Whenever someone challenges our valid sense of urgency we are compelled to repeat a litany of real and imagined aspects of the Enormity we all face. It’s as if to hear things are dire and, that for this very reason, we need to slow down; is just too much to bear. Anyone making this claim must just not be paying attention.
Let us not look at what happens to those who aren’t/haven’t been paying attention; to those who just might be swayed by another telling of how deep our woes. Let us look at what happens after we have assimilated, deeply – after a physical contact with loss triggering Grief. What happens then/now?
This question cannot be untangled from our relationship, or lack of one, with every form of loss, with death, and our relationship to grief. This question opens up an aspect of our predicament we haven’t looked into before. We often complain of being trapped in a culture of Death while simultaneously remaining desperate to avoid facing the reality of loss and death. A reality that is, seemingly paradoxically, our birth-right. After all, without death we would not be here.
We’ve looked at initiation a number of times over the years. We can understand that genuine initiation is a cultivated introduction to violence, loss, and death. A legacy a cultured society passes along to its young. In an initiation the soul of the individual changes as they confront a tangible experience of imminent, and sometimes very real, loss. Losses that stand for and rhyme with the loss of the illusions of childhood we are ready to leave behind.
Lacking a functional initiation – we live in a culture which has, for thousands of years, hijacked initiation rights, using their power as a tool of indoctrination to place youth into service of those who would rule over them and use them to exploit some other.
We have short-circuited our relationship with loss and death. We remain shy of Grief in all senses of that term. Instead we fall into grievance. Grievance drives our consumerist culture. It underpins the entire Edifice of Thought that has built-up since human tribes ran out of fresh frontiers and began to treat whoever they encountered as an other to be used.
Grievance drives winner-take-all competition and merciless exploitation. It established our habit of seeing all of life as a series of struggles to be negotiated. Re-reading this I can’t help but see Cain brandishing the jaw bone of an Ass seething in the wings…. This dynamic has brought us to a learned incapacity to recognize limits. It drives the current dynamic in which all politics has been reduced to a politics of grievance and counter-grievance to ensure that every possibility of finding a resolution is guaranteed to fail. In so doing we continue to re-enact a state of blocked futility in which a refusal to move on keeps us perpetually anxious and frustrated.
What are we unwilling, unable, to even imagine?
I would suggest it is the fact of death itself.
Why is our Nemesis coming in the form of Mega-Death and Grand Extinction?
Death is the Jungian shadow we refuse to recognize. As the Bible puts it, “We live in the Shadow of Death;” but we bounce off the very notion of recognizing death as valid. As in our dreams, even in nightmares, we expect to always re-awaken before we die; we expect this rule we’ve invented to keep us going no matter what. We bounce off of, slide past, just ignore the existence of death. Surround it with taboos and guard our defensiveness with the weight of countless assumptions and unspoken complicities.
Ever since I was eight years old, watching A Night To Remember on Saturday Night at the Movies with my mother – an event that recurred with the inevitability of network re-runs and developed into a life-long fascination with those four days and a night on an attempted Atlantic crossing. An event that took place when my father was eleven years old. – I’ve found in that story compelling imagery for an imaginative identification with those on board. As with every dramatization since, our dreams of Titanic rarely end with a slowly dawning realization that the water no longer feels cold. That “I” no longer seem preoccupied with staying afloat. That “I” can’t even remember how I got here…, and then nothing.
We always see our selves as survivors.
I’m suggesting that we radically investigate this dynamic.
Stephen Jenkinson’s work has provided an entry into this question, looking at the way a culture whose inmates have no relationship with death, their own or the deaths of anyone or anything else beyond maintaining an adamant refusal to recognize any intimate relationship with loss and death as cause for anything but a justification to pile on another grievance. His work provides a warning and describes a dynamic behind why we are trapped, stuck, incapable of imagining life as anything but a struggle, looking into how and why we are complicit in mass destruction just to keep this mask in place…, for just another moment longer….
How can we begin to conceive of life in relation to creation, to what-is, to everything; if we cannot relate to death?
When we begin to look at this question directly it begins to become apparent how so many of our tribulations, anxieties, fears, worries and concerns are stand-ins and proxies for this conversation we feel completely inadequate to enter into. We arrive at a moment of clarity accompanied by a joyful disillusionment arising as we finally let this question in.
Resorting to drama acts as a cover for our refusal to face an underlying source of conflict. We are left with a failure to imagine how an “opposing” side/force is equally part of a larger, inclusive whole – a way of beginning to recognize via metaphoric proxy that any whole we can imagine is made up of oppositions that resolve into greater wholes in a never-ending, always expanding, continuum finally disappearing from view over our horizon. – If falling into drama is a heuristic clue that we are stuck in a reaction of refusal, then how can we fail to see that our Enormity, this Ur Drama we have been born into and are immersed in, will not be resolved by our taking sides in further acts of opposition? Acts that enact a psychodrama. Acts that further perpetuate suffering while keeping us from facing what we have for so long refused to see.
If we allow ourselves to sit with this question, the fog of confusion and the dread of unacknowledged fear begins to dissolve.
What happens at this point?
We find that we are learning. Confronting loss. Grieving what we have lost/are losing/cannot avoid losing, in this moment of confrontation with the futility of our refusal to consider the question; we are changed.
This question of change has many faces:
Is change possible?
Can it be compelled?
Can we imagine how change might happen?
Can we change?
Opening ourselves to this question in all its aspects change is no longer opaque. We begin to see paradox as more than a cruel trick. We no longer confuse the double-bind for paradox.
Trapped in a double bind we lose. We always lose. We seek ways to compel a result. We throw Will at our problems and then compound our grievances when all we get as a result are more unintended consequences. We recoil from the dread of feeling trapped and with no way out. We then up the ante and repeat.
Facing paradox, we are liberated.
Even this is a question of facing and accepting the futility of our refusal to see the nature of what-is as paradoxical and then grieving over what we cannot change, we see that our refusal to let go of our cultural inheritance has perverted Grief into yet another grievance. At this moment we change.
Our predicament can be boiled down to a multiplicity of versions and enactments of this fundamental question, “Can we change?”
In our urgency we are compelled to amend this question, “Can we change soon enough?”
This is another short-circuit. This is precisely why we need to slow down. Not slow down so that we can spend more time confused and frightened. Slow down so we can appreciate and apprehend what it is we are up to.
Not what we are up against.
This may seem a subtle point, but it is crucial.
We are not up against death. We live and we die. – Jenkinson points out that our language lacks a tense, any grammar at all, within which we might express our relationship with death and put into words the way dying plays out.
If we can manage to set aside the seductive escape into drama we can find clarity and the possibility of coherence. There is no further bargaining, nothing left to haggle over. We begin to recognize that we don’t do any of this because it will be “good for us.” We don’t do anything because it will “save us.” We do what we do because we have begun to realize/recognize what it is to live.
What it means to be alive. Not in opposition to death, but alive within a broader context in which we step away from our illusions that life can be lived as a series of reactions carried out in opposition.
We recognize this, and simply live, humbly and in awe….