Human beings are remarkably resilient. We have this amazing capacity to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and get on with getting on after all imaginable and unimaginable nature of horrors, calamities, catastrophes, shocks to the system – that happen to us, to our families, our communities, our organizations, globally. Hope really does spring eternal even though at times it is hard to access. It’s like the grass, flower or weed that pushes it’s way through concrete to bloom again in the light of day.
I find myself in a deep contemplation of this resilience, despite, at times, overwhelming odds and continued attempts at suppression. My contemplation of resilience is weaving together with grief and what is alive and communicated in the collective consciousness, without it being visible. This is alive and emerging for me because of work and conversations I’ve been in and over the last few months in particular. What I write today are half formed thoughts percolating more with each conversation.
Recently I worked with a client – a department in a large organization – that has gone through a significant amount of change, restructuring, everyone applying for remaining positions and no one knowing the outcome. This was the most recent in a series of changes. I know I could be referring to almost any organization. The conversation they wanted to have was how to work more horizontally in a hierarchical structure and how to be more transparent with communication.
We began with a circle, asking people what makes them hopeful. Eleven people in the room. Responding with a talking piece but popcorn style. Nine spoke about what made them hopeful. The tenth person, with tears just beginning, spoke about not having hope. Not anymore. Not after so much change and so little care for human collateral along the way. The eleventh person went deeper in this vein, apologizing because she had nothing hopeful to offer.
We welcomed the tears into our circle. Thank you for your courage and honesty. For sharing what is alive for you in this moment. Hearing about the hope expressed by so many was too much. It evoked the other truth sitting in the room. The truth of grief. Before we knew it, many in the circle were in tears. I was not surprised it was there. I was a bit surprised at the depth of it.
Our organizations tend to make it hard to tell truth – not “the” truth, but the multiplicity of truths that exist in the same space. And in change efforts, there is a tendency to just want to get it done, to move from A to B. The fear is that if we factor in the human response, the emotional response, nothing will get done, we will be overwhelmed. Yet not creating space for it drives it underground, like rivers under the earth that can destabilize what appears to be a solid foundation and where sink holes spring up unexpectedly. We seem surprised when they show up, caught off guard. I wonder why?
With this group, after welcoming tears, exploring the change curve which is predicated on the grief curve, looking at circles of influence, in just a couple of hours the group was collectively ready to turn toward the future – with collective hope and inspiration now bubbling through. It was relatively simple though I don’t, by any means, believe or mean to say that all it takes all the time is just a couple of hours. But I am curious about what it does take and how much more simple it likely is than we imagine through our fear and structures designed for effectiveness and professionalism. Emotions? Not so professional. Trying to banish them from the workplace? Not so effective.
In a conversation with a friend after this event, she said to me, “We have forgotten how to grieve. We think we are supposed to grieve alone, but really we need to grieve in ‘community’ – with others. Witnessing each other. Holding space for each other.” That’s what I witnessed with this group. A collective experience of grief that showed up differently for each person. Those better off feeling excited about opportunity but afraid to speak it knowing others were worse off. Those worse off afraid to speak their disappointment and disillusionment Almost everyone experiencing some kind of survivor guilt after so many left.
For me, it sparked reflections on the grief embedded in collective consciousness. I am by no means an expert on collective consciousness. I understand it is “how an autonomous individual comes to identify with a larger group or structure. It implies an internal knowing known by all, or a consciousness shared by a plurality of persons.” Most of it is not conscious or articulated but it becomes visible through the patterns which show up over time – even embodied in individuals. It seems to show up in lineages. I have witnessed the pain and grief of generations no longer alive in their descendants who were not even alive at the time of the harm – the pain and grief as alive as the time it happened, as in the people it happened to. It makes me deeply curious about how this is possible, what it takes to release the grief, to open the space for healing? I don’t have the answers of course. But I yearn for the spaces where this can happen. Where we can show up with curiosity, with compassion, humility and grace allowing despair, sorrow, grief and pain to come in – the grief alive in this moment, the grief alive in the lineage from days gone by without resolution, yet. Seeking the ways love, joy, delight, happiness can co-exist – in each of us, in how we show up, in our lineages too.
It brings me back to resilience. Everyday resilience as we arise each morning and go about our day, our lives, our business with varying degrees of success, the resilience of families, of generations, of communities and of our organizations. I am in awe. I am relieved. I am inspired. Feeling the call, as always, to perpetuate resilience, perpetuate hope. To boldly, or quietly, bring my healing gifts to the shifting shape of the world and the regeneration of its people, to evoke and invite that in others.
This is the call that invites so many of us to continue to dive deeper into the journey of personal transformation and the call, by the way, to Hosting from a Deeper Place, the Art of Hosting the Subtle, in Brazil at the end of February 2013.
“If you want to awaken all of humanity, then awaken all of yourself. If you want to eliminate the suffering in the world, then eliminate all that is dark and negative in yourself. Truly the greatest gift you have to give is that of your own self-transformation.” Lao Tzu
As we each do our own healing work, we contribute to healing in the collective consciousness. But what more becomes possible when we do this work in community – with each other? This is one of the questions I carry everywhere I go.
hello Kathy, another beautiful blogpost!
You ask: “It makes me deeply curious about how this is possible, what it takes to release the grief, to open the space for healing?” the answer is just what you did. Offer a safe space, hold the container and let people share and witness each other – it is really that simple, although more can be said about it. But that to me is the essence.
Thank you Ria. I do agree there is already much healing happening because of those of us opening and holding those spaces for ourselves, for each other and for others. It is the question of scale that I am beginning to entertain in bigger and bolder ways.
Thank you! I enjoyed this post and you gave me a lot of great advice as I am in the beginning stages of organizing a clinical conference around the topic of End of Life. http://www.indiegogo.com/nelsonproject
Thank you Regina. Good luck with the conference. I have done some writing on my experiences with my mother and her end of life journey, and with dementia.
Dear Kathy: This is a moving post, especially, for me, about the generational pain many of us carry. One powerful space I have found to transmute such memories is through constellation work. Like so many things, making conscious the fact that we even carry the pain of our ancestors is a first step towards healing it. Your article helps to bring this fact to light.
Dear Analesa, thank you for this. The topic continues to resonate for me as I begin another multi-cultural Art of Hosting training in the middle of a community wanting to shift the patterns of how they have been finding their way with each other. I haven’t yet done constellations work but have heard many powerful stories related to it.
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