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Strategic Thinking


Grief and Breath

Posted by Nicholas Mayhew on 01/05/20 09:56
Nicholas Mayhew

Grief"Do not go gentle into that good night"

Listening to Cerys Matthews read Dylan Thomas' poem at the close of Radio 4's PM the other day made me cry.  

It's fine. I cry quite a bit, happy or sad, or when I stub a toe. It's just feelings and they are what they are. 

For me, tears often come at a moment of realisation that I am off track with the world. The discomfort becomes sadness at loss, deep laughter at an unexpected joke, or the pain of a toe meeting an unnoticed solid object. Crying is one of my body's natural adjustments to truth.

I lost both my parents before this crisis hit. When mum died, 1st May 2008, it was sudden and she was alone. The shock of it included seeing her "ghost" for some time afterwards. Often with my deeper and stronger feelings, they are inarticulate, and just affect my mind and body. It's not unconscious, but I just don't know them well, and I don't have the words. When the words come, they come with a sort of physical and psychological energy that just bursts out. The strength of such feelings can be frightening and surprising. I didn't deliberately worry about showing them in public, but I was definitely trying to control them for a long time, until the words finally came, and I found a ceremonial way to connect with them properly.

In the end, for me, with my Mum's death, it wasn't about letting go.  It was more about accepting the truth of them. The letting go, for me, means letting the feelings in.

I have a metaphor from my childhood, of a pearl necklace, rather like the Tibetan rosary I had:  its an imaginary pearl necklace, and each pearl is a precious memory. I can revisit each one in my meditations. In a way each one is a complete world. My grief for Mum is on the rosary. It reminds me of how much I don't know about living and life.

The Covid-19 crisis has taken many lives, and taken away, for good or ill, our way of life. Where we are has changed. I don't know about you, but it is also heightening my experience of life by highlighting what is truly important to me.

In addition to the death, two things stand out for me:

  1. Like the contrast medium in a scan, the virus reveals what was hidden.

    Our interconnectedness.

    Those connections we know about, but cannot see, that stretch beyond us through this whole living, breathing system. It is not where we live, as if we were independent of it and took it for our home. It is us. And we can pretend our personal acts are private, and have no relevance to the world we are in. Covid-19 calls out that lie. 

    In truth, how we live, each one of us, has consequences beyond our consciousness, and yet within our responsibility.
  2. It stops us breathing.

    Breath is the unconscious push and pull of life. It is the flow of energy, and between each in breath and each out breath, is the pause of a pendulum at the moment of change.

    Breathing is the grandfather clock of our lives. At a moment of panic or fear, when rumination is in charge of our day, pausing for breath and feeling its physical ebb and flow can bring us into a tolerable unending moment: no better or worse than how it actually feels to be alive.

The breath of life, the push and the pull, the "by hook or by crook", the tension that draws us on to a new care, draws us together and pushes us apart.

All of this, of course, is our daily marker for change. As we all know the air is corrosive; returning metal to rust, and each of us to dust.  The rule of time cannot be ducked. When we inhale we borrow energy to re-build our form and momentum, when we exhale we give back a little of our life.

So here it is: change cannot be avoided. Each breath is precious, and all we have is the choice about how we use it.

All loss is loss; while the end of something implies the start of something new, and this can be exciting, often it is unwelcome.  Truth we don't want to hear.

Businesses are a form of community. Many of these communities are experiencing the reality check of loss right now, as their meaning and purpose is radically challenged by Covid-19. It would be natural to feel a certain grief at the shock of loss.

The true shock of loss, in a way, is simply the discovery of a truth we had not seen, and did not wish to know. And in truth, it is what it is and all we can do is choose to make the best of it.

But that choice is surely empowering. That choice is the freedom to live the life we have. It is with such choices we make and remake our lives. When we choose we set our sails to the wind, and chart a course, rather then be blown randomly or worse, capsized.

So we each have a choice about how we want our business to be, its community to be, and its purpose. All in the certain knowledge of the precious breath of life we have, and of our interconnectedness.

So as we all start to remake the world, again, like each soul before us, stretching back the first living thing in the first moment of life, in that uninterrupted span of billions of years, let's find the flow of change, accept its meaning, and our responsibility for our choices, as we remake life together.

"And you my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light."

Dylan Thomas (1951)

Despite the challenges of the world we are in, keep charting the course ahead, bearing in mind each moment is precious and every choice has consequence.

Remember that it is our body that generates our stronger feelings.  They cannot be avoided, and they will, in the end, be processed. If you can find a way to accept this, and bodywork that releases the tension that comes with the fear of fear, the rage at rage, it will help.  

Even during lockdown, physically, emotionally, in your relationships, and in your business, choose to keep the flow, and find the way.


Topics: Life Lessons, Change, Mental Health, Stress, Cope

Change is our constant companion

Covid19 has brought a radical challenge to life

As you lead your colleagues and business, charting a course out of the COVID19 crisis and back to health, don't forget that Covid19 gives you a chance to re-make things, and is the reason why you should.

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