, others’ and the natural world)

CREATIVE ACTION & LEARNING

  1. Acting on that inspiration led to action which was absorbing and enjoyable (my mood lifted without me actively trying to shift it) LEAVING OUR RUMINATING ALONE AS BEST WE CAN
  2. I found out some new functions on a free video app called SPLICE for smartphones (LEARNING)
  3. I had FUN!
  4. Out of that activity came a fresh new creation. First a written poem, now a performance piece. NOTICING CREATIVITY
  5. The possibility for many different creative spin offs to create other version of this work suddenly seems endlessly possible and fun. IF IT’S DIFFERENT, IT’S A NEW CREATION
  6. The joy of paying close attention to different aspects: each word, line length, layout of the poem, font. Then thinking about the performance: speed of delivery, loudness, variation of tone and speed, pitch, adding music or not, what kind? Images that could be filmed to go with the work. NOTICING THE TAP IS ON

SHARING (HELPING/TOUCHING OTHERS)

  1. By publishing it on Vimeo and Facebook, it gets the creation out of the ‘safe’ space of your studio, notebook or tablet and sets it free. CREATIONS ARE HAPPENING BY THEIR MILLIONS EVERY DAY, UNLIMITED SPACE AVAILABLE
  2. It changes form as soon as others hear/read/see/taste it and so it gets newly created each time it is heard CREATION IS DYNAMIC AND RE-CREATED AT EVERY MOMENT
  3. It has attracted fresh interest even though it was previously shared as a poem to many of the same audience. Note to self: Don’t be afraid to RE-PUBLISH/RE-POST, it gives more people the opportunity to connect with what you have created. LOOK CLOSELY, IT’S NOT THE SAME FOR THOSE WHO EXPERIENCE IT
  4. Heartfelt responses point you towards and encourage you to continue creating what helps people. This feedback gives you helpful pointers. FEEDBACK IS A GIFT
  5. Helpful guides can appear. A film-maker and fellow writer have offered really helpful feedback and tips on how to improve and how to spread the work more widely. GUIDANCE AND SUPPORT COME FROM UNEXPECTED PLACES
  6. Specific feedback, in this case on hearing the work rather than just reading it, encourages me to further explore e.g. spoken word performance. FEEDBACK IS A CHANCE TO LEARN

I’d love to hear what landed for you in this post and topics you’d like to explore further. Please add your comments.

And here is the creation: LEAVE GO © Juliet Fay 2018 written, performed and recorded by Juliet Fay with photo by Juliet Fay

LEAVE GO

For there, just out of sight, is a space where we don’t need to hold things so tightly.

Where there is nowhere to fall but into grace.

Where stories of self and others flutter like Autumn leaves, falling, falling to gently decompose as winter turns to Spring and emerge, transformed.

New shoots from the cold hard earth.

And in this ebb and flow of birth and death, of joy and sorrow, we hear another drum beat.

The deep longing expressing itself in sighs and belly laughs.

The longing to turn away from poring over the flotsam and jetsam on the shores of our awareness.

To wade out beyond our depth and dive into the ocean, down, down to the unexplored territory far below the pull of neap and spring tides.

And as we fall into that deep rest, life rises up, greets us and washes us back upon the shore.

To once again sigh and laugh
Rise and fall
Leave go and let this making and unmaking of Life unfold.

© Juliet Fay 2017

© Juliet Fay 2017

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