Moving away from suffering
It's often the case that when we are suffering we feel 'held back' or impeded in some way. Over the years through my shamanistic work many people have spoken about feeling 'stuck' or 'trapped'. But what if it is us who are holding ourselves back or not wanting to suffer more, we try to avoid suffering?
Let me bring to mind the words of Elie Weisel, a Holocaust survivor...
You can hold yourself back from suffering. This is something you are free to do. But precisely this holding back is the only suffering you might be able to avoid.Elie Weisel
It is often the way maybe that you and me and other people, when we are dealing with suffering, and trying to avoid suffering further, we create more suffering. We create suffering for ourselves and also for other people as well. This is usually not intentional, but is also usually what happens.
This brings to mind a trauma workshop I held in London some time ago to a group of people most of who were white and some middle class. I pointed out to the participants that generally, most of the time, people aren't thinking of themselves in terms of skin colour or social class, but often such awareness exists on a more subconscious level, together with other labels we carry around with us. I also pointed out that, when it comes to dealing with trauma and suffering, and reach out to other people, we need to dismiss the awareness of such labels, particularly across racial, ethnic, and class lines, and resolve the differences between individual people. Labels are created to be permanent, intransient, and in the face of human trauma and suffering complete open-mindedness and transience is key.
Getting past the labels
The only thing that matters is the narrative, the story, and listening to that narrative. It is only through listening to the narrative that a connection can be made and insight shared. But it's also equally important to examine how the mind receives the narrative and whether or not it creates judgment and barriers between the story teller and the listener.
You can examine the exact same processes and reading and this is what I want you to think about, particularly as many of you will spend some time on social media. Doesn't matter whether it's listening to someone talking, or reading a post written on social media. In both cases the source of the words and the narrative is another human being. Let me share with you two narratives from the workshops..
Matty, 50's, was addicted to heroin and street homeless in Central London for 22 years, then a volunteer at The Quex soup run, shared a verse by Bob titled 'Insight from the homeless'. Matty asked us to consider what goes through our mind whenever we see someone who is street homeless, sat on the street in a shop doorway. Who do we see? Do we see someone who is a failure at life? Or do we see someone else?
Imagine suddenly you are homelessBob
How would you manage?
How would you get through the day when you have 17p and it's 5am?
Can you smile at anyone?
Can you say a cheerful word to anyone?
Can you eat a balanced diet?
Can you write a love letter?
Can you call home?
What would you do if your one blanket is stolen?
Can you go to the toilet?
How do you shave or change your underwear or deal with diarrhea or bandage your finger?
Or say hello to someone lovely you'd like to know?
How do you know that you will be alive tomorrow?
How do you have dignity?
How do you have beauty?
These last I know
You have dignity, you have beauty
The dignity of survival
The beauty of sharing a bottle of cider with others who's pennies helped pay for it
To silence their hurt, to silence your hurt
Your child years, your beautiful years
Your survival years, all these tell of dignity
They tell of your spirit, though soiled now
Below that layer your beauty remains in the tree rings of your life
The rich years, the survival years
This is the tree of your life
Kathy, 40's, shared some insight from her work with prisoners at HMP Pentonville, a prison in North London..
My name is Kathy, I had an opportunity to go work with prisoners in Pentonville Prison in North London.. And.. What I was faced with was my own stereotyped conceptions of what these men were. In my mind they were criminals, different backgrounds, different skin colours and minorities, and just a set of different stereotypes and boundaries. Before there was any contact between them and me I felt really separate. I was very aware of my fears and my preconceived notions about who they were. Then I started asking them to share their stories. And through listening, just listening, all those stereotypes and preconceived notions just sort of vanished. This was an experience of a change of how I am with people. And how I look at them..Kathy
When it comes to suffering, and indeed personal trauma, all the labels and who we are become irrelevant. What matters, and what takes on its own central importance is a desire for change, a desire for something to be different, and it is this desire I describe as motion and something quite opposite to the suffering itself. Often this desire is a desire for some form of action to be taken.
What hurts you the most?
I then asked the people who were participating in the trauma workshops to tell me what hurts them the most. Here are some of the responses.
- "What hurts me most is the suffering of children."
- "What hurts me most is the death of loved ones."
- "My father is an alcoholic."
- "My sister was raped."
- "Learning about slavery in the past."
- "What hurts me most is that there are hungry people in a world of abundance."
- "The way we lash out at others because we are suffering ourselves."
As you can see, there types of suffering to which we are more sensitive than others, and this can often be a platform for change or indeed, what motivates us to action. From this we get what I refer to as moving away of suffering. This is because there is a point we reach, in all the trauma and the suffering we experience in our lives, where we rediscover our humanity and seek to connect to others through empathy. It's at this point we let go of the suffering and begin to deal with the underlying trauma.
So then what is it that is holding us back? Let me share with you another response from Hugh, a businessman in his 50's.
