May 2021 - on Emotions, Death and the Compulsion to Control
The last months have been emotionally intense for many of us, including myself. In late March I spent a week in Poland for my BBTRS Biodynamic Breathwork training. A few days into the course I got a call from my father in Canada who told me he had been diagnosed with cancer, and that his health was rapidly declining. This news hit me hard and triggered wave after wave of emotion in the following days.
Being able to totally surrender into my sadness and fear, and being held in this by the group, was an experience which shook and impressed me deeply. It confirmed for me what I knew in theory - that once we allow ourselves to fully feel and express our emotions in the moment, they pass through us instead of stagnating inside of us, consuming our life energy and limiting our capacity to be fully present. It felt as if my soul had been cleansed, and I felt a sense of peace and calm inside myself which continue to be a resource for me today. It also reaffirmed for me how precious it is to have others around who can "hold space" for our emotions - that is, who can be there with empathy and presence and without themselves becoming overwhelmed by the emotion. Here is a song I wrote and recorded, inspired by the experience (warning - totally amateur recording).
A few days after returning to Switzerland I flew to Montreal to be with my family. Sitting here in my sister's backyard and writing these words, it is a chilly but sunny Montreal spring day and I feel the breeze coming from the nearby St. Lawrence river. The last weeks have been full of ups and downs, as I process this new situation with my family and I see my father struggling with the disease and his new limitations.
More and more I see life is a series of letting go of one thing after another, a kind of rehearsal for the final letting go. Ageing is an acceleration of this process, as we are asked by life to accept ever more limits on our physical and cognitive existence, to let go of things and people we once took for granted. The challenge, as I see it, is meet this loss with an opening of the heart, with acceptance and gratitude for all we still have, along with a grieving process for what we have lost. How easy and seemingly normal it is to slide instead into resistance, into a closing down of the heart in order not to feel...
I also notice in myself the same paradox, the same seemingly contradictory forces that seem so present in our society at the moment. When faced with the prospect of death, of losing someone I love, part of me wants to jump into action, to find ways to fix the situation. It comes as a gnawing, wrestless feeling, I need to do something.
Some of this action is necessary and good. Much of it however is my way of not feeling the helplessness, the almost complete lack of control I have over the situation. I see this reflected these days in our society, as we lose oursleves in a frenzy of activity, laws, measures...all designed to reassure us that we have some sovereignty over death, that if we could only exert enough control on our fellow humans and on biology itself, we could keep death at a distance. After all, we are humans, we are special, we can be victorious over nature. Or so the story goes...
Realising that we are not so special, that we are after all a part of the nature around us, neither better or worse, and subject to the same rules, can be quite shocking. It can also be liberating, as I'm slowly starting to discover. In the moments when I can see and feel in my bones that death is a natural part of life, just as natural as birth - it stops to become something tragic, shocking, something unnatural to be avoided at all costs. Amid the grief of loss, perhaps there can also be a feeling of peace - the feeling that nothing wrong has happened, nature has taken it's rightful course. Sometimes, when I reflect on my own death, there is also a feeling of joyful, nervous excitement, of curiosity about what lies on the other side - the same feeling I have had so often before travelling to a new country, or throwing myself into a new experience.
These days, as I spend time with people I love, I also find myself searching for the part of them that is beyond their bodies and their personalities - something less specific, less tangible, harder to express in words - some would call it the soul. Very often, I can feel it, even if for a brief moment. Very often I can feel my father's soul - gentle, full of love and a sweet softness. It is beautiful. I carry it in me, and I cannot imagine it ever being lost.