Invitation: Describe the Demos, Theos, and Nomos indicated in this picture
loose live doodling conversation with my tribe & friends
In David and Suzanne’s kitchen, 7:00pm, night has fallen and a mist has risen over the trees. Except for the deer grazing in the garden, I have not seen nor spoken to another soul for twelve hours. All this time, I have been immersed in writing about David’s suicide; hypothesizing, re-tracing my steps/our steps, feeling into what wanted to be written, trying to understand something that was just out of reach. But just now, I put on Keith Jarrett’s improvised piece called Paris. It is a piece I have listened to often. With its centers alternating between melodic and chaotic, it reminds me of the process I/we have gone through since David’s death. This time, the chaotic parts felt haunting – I almost turned the music off but something stopped me. Something made me want to hang in there; listen to the slow unfolding into what I know is a melodious, heart-opening end. I was washing dishes when Jarrett began playing the finale. I put the dishes down, dried my hands and stood in the kitchen swaying to the melody. I had already lit candles so the atmosphere was warm and my gaze fell upon a large framed photograph of a Balinese boy (maybe 8 or 9 years old), dark hair, dark sparkling eyes, his hands earth-stained past the wrist but folded in prayer. I have long thought his eyes, his face, held many of David’s features. As I listened to the music and looked at the boy’s face, I began to dance for David. Not just for David but to David. And a question rose in my mind, “what if John O’Donoghue is right that what might seem dark, destructive and forlorn to me/us, might be a destiny that looks different from inside the eternal script?” What if there is some rightness, some wholeness about David’s death; even the fact that it was a suicide? It is so easy to try to make meaning out of tragic events; to try to analyze the person’s motives and find where they fit in some developmental hierarchy and where he went wrong or what we all missed. But what if none of that matters? What if – despite the reality of the destruction it left in its wake – David’s suicide was neither right nor wrong, neither cowardly nor courageous but rather just the next step in the destiny that his life had always contained. What might be possible if I/we were to hold his death in this way? In this moment, what is possible is that I have fallen into a state of peace.
“Unity ties everything together – including joy, happiness and laughter, but also including loss, death and betrayal. A thing which truly has unity partakes of everything. And through that everything, there must be sadness…..if a thing is truly alive, one can feel its own death within it, even while it lives. It is this, above all, that we mark when we see a living work of art or the grass on a living hillside.” (CA)
During the thirty-three years of knowing David, our friendship had many phases. When we first met in our late 20s, we were companions in the realm of suffering. We were both lost souls, looking for some clear path through this life, some center that might give life meaning. I felt a simpatico with David, a mutuality of experience that, later, he often referred to as “surviving the trenches together.” When our lives took divergent paths – his to the world of retail import/export and mine to the world of college and a career as a psychotherapist – we saw each other infrequently. Both of us were working hard to create living structure but while he was creating it externally (on his land), I was creating it internally. When I saw him during this time, I was aware that – underneath a charming, intelligent exterior – a certain sadness clung to him and I often felt a chilling sense of fear that I can only now understand as my ability to feel David’s death within him. While we all carry our ending with us, I now know that the shadow of David’s death was closer and more pronounced than most. I now know that – always – even in the best of times, David had more than one foot in the other world.
When he met/married Suzanne and they became friends of ours, David and I grew a new respect for who the other had become. I found a deep respect for what he had accomplished; how he had pulled his life out of the trenches and created so much beauty around him, beauty that he generously shared with others. And I believe, he respected who I had become – no longer the party-girl across the hall, David came to know and appreciate the quieter depths in me. I also came to know about David’s life-long pursuit of the “spiritual.” A seeker from an early age, he was a rigorous reader and follower of everyone from Krishnamurti to Jason Brown. He had been meditating for years and in the last decade, had been experiencing states of mystical union that he pursued like a hungry man pursues food. I believe that to really be living structure, a spiritual path (an ascent) must be answered by its opposite, that our loftiest illuminations must descend into an integrated embodiment and it is this that did not happen for David. When he spoke of his “spiritual” experiences, I (and others) felt left on the outside as if there was a lack of interpenetration between David’s center and my own. I would go so far as to say that he resisted this interpenetration – that non-separateness went against some structure at the very core of his being. And in quiet moments, I still felt an unnamed pain in him. Though he was surrounded by the grace and beauty of the living structures he had created, I sometimes wondered what I couldn’t see.
Christopher Alexander says that a “thing does not get its unity from being beautiful. The unity comes from the fact that the various centers are harmoniously connected and that every center helps every other center…..the result of that helping between centers is beautiful in the sense that it fills us with life, reminds us of ordinary everyday things, reminds us of the messiness and goodness of life.”
