“Wherever there is love, there is grief – a life without it is unthinkable.” Stephen Jenkinson, Orphan Wisdom School
Last night I was in the presence of greatness. Not the kind of greatness that relies upon fame or status, pushing or preaching, but the kind of greatness that comes from inner knowing, deep listening, and the ability to understand the mystery of life.
Stephen Jenkinson, founder of the Orphan Wisdom School is currently touring the UK. I found Stephen’s work ‘by accident’ when scrolling through Facebook recently, and was so touched and inspired by what I saw in his short film ‘The Making Of Humans‘, that I began to look further into his work. His life journey has taken him into the realms of palliative care, and the deep exploration of death and the process of dying. If this were me, that would inevitably mean an investigation into life and the process of living, and I’m sure, having heard him speak last night, that this is what he’s done too. In knowing death, he has come to know life. In knowing life, he can meet his death. If I was dying, I would want someone like Stephen to be there; no patronising, sickly, sugar coated pandering, but a brutal, truthful, irreverent and wise assessment of life.
I wrote five sides of notes in his ‘event’ (it was neither a gig nor a talk, but went beyond both somehow) and as a result I’m now compelled to tell my own stories, to bring to light all I’ve lived with and through, not just for myself but as a duty to my children and my friends, to those who would miss me when I leave this mortal coil. In dying first, we are not there to assist those we love with their own deaths, so in telling them frankly about our lives, and about our dying, we are loving them that little bit harder and in time, they will come to know and understand this.
Death and endings are the only eternal cosmic certainty, and yet we avoid them, hide from them and suffer in their wake, choosing to hang onto the idea that everything must stay, that we must turn away from endings of any kind, and from death for fear of becoming maudlin or pessimistic, and yet this denial of what is primarily life, creates so much pain.
I believe that one of our primary greatest fears as human beings is of being insignificant, of disappearing, of life having meant nothing, of people carrying on without us. Life does exactly that you see, it carries on without us and that can be a bitter pill to swallow.
“The razor sharp edges of communication are honed by dying” – Stephen said this last night whilst he was storytelling. It struck me like an arrow to my heart as did so much of what he said. Since being a child I have always felt such an innate fascination and connection with both language and words, and dying and the dead. Through my shamanic work I’ve been called to the aspect of work assisting souls to pass well in psychopomp practice, and through my other energy healing practices, I maintain a kind of knowing and connecting to other realms. I won’t go into that here, that’s not what this post is about, save to say it’s a connection I recognise somewhere deep in my soul, and Stephen’s work resonates and intrigues me; he intrigued me.
Combining exquisitely moving music from one solo musician with his own writings, Stephen captivates his audience. We were spellbound from start to finish; it was truly one of the most profound things I’ve ever witnessed. I’m glad I got to see him before the progressive heart disease he spoke of takes him to meet his own end. He spoke of love, of truth, of the relegation of what we perceive as ‘darkness’ and the misinformed split between angels and daemons – he said “the heart of the night is just another form of light” and it is.
He counselled not to look too hard and let life become scrutiny, to let it remain a mystery. Let death inform your life, let not the fear of it rule it. Be candid about death – when did we lose our ability to marry candour and compassion in these things? When did the ignoring of death become something we applaud as life affirming. Stephen likened ignoring death to a pregnant woman saying that her pregnancy is not such a big part of her life; would we applaud that or understand that, or might we feel shocked and concerned to hear that? Did we lose our connection to our bodies and souls so much that all can be explained away, ignored as we push on and drive hard through life, and has the ‘light’ of positivity become segregated in the playground of life from the ‘darkness’ of a falsely perceived negativity? Death and dying aren’t something to ignore, they’re fucking omnipresent from the moment we are born! So how do we embrace what Stephen referred to as “the wretched loveliness of our crooked lives”? We embrace it all! We practice gratitude with conscious presence. We allow all and we refuse to separate light from dark, good from bad, as religion has done so successfully through time with grave consequences.
“Dying well is a new way of living life, in the awareness of obeying its’ way of ending” – it’s inevitable, it’s profound and it is a mystery.
I will begin writing my rich and incredible life stories today; this wonderful man has shown me how important that is.
I will return to my love, to my curiosity around death, to my psychopomp work, and to assisting those who may be more fearful of living life because of attachment to it and our fear of dying.
I will explore once more what I started exploring two years ago, the practice of soul midwifery. There are some things your soul just knows. In the awareness of dying you “bring your life” to the table.
Becoming an elder is born of initiation, not age. It’s in the moment you realise none of this lasts, nothing is permanent, when you can accept that and allow it to pass through you painlessly and effortlessly just like a movie style ghost may pass through your physical body. Live your life well and die well. Make your life count not because you fear disappearing (you will), and live it well not in spite of death, but because of it.
Stephen signed my book, looking me in the eye and telling me “the ancestors are here” (I wasn’t sure if he meant in general or in my case as he only said it to me). I’ve always felt them, in fact even my marriage cloak has the runic words ‘may the bones of my ancestors make me strong as I walk in their footsteps’ embroidered into the hood.
“To Stephanie, would that the old worthies come down to the table, break the crystal and spill the best wine” (the old worthies are those ancestors). This simple note made sense of everything for me – life is not about ‘getting it right’, or ‘being perfect’, it’s about becoming comfortable with our imperfections, celebrating mess, not holding onto only the easy sides of life, but instead embracing the rich experiences of all of life, allowing it’s juicy, painful, bittersweet and wonderful stories to touch your soul. It’s about laughing joyfully and weeping sorrowfully sometimes in the face of life and nodding knowingly at death. It’s about consciousness and all that is.
“Somewhere in between right and wrong there is a garden, I will meet you there.” Jalaluddin Rumi