For Jo’s magnolias the summer has come too soon. The sun we celebrate so much has trespassed upon the final weeks of their gestation; they have been induced into a false spring before their time to bloom.
We love the sunshine don’t we? The light, the warmth, the fun, the joy, the uplifting and expanding energies of springtime touches that part of us that seeks to be warmed and inspired.
And then how as a society that translates into what we value in people; the collective “we” values the positive, the extrovert, the doing, the creation, the expansion, the light. People of that nature are celebrated.
This translates, perhaps, as a lower value being placed upon the inverse: the negative, the introvert, the being, the destruction, the contraction, the darkness. And people of that nature are… left alone.
Talking from personal experience of mental health breakdown the single greatest factor, I believe, in precipitating that whole being burn out what my lack of solitude. My inner switch was stuck on “out there” and even knowing I needed time alone was not enough to create it.
Referring earlier to people having a spring/summer or autumn/winter nature of course may I make wholly explicit: this is all of us, we have all of the cycles and seasons within.
What is coming up this week though is the dance, the relationship, between the gregarious light and the recumbent darkness. For those of us with the energy to uplift and inspire we could so easily trespass on the territory of those taking their own time in solitude; like the sun upon the magnolias, trying to bring them out too soon.
How do we find the balance between showing up as a friend without imposing our will of wellness on someone who is in a shadowy process; or even someone who is perfectly happy in their hibernation?
And what is healthy solitude and what is toxic isolation? Where is pain a process and where is pain unnecessary suffering? How easy it would be to misread the pain as suffering and interrupt the process.
Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional (Buddhism). How have we as a society lost our resilience in the face of pain pursuing the quick fix rather than working through the process. The labour that leads to birth. (Literally and metaphorically)
As people who care and are in deep service; how tempting it is to think that our role is be part of the alleviation of the suffering but in doing so we potentially trespass over the healthy process. A butterfly can not emerge from its caterpillar too soon.
When does solitude and introspection become unhealthy depression? How is depression toxic and addictive? The first response is that often it is the thought about the thought, the judgement of the judgement. Because we experience feeling less than positive and this is not valued by us or others as having worth we judge ourselves for feeling low.
We get depressed about being depressed.
The sacredness of solitude (which has choice and agency in it) becomes isolation. Isolation becomes toxic when we lose sense of perspective. The bondage of self is such that even if their were a will to find a way out; the way feels lost.
Depression is in itself (in my experience) addictive; its first dawning sensations feel attractive as it gives me permission to rest, permission to receive, permission to withdraw, permission to mourn, permission to feel sad about myself, permission to acknowledge what is not serving me. Ah the relief! It feels good to cry.
Then, like any addiction, it quickly escalates and compounds of itself. And becomes a trap of isolation. We don’t need to be alone to feel isolated, we can be alone in a crowd. Isolation is not about solitude, it is an internal state of being. A mental state; a spiritual disconnect.
So there are two key areas of inquiry arising from this discussion:
1 How can we as individuals start to uphold, value and even celebrate the autumn/winter within us so we can consciously enter our dark spaces without the internal judgements and self criticism that then leads to isolation?
2 How can we as companions respectfully approach the space of those we might love without trespassing upon their dark process with our light?
This is so important when we think about Death and Dying. Almost all people who do not die suddenly approach death with solitude and introspection (some don’t but most do). They are in the winter of their lives. How do we as End of Life doulas place ourselves and use our energy wisely to support them in that process rather than trying to “make it better”?
I read a blog post this week about women with borderline personality disorder in labour experience an adverse reaction to oxytocin, the love hormone and natural painkiller; in these women it creates the opposite, pain and disconnect. It just makes so much sense to think that there are many people, not just with BPD, who have an inverse relationship to what is commonly understood to be “positive” stimulus.
It would be that personality who when someone says “I love you” internally they say “no you don’t”; who when they get compliments feel worse about themself, for whom achievement leads to immediate disappointment.
And this led me to consider; as someone who would wish to express Love in this world; what Love really is?
Because to trespass upon such a personality with soft gazes, expressions of love and compliments is to trigger them into pain. What is love? If that is how that personality (whether within us or in another) receives even the best of our intentions then surely it would not be loving to persist.
Love comes in the allowing. It is what it is. Love is in the safety to BE exactly as we are and to not try to use Love to influence that person to feel better. Who are we trying to make feel better anyway?
Love is sitting at the boundary of that person in their dark process and letting them know we are there; but that that love is not conditional according to whether they respond to us or not. “I’m here… You are not alone”.
Love is in the circle, the community, that never forgets the person who has taken theirself into solitude and who trusts them and lets them go. Who celebrate their dark process of winter rather than bombarding them with light.
Love allows the magnolias to bloom; in their own time.
This blog post was inspired by the content of the weekly Zoom call for all participants of the Red Tent End of Life Doula Preparation. The details of the call are confidential but the content is shared with others in the spirit of our collective learning and growth.
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