Monday, September 23, 2013
I do my best to be careful with the diet of news I allow myself to ingest. And yet some sad stories manage to trickle through because they are plastered on the front pages of the local newspaper.
I have not closely followed the Kenyan mall hostage story but it certainly has all the makings of being the type of event that will engender PTSD in any number of people. I find there to be something sickeningly perverse in the fact that the backdrop for the unfortunate drama is a shopping mall. I am reminded of a comment made at the men’s conference I recently attended regarding shopping malls. The comment was something to the effect that shopping in a mall is something like partaking in a massive grief ritual. This perspective strikes me as possessing a kernel of truth; American shopping malls can overwhelm the senses and leave you feeling a profound emptiness if you immerse yourself in consumer media encouraging you to buy so many items you neither truly need nor actually want.
I received another piece of sad news just recently. I learned the former partner of a friend from California committed suicide last year. Though I did not know John very well I did feel a sufficient familiarity with him to feel genuine grief when I heard of his passing. I wondered what his thoughts must have been like those last few days before he took his life. Feelings of isolation and hopelessness seem to be common among those feeling suicidal as well as those who actually do take their lives. In some sense I think feeling suicidal feels very much like being a hostage. You might feel possessed by such darkness and be embroiled in such distorted thinking that the only sure release you can imagine is death. The issue of suicide was also broached at the conference I attended earlier this month.
In my own mind suicide seems to exemplify what happens when the experience of being held hostage reaches an extreme. I believe there are certainly many circumstances in which terminating your own life can actually be an act of great compassion. People suffering terminal illness and severe pain may find hastening their own passing to be a means of immense relief. I have never believed an institution or any person has the right to force terminally ill individuals to continue to live in pain when this contradicts these individuals’ own wishes. And yet when the body is healthy and yet the mind or spirit is deeply troubled suicide strikes me as such a terrible loss. I believe we all lose when otherwise healthy people who have so much to offer end their own lives.
I find the experience of being held hostage an apt metaphor to reflect on today. The opposite of being held hostage is letting go. There are moments in life when it seems we receive profound invitations to let go. Sometimes it’s a person we love dearly who parts ways with us under wonderful or unfortunate circumstances. Sometimes we lose a job, an opportunity or something as precious as a healthy outlook that changes how we subsequently see the world and our place within it. Over time such losses can add up and, when not sufficiently grieved, take on the likeness of a leaden weight strapped to our backs.
In my own life I have been coming to the rather profound realization that I have felt myself held hostage by some other part of myself for some time now. My dawning realization has been akin to the sensation of walking into a darkened room and slowly turning up a light on a rheostat such that measure by measure I begin to see the outlines of something I could never previously clearly see. I have managed to work past the initial distress I felt as my awakening commenced this past summer. Now I am moving forward and actively asking the question each day: “What comes next?”
I can clearly identify who the hostage taker is. The hostage taker in my own life journey is grief. Grief left unexpressed, unfelt, unattended to and un-honored can become a consumer of your lifeforce. Such has been my deepening understanding. In a forgiveness class I have been participating in at the local Pathways Health Crisis Resource Center we recently discussed how we can deal with painful feelings in a healthy way. Ironically the surest way to relieve a darkness within oneself is to embrace it fully. Thus the surest way to relieve the hostage taker of grief is to turn around and hug it fiercely. Embrace the grief as you would the most precious child you can imagine. In doing so you will finally no longer be in its thrall.
Leaning into our pain is often easier said than done. But I realize more and more that it is necessary for our own sanity and personal freedom. As I prepare for autumn and that time when the world outside becomes stripped bare I find myself confronted with the internal task of stripping myself of all the distractions and unnecessary activity that I have used to avoid the deep work of confronting this hostage situation once and for all.
I suspect it’s going to be an interesting autumn.