Saturday 20 April 2019

Which way to go?

Sitting on the Sofa

I look a bit dead myself here.  

The Soul Midwife Sofa opens on Monday the 6 May, at Waltham House Studios, Town Cross Avenue in Bognor Regis.  I will be at Waltham House every Monday for the Sofa.  In the meantime, I am leafleting and telling people all about it. There has been a lovely response with most people, but some have been suspicious and defensive.  One funeral parlour told me they were running their own business, and didn't see why they should support someone else's.  "We get bothered by all sorts of charities," they said.  I longed to creep back after dark to add in purple glitter Free Funerals for All.  Especially Charities.  to their shop sign.  Most people I speak to think it a really good idea.

It is a good idea. The simplicity will speak to anyone who is struggling in silence with a dying that makes no sense to them.  It will speak to people who have conflicting feelings, who are angry, who are confused, who just don't want to do this any more.  The Sofa will be there for those who have strange experiences accompanying someone in their dying - many of us have had these experiences.  Things that we can't explain and find difficult to articulate, and we really want to talk about them, to make sense of them.  The Soul Midwife Sofa will be there for those who have lost someone and need to find some gentle listening support - whether the loss is recent, or not recent.  Sometimes we are only aware of our bereavement long after it has happened, as if the time in between was protecting us until we are ready to feel it.  The Soul Midwife Sofa will be there for those who have to think about their own dying, death and endings.  It will be there to listen to and support all who come and sit on the sofa, to help work things out.  All of these things may take one session, they make take a hundred.  It is all up to you, whatever works for you is right.

Soul Midwifery and Healing

For me, Soul Midwifery is a state of mind.  It is an awareness of the ending of life and a willingness to journey with someone if they want it, and request it, as they do their dying.  It is a willingness to support families and friends with their own journeys with a dying loved one.  And here it begins to overlap with healing as I practice it.

A soul midwife and a healer cannot ever stop learning.  At some point, we made a decision to follow a certain path and put into practice what is in our hearts.  There follows a lifetime of learning, experiencing, questioning and deepening our understanding.  But before all else, we deepen our understanding of ourselves.  In this journey, we come first.  In all of our lives, we must put ourselves first.  I am no good to you if I have given away all my power, strength and patience.  If I believe that I am of no consequence and my life and experience has not only taught me that but confirmed it again and again, I cannot support you if you are frightened of dying alone in the night. I will not be strong enough.  If however, I get to know myself and take care to help myself survive the bad times as well as understanding the things that bring me joy and peace - if I give myself time and really listen to myself, I am more able to be there for you in the dark night of your fear of your dying.  I will call on my resources and I will know my limits and I will know how to recover my strength after the crisis has passed. Healing sessions hold space in this way too.  Giving Reiki, I listen to what your body and energy is telling me.  To do this effectively, I have to know my limits, to know where my energy ends and your energy begins and I must certainly be clear in my mind, body and emotions before I begin to work with you. I do this by practising self care as a constant in my life to the best of my ability at the time.  I say this because practising loving self care is absolutely fabulous in theory and both a mystery and a conundrum in practice   Before a Reiki session I prepare my own energy, and the energy of the room, the aim is to be calm, grounded and loving.  As with all of us, life sometimes throws up great mounds of nonsense for me to deal with.  I intend the work I do to be the best it possibly can be, even while having off days, getting things wrong and eating too much fried food.

My healing and soul midwife work is based on experience, energy work and a deepening love of
spiritual matters. The dying process is profound, and paradoxically, mundane.  We are all here for this one life.  We live, time passes equally for all of us.  It is the same for all of us.  But each of us has a will and capacity for decisions.  Our decisions, our choices, reflect back to us what we think of ourselves in the way we live and the people we live with.  Some of us are afraid, and we chose safety at all costs.  Some of us are anxious, and we seek protection at all costs.  Some of us are angry and we seek conflict, some of us are lazy and we look for ways to stay still, some of us are ignorant and some of us wear our ignorance as a badge of honour.

Some of us are curious and look for more.  Some of us want to grow, and look for answers, be magnificent and some of us are knocked about by life and make decisions to make something of ourselves - that can either be enlightening, or it can be at the expense of other people.

But we all die.  And during this lifetime, we live.

