I met a young man on the Camino last week who said to me he had accidently become enlightened after sleeping on the beach and watching the sun rise; he had become immediately aware of the interconnectedness of all things; the Oneness that Is. His shining eyes and open heart were beautiful to observe. “Where does that leave you?” I asked him; “who are you and who am I, if we are all One?”. He smiled “I don’t think it matters” and I knew what he meant; out there on the pilgrimage trail it didn’t seem to matter at all. I was experiencing that same feeling of the Path being both within and without; the distinctions between myself and the vagrants and strays and the students and the addicts and the devote and the escapists seemed to be thin veils indeed.
The evening times in the albergues were telling, mind you. When the wilderness distilled into shared space. Signs everywhere in multiple languages badly translated by Google reminding us to wash up, clean up, clear away, be respectful, keep quiet, lights out; the signs themselves told stories of where conflicting needs had overlapped and clashed. Stories of selfishness, stories of inconsiderateness, stories of neediness and of martrydom in the face of others washing up left undone. And for those of us who wanted to fall asleep at 8pm there were always those who went out for a late meal and several drinks who came in at curfew and talked and put the light on to find their beds. Some of us needed darkness and some needed light. Some needed silence and some needed sound.
And, in those moments… we were not all One at all! We were individuals jostling to meet our own needs. In that confined space the potential for conflict was heightened; and of course most of us too polite or fearful to speak out… the conflict went within and became resentment.
I am sure that many will understand how this small experience of rubbing along with strangers translates into a metaphor for Life itself. When there is space and peace and openness in the field then there is plenty of scope for both a sense of self and of oneness. But when we enter into the close relational field then our needs are in constant dance with those around us.
What is a “boundary” but where two or more people’s needs meet? Do we have a right to assert what we “need” at the expense of others? Or is the issue that we don’t always discern what is a need, and what we want?
In my funeral work I often find myself immersed in a family and social field of conflicting needs; much conflict can arise in families after a death (sometimes the family is unified by the experience so I hope to not make generalisations); it is very common for conflict to arise about the style of the funeral and whose needs it meets? The parents? The children? The deceased? The living?
Grief simultaneously blows us wide open and takes us deep within. It is a void (that is full); the bereaved by the nature of their loss become the ones with the needs but the separateness of our society; the demise of community; means that often an individual or family can be alone with their grief; each vying for their needs to be met and with nothing to give to meet the needs of others around them.
The remedy is to give space and time to the grieving process. To broker space for individuals to explore their own process while continuing to hold collective space for sharing and connection. This does not happen without community around us. The circles within circles. And this is the Work – both to acknowledge the void and to build what is needed: circles of support that are 1, 2 and 3 stages removed from the raw wound who just can provide the practical, emotional and spiritual support to those most affected.
Why wait until death? Surely we need these circles of support around us at all times? It doesn’t mean that we have to be in constant company with others – solitude is such a vital and healing space. It means though that we do not put the responsibility for meeting our needs onto others; and certainly not onto just one or two. The responsibility for meeting our needs has to begin and end with ourselves; it’s OK to ask for our needs but we have to be prepared to accept that someone unable to get their own needs met will not be able to honour our request. Such is the dance.
(The inspiration for these blogs comes from the Red Tent End of Life Doula Prep student call and the conversations that arise in them; food for thought; if you are interested in joining our growing community then please check out our website and facebook page and drop us a line)