How was I an OT today? 3

1/5/22

I have just finished a 30 day meditation challenge, which brought me back into the Heartfulness community, at least virtually. I loved the reminder of the sweet longing that comes within this form of meditation, which I once did several hours every day for a decade. Those were busy times, but the joy of engaging so fully as a devotee was something that was always energising. I consciously made the choice to move away some years ago, but I can still feel the call of brothers and sisters at particular times of the year. And in those time, it is a simple thing to move back into the slipstream (“between the viaduct of our dreams”, Van Morrison). It is such a privilege to easily be able to engage in a form of practice that is made so generously available, and which is practiced so diligently by a living community. Such opportunities allow us to renew ourselves, to slake our souls.

It is fortunate that such communities exist. These days the creation of community can feel like a weighty thing. We are all talking about how there seems to be no community to welcome our young people into. There is no village available to raise a child. By within the marvelous ecosystem of life, there are many intersecting communities. They are available to us when we slip into new beginnings.

We can make a mistake about being an adult and having responsibilities to keep these communities going. After all, they seem to be slipping away. But we do not need to carry these communities, anymore than a flower should be expected to carry the whole of nature. We only need to do those tiny nods and adjustments that allow us to flourish, and know that there is something much greater that we are part of. This was understood by Emily Dickinson,

BLOOM
by Emily Dickinson

Bloom — is Result — to meet a Flower
And casually glance
Would cause one scarcely to suspect
The minor Circumstance
Assisting in the Bright Affair
So intricately done
Then offered as a Butterfly
To the Meridian —
To pack the Bud — oppose the Worm —
Obtain its right of Dew —
Adjust the Heat — elude the Wind —
Escape the prowling Bee
Great Nature not to disappoint
Awaiting Her that Day —
To be a Flower, is profound
Responsibility —

My responsibility for building community is the way that the flower does it. That is, to navigate the incredible beauty of everyday life and acknowledge the ways that I “pack the bud, oppose the worm, obtain the right, adjust the heat, elude the wind”. These are the tiny gestures that I use as an occupational therapist to guide me towards the next ‘thing to do’. These are the ‘doing things’ that are about how we take real responsibility in life. We don’t have to be all grown up about it.

The world puts up these into distracting contexts, which can be incredibly attractive to the ego. For some years, I have found myself in leadership positions in most community groups that I engage in – and Heartfulness was no different. My commitment to the group led me to being invited to lead the local and national community. There was much to be learned, and in some meditations I was able to glory in the sense of how responsibility could energise a wider sense of being in place. I immersed myself in a sense of connection with the country and the planet through this invitation into leadership, which emerged easily at a particular stage of life.

But it is also important to ensure that there is a right to such leadership, which is earned by taking authentic space within a living community. At the moment, I am aware that I am just ‘visiting’ many spaces, including the Heartfulness one. Taking ones place is covered by the beautiful meaning of the word ‘ecology’, which is knowledge of the house of our living. This term was coined by Ernest Haeckel (1834-1919) long before Rachel Carson popularised the term. His understanding came from his immersion in long walks on the beach, when he was struggling with the loss of the love of his life. There was a moment when he observed a jellyfish, which reminded him of a previous observation and a question that had occurred a decade before.

His response to grief was to immerse himself in the deepest study of these jellyfish for the rest of his life. It reminds me of an occupational therapy friend, faced with another grief, who walked along the beach for two weeks this summer. At the end of that time she returned to the world with a treasure trove of sea urchin shells, of all colours and sizes. I never saw anything quite so beautiful, and it was like I could see the whole conversation that she had carried out with herself in those collected treasures.

She made a choice to have a holiday with herself, and to work through the transition in this way. The acute observation and connection with place might never have happened without that commitment. This was a characteristic of those Victorian scholars, those ‘men and women of letters’ like Haeckel, who completely lived the empirical science process. There was no desire to be an expert, but they gave such dedicated expression of their observations that they saw things that are still a wonder to us. It was a time when the scientific process was a new thing – not the weighty thing that now gets expressed in so many confusing ways.

There is an understanding in both Haeckel and my friend that by inserting themselves into the process of nature that something profound and meaningful will start to manifest. They were both driven by grief to bring about a deeper engagement, but they found a relationship within nature that in some sense became an answer and a compensation within their grief. This is not like the the ‘melancholy haphazardness’ that Kant described as the process of history. Instead, it is an affirmation that if we start where we are with complete focus that we will find the threads that help us to proceed and to ‘know how to go on’ (Wittgenstein).

I found this same kind of relationship within the Art of Life made about Michael Behrens, who has made a home in an impossible jungle in Hawaii. He described how he swam with dolphins every day for five years, and how they played and related to him. His story with the dolphins had a start in back pain. He was engaging in his own form of occupational therapy in finding a way to live with this pain, so he set up a rehabilitation program that involved long swims every day. He found himself imitating the alpha dolphin male and in this way was adopted into the pod. The dolphins eventually offered him an invitation to a party out at sea that would have been suicide and you can see Michael’s wistfulness about not taking up this invitation.

Hannah describes this process as one of ‘action’, where we become part of the story of the world. Even if that story seems to be a quiet and private, it is actually one where we become part of history. The process that she describes as underpinning action is much the same process that unfolds through nature and history. It is a process that science got hold of and learned to follow, wherever it took us. And sometimes where it has taken us has been to the strangest ‘out of this world’ experiences. There is a paradoxical nature that unfolds in these stories that sometimes tells you of how true they are.

A friend of mine said that the nature of paradox is the hallmark of truth. He offered me some metaphors where an unfolding story is seen in subatomic particles. Each one has a positive and negative charge, so even at this level we are a paradox to ourselves. He describes ‘cosmic mistakes’ and random playfulness as key messages within his partner counseling. I like to draw on the work of Jung:

“To confront a person with [their] shadow is to show [them their] own light. Once one has experienced a few times what it is like to stand judgingly between the opposites, one begins to understand what is meant by the self. Anyone who perceives [their] shadow and [their] light simultaneously sees [themself] from two sides and thus gets in the middle”.

References

Carl Jung, 1959, Good and Evil in Analytical Psychology, in CW10 Civilization in Transition, p.872

The Otherworldly Beauty of Jellyfish: How Ernst Haeckel Turned Personal Tragedy into Transcendent Art in the World’s First Encyclopedia of Medusae