This business of dying and what to do about it

This business of dying brings us a great deal of fear.  We spend much of our lives keeping the thoughts of death at bay.  When we are young there is so much time.  The older we get the faster the years and weeks go by, and we are made painfully aware that at some point this will all end.  It will stop, we will stop, and that can give us such distress that we shoot off at a tangent to find distractions to stop this fear.  But time still passes.  Others die, even those we thought of as invincible come to the end, and we find it harder and harder to ignore that at some point, it will be our turn.  Oh but the fear of endings is profound.  Whatever we think we know about it, whatever beliefs and things we have worked out to explain death, none of us actually know.  Our greatest fear, those of us who fear this, is of extinction.  Nothingness, blackness and oblivion.  Before that, we fear pain - physical, mental, emotional, spiritual - and the slow realisation that we are losing our grip on what we hold most dear. which is our life, those we love, unfinished business, lack and loss.

This is what fear holds for us.  But many of us have seen death and dying in a different way.  We have also seen gentle deaths, courageous deaths, magical deaths and deaths that have been a release.  We have seen how those doing the dying may not be afraid, but are curious, accepting, welcoming.  We may have had our lives changed by witnessing a dying that was full of resolution and peace.  When we experience someone dying in this way it shows us how it can be done.  It removes a great deal of the fear.  It may be miraculous. Many of us have seen this happen.

My point is that we are mortal, and whatever we tell ourselves about this, whatever our beliefs and experiences, we will die and we will not know how, or when, and we do not know what will happen after we die.  It is healthy to contemplate our ending but not to the exclusion of our living.  Until we die, we are very much alive.  We live.  We live this one life, and so what are we going to do with this one life?  What we fear in dying is what we fear in life too.  Disconnection, loss, abandonment, pain, oblivion. And so, what do we do about it?

"Winnie".  A painting showing how one carer is training
 the other in the art of sitting in vigil with the dying.  Though the
title is of the lady in the bed, the focus is really between the two carers
as they sit with her.  I painted this for the A Graceful Death exhibition. 
We look inside and agree to enter into an honest relationship with ourselves.  We begin to ask ourselves Who am I?  What do I want? We decide to take stock, and we realise we must approach ourselves with gentle, cautious kindness because the chances are that we have been fairly horrid to ourselves up until now.  This time, when we ask ourselves who we really are, we take the time to listen to the reply.  If we have spent our lives blocking what we want and dismissing who we are, then we may not have anything to say in answer to these questions.  We are lost and can't answer them.  We have forgotten, if we had ever known at all.  This is where the decision to approach ourselves with gentle kindness and patience is essential - we will need time to feel safe even attempting to answer.  We will also need to listen without judgement to what hesitant answers we eventually whisper back to ourselves.  And then a journey of discovery begins.  We begin to remember what gives us meaning.  What we do not want.  Who we do not want.  We begin to question the stories that surround our lives - did we create them?  Or did someone else?  Do we agree with them?  Possibly we do not!  And what does that mean?  Courage to begin the move away from what is not for us, towards what is for us.  And here, despite feeling the release from old thinking patterns, beliefs and burdens, we will need real strength because moving away from one way of being towards another, brings with it its own, sometimes huge, battles.  But if we are digging deep, and connecting with what is real for us, then somehow we find a way.  We still encounter the disconnections, losses, abandonments, pains and, possibly, but we hope not too much, oblivions, but these are part of our journey now and we have taken back our power and we understand that they will pass, as all things pass.  As we build this relationship with ourselves we see that we can manage it somehow, and there is space for joy, love, fulfilment, laughter and pleasure too in our lives.  There is also a sense of purpose and meaning. Question your thinking.  It feels real, but is it true?

If we can accept our eventual death as a reality, we can then put it somewhere respectfully out of sight, so that we can live and live as well as we can, now. What matters is that we live and live with awareness, self knowledge and authenticity.  We can access this death thing when we need to, when it crosses our paths, and then respectfully put it away again.  When it is our time, well, we hope that by then we will have a better idea of who we are, and will be able to navigate our final journey with some peace and truly in our own way.

The way to go

I visited a client yesterday who had been given very little time to live quite suddenly, much less that he had expected.  He had to make decisions about where he was to die.  As I was leaving, he walked me along the hall to the door and said,

Which way is the best way to go?

Oh, I said, it's such a question for you to answer.  Here, or in the hospice, it seems you have had no time to think.

No, he replied, which door do you want to leave by.  The front door or the kitchen door.

Here is someone who is navigating his journey well.  We both fell about laughing and the visit, which had been very hard and emotional up till then, ended on a high.  I drove off with him laughing in his (front) doorway.