I fear suffering because I come from a privileged background and have enjoyed a privileged lifestyle. I'm not accustomed to suffering. In fact it is something which is alien to me. However in my younger years when I was a student at university I was somewhat poorer. I can remember having meals when I almost didn't have enough to eat. I know that there are other people who often don't have enough to eat. So I try to keep that in mind, understanding that the reality of life is that there is a lot of suffering out there.Hugh
Many people I feel are in a similar situation to Hugh and often what is holding us back is fear of suffering ourselves, but we are aware that there is a lot of suffering out there. Out of this fear comes a feeling of guilt, and somehow we need to find a reason to get past that feeling of guilt so that we can feel better. We tell ourselves that we don't have the time, or we have a lot of work to do. But then we can say to ourselves that the cost of being who we are, and of identifying with a certain socio-economic group, or class, is costing us more than its worth.
It is very important to understand that it is the fear which is holding us back, the fear of suffering and it is out of this fear we generate even more suffering. But very often the suffering is something which is just playing out in our minds and is something quite different from the trauma which exists on a different level beneath the suffering. Often when we let go of the fear and either move forward or take some form of action, the suffering diminishes and we are left with just the narrative, i.e. the memory and the trauma. Once we are clear of the suffering, we are in a position to start dealing with the trauma.
The importance of listening to narratives
In crafting the dreamweaving meetings and workshops which I create through Qultura the most important stage is right at the beginning when people arrive and we go to get a cup of tea or coffee and sit down in the space. Often when attending meetings or events most people expect some kind of agenda to be known beforehand and they also expect to listen to a speaker. This never happens at a Qultura dreamweaving workshop or meeting and this is by design. You see you have different people all coming together, from their own different lives and circumstances, and some of them could be coming to the meeting in difficult circumstances or struggling, or suffering. But what happens is that in anticipation of some content of the meeting they stifle their experiences, their fears, and their struggles, and the opportunity is lost.
But then you have to ask yourself what is the most important aspect of the meeting and the coming together. Is it the content of what happens during the meeting? Or is it the simple fact that you have different people coming together in the community to share their experiences, their narratives, and to be heard or listened to?
When it comes to the dreamweaving meetings and workshops, by far the latter is the most important. The suffering is in itself not important, and is largely unnecessary. But it is the underlying trauma, the memory, the narratives and the individual human experience which matters the most and which is the most important. This is true for everyone who turns up to the meeting or workshop. You see it is the underlying trauma, and memory, and narratives which gives us the source material and content to actually do the dreamweaving. This is what gives the narratives and the listening to such narratives such central importance.
The importance of being there for others
But in order to reach the source and have the content for the dreamweaving, we need to get the suffering and the fears out of the way which is why getting yourself a cup of tea or coffee and telling your story, and listening to the stories of others who are present at the meeting, is the single most important part of the meeting.
Let me share with you the perspective of Michelle, a religious minister..
Suffering is not an opportunity to minister or to try and alleviate the suffering. It's an opportunity for solidarity and that solidarity an opportunity for a connection between people that would not have otherwise happened. This is something that many of you might have noticed in your own experience. What people appreciate the most, if you pay attention and notice, is not that you're alleviating their pain, but that you're noticing it, that you're receiving it, and you're being there with them.Michelle
The point Michelle makes is an incredibly important part of the whole dreamweaving process, and that is the physical presence of just being at the meeting, of participating, of being there to listen to other people and to their stories, and to have other people there to listen to your narratives and stories and to hear or acknowledge both your existence and your experience. The actual content of the meeting and the dreamweaving activities are in themselves important, but what gives the dreamweaving process and its activities their significance and value is the being there, being present and the participation of everyone in community.
If you understand this, then you understand the important aspects of any dreamweaving meeting or workshop and perhaps you can even begin to understand the significance of the work of Qultura and its role in the local community.
The importance of feeling the moment
Finally, being in the moment is such a well worn cliche when it comes to practices such as yoga and dreamweaving and mindfulness in general, but feeling the moment is an incredibly important part of the dreamweaving process.
A key aspect to the dreamweaving process is timing. Please keep in mind that trauma and suffering are 'brutal' physical experiences - trauma is force and suffering generally for most people is never pleasant, and if you try to act at the wrong moment you can do yourself and others a considerable amount of violence. Obviously I'm not referring to physical violence here, but rather emotional and psychological violence. Dreamweaving is, and should always be, a totally dramatic, non-violent process completely free from conflict and disruption.
Given that trauma and suffering are physical processes, we need to pay attention to scale and dimension. Out there in wider society and the wider community we are constantly exposed to trauma and suffering all the time. You have friction and conflict in family and friends, threats and violence out there in society, political oppression and thuggery, in the news, the melodrama of social media. You're exposed to trauma and suffering in many different ways. It's important not to treat this as a big thing because if you jump in both feet first into a dreamweaving process you can easily elicit a reaction which shuts you or other people down.
The fact that trauma and suffering are physical processes means that they are both based on energy, and energy is a matter of waves, cycles and wavelengths. Our living existence is based on a vast multitude of different energy cycles across different dimensions. But as we can see both trauma and suffering give us opportunities for connections to others, for solidarity and for empathy if only we can find a way of overcoming our fears, feeling the time and reaching out to connect to others.