What I now know is that while beautiful, David was not (in a way that would have mattered) deeply connected to other living centers; that he did not ask for help from many of the people who loved him. Few knew of the depth of darkness he lived with. He asked for help only from a few and in the end, he ended his life alone. If there is luminous ground to be found in this death, it would be in the way the community has come together. Each of us has had to face unanswerable questions and live into/with feelings that sometimes felt impossible to bear. I have experienced latent aspects of myself come to the surface – I have more compassion; I also understand and am less afraid of the dark side of human life. There have been moments I have lived more vividly and more intensely because of the grief. I have felt more vulnerability and more unity with the preciousness of life. And – because of the community around me – I have learned more about how to carry and be carried.
For those of you who have followed me on this written journey, I leave you with this poem:
As you huddle around the torn silence, each by this lonely deed exiled to a solitary confinement of soul, may some small glow from what has been lost return like the kindness of candlelight.
As your eyes strain to sift this sudden wall of dark and no one can say why in such a forsaken, secret way, this death was sent for…..may one of the lovely hours of memory return like a field of ease these graveled days.
May the angel of wisdom enter this ruin of absence and quiet your minds to receive this bitter chalice so that you do not damage yourselves by attending only at the hungry altar of regret and anger and guilt.
May you be given some inkling that there could be something else at work and that what to you now seems dark, destructive and forlorn, might be a destiny that looks different from inside the eternal script.
May vision be granted to you to see this with the eyes of providence. May your loss become a sanctuary where new presence will dwell to refine and enrich the rest of your life with courage and compassion.
And may your lost loved one enter into the beauty of eternal tranquility, in that place where there is no more sorrow or separation or mourning or tears.
There is a path of square, white stones that runs through the land from the main house to the Kudus house. From above, it looks like the spinal column of a giant mammal or like the S-shaped curve of a great-blue heron’s neck in flight. The stones came from China and were – at one time – washing stones upon which Chinese women scrubbed their clothing. On some of the stones, there is a faint etching as of hands washing away the hard edges over time. I have always loved walking this path. Because of it’s size, the shape of each stone, their placement on the earth, walking the path requires a certain attention, requires that one go slowly enough not to fall but for me, I have gone slowly so that I might feel the history that each stone carries. It has always been a devotional walk for me, where my mind is quieted by the mere fact of my slowness, where – when the path leads up and over a small rise in the land – grazing deer often come into view. The day after David’s suicide, I walked that path many times, trying to find some center in the midst of the storm. It was in walking this path that the idea for a community grief ritual emerged.
I am no stranger to grief nor I am a stranger to the grief of others. But this grief, the grief of a torn community, contained so many complexities of feeling, so many unanswerable questions, so many projections, so much rage and confusion and shock, that I knew the ritual needed to be created as a “center” that could hold a wide range of complexity. As I began to talk to Suzanne and others about the idea, the intention for the ritual began to clarify: we, as a community, needed something to unify us because although we were unified by the fact of David’s death, there was a certain aloneness we each felt, a certain hesitation to speak all of what we were thinking/feeling, a certain holding back (which was necessary in those first moments) of much of the more difficult things to speak. So, out of the rubble, a ritual came into being, a ritual in which each part was carefully thought through, a ritual in which the co-leaders paid careful attention to the question: what has to happen next to preserve wholeness?
A week after David’s death, thirty-five of us gathered around the hearth in Suzanne’s living room. We made it clear that everything and anything was welcome in the circle; that this was not for David, not a memorial for him but rather this was for us, the beginning steps of our healing journey that for many, had only just begun. We made it clear that some of what would be said/felt/shared might be challenging to hear, that there was no right or wrong way to do this and we gave people utter permission to leave if – at any time – it became too much. For the next three hours, everything was there. Betrayal and rage were there. Bitterness and confusion were there. Recollections of love were there as were recollections of secrecy. The deer came and grazed outside the glass doors. The sunset over the southwest was the color of blood. In listening to the voices of others, I felt each was speaking for a part of me. I felt connected to something larger than death – I felt connected to life. We chanted. Water was poured. Tea was shared. In the end, there was laughter. Christopher Alexander syas that “a thing which truly has unity partakes of everything.” After the ritual ended, there was a palpable shift, some quality within me (and within others) had changed.
Since then, there have been several other rituals: a ritual involving moving David’s ashes into an Indonesian urn; a ritual taking-down of the community altar that had served as a place for friends and family to meditate; and a ritual to bless the land so that it might find the next pair of hands to be its steward. Each of these rituals had recursive aspects – aspects that were repeated like the chanting, like the feeling of sadness – and each served as the base for the ritual that followed. Even though the future rituals were not pre-determined, they were latent in what went before and emerged or were drawn forth/evoked by what had gone before. Each ritual was a living structure (in and of itself); each was rooted in feeling; each enlarged my (our) connection to life and have actually – at times – made possible the experience of joy. “The sense of the thing reached – a sadness which connects me to the “I” in these cases – does appear to me as an actual thing which I reach, which then becomes visible, like a foggy landscape on a brilliant day becomes visible through the darkening lace of the thin gossamer window curtain.” (CA)