Unity in Tragedy

Recovery of the final body lost in the fishing-boat tragedy in Union Hall allowed loved ones to finally honour and mourn the sudden and sad passing of their loved one.  What was striking about the catastrophe was the very active love, support, compassion provided by individuals of the Union Hall community and, indeed, beyond, and by the divers who risked their own lives in search of the missing persons.

In a poem at the outbreak of World War 11 the poet W.H. Auden wrote: “We must love one another or die”.  How accurate Auden was and how much that lesson still needs to be learned in so many ways in so many warn- torn and political- torn countries.  However, there is a paradox to tragedy and war and that is in these catastrophic times people find it is their hearts to reach out with love, compassion, consolation, support, cooperation and be self-sacrificing for the sake of others.  I am not suggesting we need disasters and wars to awaken our true nature, which is love, but this phenomenon certainly begs the question: how is it that we struggle with loving others in times of plenty?  How was it that during the ‘boom’ economic times sight was lost of fairness, equality, individuality, justice and that a ‘me fein’ ethos predominated.  The Dalai Lama echoed this absence of emotional and social care when he argued that “Love and compassion have been omitted from too many spheres of social interaction for too long; their practice in public life is considered impractical, even naive.  This is tragic”. 

I believe that loss, death and difficult times provide some level of emotional safety for people to express our hunger to give and receive love.  These times also allow individuals to mourn their own experiences of loss of love and loved ones alongside those who are mourning in the here and now.  Somehow men come more to the fore in times of calamities, as if somehow their very real reticence around the expression of love can be suspended in the face of those people who so openly manifest their grief and distress, and even more poignantly when the bodies of their loved ones cannot be found.  We have seen that sad phenomenon repeated many times when a father or son or mother or daughter went missing without trace in Northern Ireland.  Even when a body is unearthed over 30 years later, it brings a certain peace to those bereaved.

Great gratitude and appreciation need to be extended to all those individuals in Union Hall and beyond who pulled out all the stops to find the missing bodies and allow family members, relatives and friends to put the souls of their loved ones to rest.  People talk about this as drawing a closure around the tragedy, but I believe there is no such experience as closure around the loss – tragic or expected – of a loved one.  There is certainly a meeting of the need to have the body of the loved one laid to rest but one never truly gets over the death of a loved one.  What we do learn is to live with it and maintain the love connection that to my mind is both timeless and infinite.

Marie Rilke, the German poet, says that “to love is to cast light”, while “to be loved means to be ablaze”.  Certainly, the love shown by individuals in Union Hall ‘cast a light’ not only on those who were suffering loss but on us all.   Equally – and not often appreciated – the very evident receiving of love by those who were so evidently bereft set us all ablaze.  There is a secret about human love that is frequently over-looked: receiving is much more frightening and scary than giving.  It has been touching to witness the love expressed and received so powerfully by all involved in the Union Hall tragedy.  The lesson for us all is not to wait for tragedy to be expressive of and receptive to love.

I am going to finish with a poem by Hafiz, which is quoted in a wonderful book by John Welwood, Perfect Love, Imperfect Relationships:

Jump to your feet, wave your fists,

Threaten and warn the whole universe

That your heart can no longer live

Without real love!

Dr. Tony Humphreys is a Consultant Clinical Psychologist, Author, National and International Speaker.  His book Relationship, Relationship, Relationship, Heart of a Mature Society is relevant to today’s column. 

Each Person is an Island

The saying ‘No man is an island’ masks a deeper and, indeed, an opposite reality – each person is an island (I-land). When a person knows and occupies her own island she brings a maturity and independence to a relationship – to partner, friend, colleague, child, neighbour and service provider.  This reality is contained eloquently in Martin Buber’s (German philosopher/psychotherapist) words:

             “Every person born into this world represents something new, something that never existed before, something original and unique.  It is the duty of every person....to know and consider....that there has never been anyone like her in the world, for if there had been someone like her, there would have been no need for her to be in the world.  Every single person is a new thing in the world and is called upon to fulfil her particularity in this world. Every person’s foremost task is the actualisation of her unique, unprecedented and never recurring potentialities, and not the repetition of something that another, be it even the greatest, has already achieved.”

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Conversation Pieces

Whilst we can discover many things about ourselves by listening in to our conversations with others, we can just as powerfully become conscious of hidden aspects of ourselves by tuning into our inner conversations with ourselves.

Examples of some of the things we say to others are:

  • ‘You never listen’
  • ‘You’re never there when I need you’
  • ‘You only think about yourself’
  • ‘You’re impossible to talk to’
  • ‘You’re sorry you ever got involved with me’
  • ‘You’re perpetually late’
  • ‘You think you know it all’
  • ‘You have no feelings’
  • ‘You make me so angry’

The messages quoted above are known as projections – messages about yourself that you unconsciously put over on others. When you come to a realisation that everything you say is about yourself and you replace the ‘you’ with an ‘I’ in the above messages, you then consciously see what you are saying about or want from another is what you need to say or give to yourself; the messages now change to:

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Conscious Marriage

When a marriage relationship begins to become a conscious interplay within each person and between the couple what emerges is openness, an inhabiting of one’s own and an appreciation of the other’s individuality, an emotional safety for each to examine their own defensive reactions, a communication that is authentic, direct and clear and, most of all, an unconditional loving of the sacred presence of self and of each other. What I am saying for marriage relationships holds true for all relationships. Furthermore, the place of marriage as being central to the stability of the family and society needs to be urgently reinstated, but in a new way.

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No Enemy Within

The most common reaction to the suggestion that an illness may be created to heal wounds to the deep emotional self, to the soul, is aggressive: ‘do you mean to tell me that I brought this illness upon myself? – that’s mad, off the wall!’ A medical colleague responded similarly exclaiming: ‘you are blaming people for their illnesses.’ On the contrary, my intention is to draw attention to the awesome power of the Self to heal the deepest dis-ease of all – alienation from one’s unique and sacred presence.

When we consider the many other ways that a person reveals  his or her dark inner terrain – depression, chronic anxiety, obsessiveness, perfectionism, aggression, addictions to substances, addictions to work, what others think and say, to the ‘body beautiful’, anorexia nervosa, hallucinations – are we equally going to say that ‘these creations are off the wall?’ It may be easier to accept that the foregoing distressing symptoms are creations in times of emotional danger, but, in fact, illness has exactly the same compassionate intention. After all, each of the conditions mentioned are cleverly devised to draw attention to a troubled and troubling interiority. It is not that a person wakes up one morning and consciously decides ‘I’m going to create a depression or, indeed, an illness today’; no, this process occurs unconsciously, and necessarily so, because without emotional safety, consciousness of the creative and defensive nature of the depression or an illness would weaken its power.

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