Every lamp holds a story of light.
Several days ago I co-facilitated a Death Cafe at the Kalein Hospice Society in Nelson. For those of you unaware of what a Death Cafe is, it is a place where people from the community come together to discuss all things death related, in order to recognize shared experience, honour our losses, deepen our awareness, help us heal, and simply open the door on the oft taboo subject of death. It was my first time attending let alone co-facilitating such an event. We had a great turnout of people from all around the community who seemed to arrive with a variety of intentions for being there - from simple curiosity to healing recent wounds. I was honoured to be part of it. Yet, this isn’t a post about my delightful experience last Wednesday. No. This is an invitation into my humanity.
My offering to the group was around secondary loss, which I talk a little bit about in my previous post. I was just about to begin my piece, offering a little background on secondary and disenfranchised loss when Pain walked into the room, all dishevelled, seemingly from off the street. That’s the thing about Pain, you just can’t plan for it’s arrival. We’re not there at the airport holding a sign, waiting patiently for Pain to descend on the escalator. It comes unexpectedly, waltzing, no, bursting through the door uninvited. They sit down for a few unsettling seconds before starting to talk in frequencies we can only assume others must be able to hear. Shouting or squawking erratically, we try to quiet them.
My co-facilitator and I had created a container of confidentiality and active listening where stories, truths, and vulnerabilities were held within that container. Suddenly, it felt leaky. I couldn’t let Pain just walk into the room and wreak havoc. My role was to set out ground rules for the group, to protect, secure, and instil a sense of safety. Sometimes when Pain comes we yell out in anger, or we crumple in despair, or we run, isolating ourselves, or we search for a temporary measure to balance us. Pain does that, knocks us off balance, sends us hobbling along desolate landscapes without direction seeking something, sometimes anything to balance us. Considering that I was in no place to fight or take flight or crumple, I hobbled through the rest of the event, seeking something to balance me. I chewed and choked over my own words, hoping to find refuge there. Rather, I found self-doubt and shame.
People say Pain and Grief are threshold emotions, inviting us into another world of emotions, often where emotions are undifferentiated, indistinguishable. This overwhelming experience requires a lot of Patience, Kindness, and Awareness directed towards ourselves in order to unpack it all and begin to move through the messiness. Yet, for many of us, Pain and Grief don’t exactly invite Patience, Kindness, and Awareness over for lunch after they’ve burst onto the scene. Our histories with Pain and Grief, rather, invite patterns and cycles and behaviours a little less tender, shall we say. A little more shadowy, to say the least. For me, I came home feeling Shame with a capital S, wanting to abandon ship, all ships - and then, as is typical, I covered Shame with Anger. A good outburst reminds me that I’m spinning around the room with a familiar face to a song I really don’t like.
One of the pieces I talked about during the event as I hobbled along was how any new loss or change, be it big or small, taps into our history of grieving, opening the door to our patterns. Here I was talking about it, and it was happening to me.
A brief history: At 13, my childhood was over, and my identity was lost. I went from a happy go lucky child to a very confused, frustrated, lonely teenager. Normal, right? Right. But when we have no support around these life changes and their losses, then it doesn’t feel normal, it feels devastating. Pain walked into the room at the Death Cafe, as they had when I was 13 telling me a message of hurt, but what I heard was: I wasn’t good enough. What I heard was: I had nothing to offer.
So, what do we do with all of this? How do we shift these interpretations of self, or perhaps more accurately, how do we reinterpret stories about ourselves we’ve been believing most of our conscious lives? Well, any thoughts I might have had about giving you answers evaporated the other day. Which is for the best because nobody needs answers - in five easy steps blah, blah, blah. But I do hold a lamp that holds a story of light. We all do. Sometimes we forget. Or we remember the lamp, but forget there is a light inside of it. The light is the story behind the lamp. The light is the true story, not the one we’ve interpreted through the lens of archetypal voices we heard growing up, when pain, trauma and loss split our heart open. The light behind our lamp is the story of our human experience before interpretations do their thing with raw experience. The light behind the lamp has a home in the core of our being, reminding us that we are good enough, that we have offerings, that our Hurt is not an introduction to our failure, but a very difficult introduction to being human. The light is the story that illuminates how negative stories and patterns of self-destruction don’t come from the core of our being, and therefore are not and cannot be truth. At our core, we are Love. Our primary desire is to give it and receive it. That’s my truth, and I don’t want to presume to tell you that it is yours, but I do believe it is. If your heart feels Pain like mine then I have no doubt that just as we share Pain, and self-destructive interpretive tools, we also share what’s deeper - raw, beautiful, fluid, loving light. Change begins as we allow ourselves to believe it, allow ourselves to be worthy of it. Sometimes we forget, but my deepest hope is that we can remind each other of who we are at our centre, and that we remind each other that we’re all in this together.