Suffering, I’ve been told, disappears when you let yourself go. The 8 days at St Beuno’s was certainly the facing up to and letting go that we all, in whatever capacity, needed to do.
Those that had dealt with silence for such a long time, or the ones that were able to have it in their everyday lives, knew all too well what was about to come. They had braced themselves with such high impact from the 5 of us (be it group discussions, prayer, their own mentors, or outside psychologists) they were about as ready as a child wearing a buoyancy aid to a paddling pool 2 inches deep. They were ready, because they had been there. We on the other hand felt like we were about to witness a hideous car crash, and there was nothing we could do about it.
Ok, we could pray. But 4 out of 5 of us, were not willing to do that either. If you don’t believe in a God at this point, why would you turn on your heels and seek for some sort of false comfort?
Apart from the expected the boredom, you then face irritation because you’re bored, then the crap books that we had on offer, (it became so limited I ended up reading letters between Churchill and Clementine his wife – which actually was an interesting read). Then follows the frustration after we’ve walked all the walks around the retreat, walked the labyrinth, the art work, clay work, the frustration that your clay butterfly looks like a tortoise all this, and it’s only 11am. On day 1.
For me boredom was unproductive and I felt I could be putting together better use of my time. The only consellation at this point was, well at least this is being filmed for TV and if anything we’re making a documentary to tell people not to bother coming on something this mind-blowingly dull. So yes, I’ve been productive. Although, I’m yet to see any cameras today. As I think this, there’s a ruffle in the bushes and a big lens watching me.
‘Ah how interesting, I think. They’ve decided to film us like wildlife.’
I think the production crew themselves, were waiting for someone to scream out loud or indeed run down the hill with no clothes on. I did a little cartwheel at one point with one europhic moment, but I fear Tiger Aspect may have felt this slightly contrived. ‘It wouldn’t work in the Christian’s favour’
Once we start to let go of our stubbornness and begin to accept that this silence is all we have, bar our one to one sessions, the boredom turns to silence. Or at least for me, the wanting of peace. The wish for the mind to stop chattering away and to let the peace overcome you. Rather than us try to overcome the silence.
I made one phone call the entire time to Will on his 30th birthday, but my need to have it there with me for security, was a sign I needed to get rid of it. So I did.
That afternoon I became incredibly irritable, angry, resentful and I began to panic. That night was the night of the, now witnessed by 1,000,000 people, dream. My big blubbery face needn’t remind me of that hideous night. I’ve never woken up with a soaking wet pillow from my tears. I actually asked the crew not to film me as I felt ‘too raw’. Of course they had to film it, I’d already signed the contract. The only blessing was the fact that I had Sister Renate there, who by day 3, was becoming a true inspiration to me. I asked her to give me poems, writings, pictures each day to learn about other people’s grief. Each night, like clockwork, she’d leave me postcards, poems, quotes.
Sister Renate had travelled to places in the world where there was nothing but intense suffering. She made herself a servant all her life for humanity. I needed to learn from this woman and so when I saw her that morning after my dream, I couldn’t help myself. Her soft, gentle compassion, made it even easier for me to breakdown. She was the friend I needed 6 years ago, when some of my other mates at age 23 couldn’t understand what I was going through, and were after 6 weeks, telling me to shut up. This was the woman, that no matter what I said, no matter how faithful or faithless I was, she was still going to be on my side. Because her biggest interest was compassion, not conversion. That was important to all of us. Something that I think the critics of this programme don’t get.
It was this hour that made me open up to the ideas of angels and heaven. Something perhaps I hadn’t thought of before. I of course questioned the existence when I was an atheist, but as a woman of faith (if not haphazard faith) I hadn’t given it much thought.
That afternoon was spent doing nothing but crying. I mean serious, big belly cries. I had finally got to the pit of the hole that I felt linger for those 6 grieving years. I was finally there, and it was nothing than pure pain, pure gut wrenching-Dad’s- not- coming- back- is- he?-pain.
By 3 hours of moving from chapel to chapel and place to place, still uncomfortable with how I was feeling. I moved to Rock Chapel again and finally found some stillness. I was raw, empty, hungry. I had my eyes closed for a while. As I open my eyes again to the altar, I was reminded very quickly that this was for a documentary when one director was standing on tiptoes, a massive camera, tilting himself between the window ledge and the tiny table. All at the same time, trying despearatley to not disturb me.
I smiled to myself and was given a refreshing reminder, that I’m still here and still the world keeps turning, whether I’m blubbing or not.
The crew I have to say, were amazing that day. Clare, who I perhaps spent most of my time with, on our journeys, would come in and give me hugs, as did Elizabeth who had carried out the experiment herself with Sister Renate just before filming – to understand the process.
The most prominent moment to date was this. When I retorted back to my room, after the full day of lamentation. I sat completely still. Thinking – this was possibly the hardest day in my life. Ever.
A book I had been reading on Mother Teresa (a great woman in my eyes and without her, there would be no home for the destitute and dying. She’s one of the few woman who had the guts to touch lepers and care for them in their last living hours. A page opened to a quote from her saying ‘I know God will not give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish that he didn’t trust me so much’.
Well, Theresa, you hit the nail on the head there sister.
Then without warning – I wasn’t alone in my room. No human was there. But with profound clarity, I knew my Dad was there with me. Not for 7 years, had I got this experience of being in the same room as him. I always found myself saying for the last 6 years ‘what I wouldn’t give to have 1 final hour with my Dad – to say goodbye, to give him a hug, to tell him how much I adore him’. Of course I never got that hour. Not until now.
Whether you believe this or not, I just don’t care – because I was the only one in that room that night. I might have had a bad day, I might have felt vulnerable – but there’s no reason where this could have come from. To clarify, I wasn’t on acid.
I could smell him, his aftershave, I could feel him sitting in the chair that I sat in each night for video diaries. I had the strong sense that I was being told to go to the chair. I curled up in it. And tith that I felt the biggest hug, that only my dad could give. So now, I was really crying.
It was the hour I had wished for. Somewhere in the tears and the sorrow, I felt Dad’s comfort and i felt a true understanding that he was honestly ok. That I didn’t need to worry about him anymore. I felt a total belief that he couldn’t be happier.
The faithful would call that God, the sceptics would call that imagination. Whatever it was, it was the most healing moment in all my grief.
I walked to Woodland Chapel and knelt down and said the following:
‘Alright God? Good. Well as you may be aware – today was a pretty shit day. Worse than your favourite contestant on X Factor written off feeling….So anyway….hmmm. Dad. The one I loved more than life itself? Yes. Well……He’s yours now. You can have him. Look after him and give him everything he dreamed of having in Heaven, including his beloved motorbike workshop. Don’t let him get there and it’s some hideous rerun of changing rooms where you’ve given him a clapped out moped and some sort of shed to work in…..Make it good – make it you know, Easy Rider on crack good….In all seriousness though….Here ends the selfish part to my grief’
I told Dad that he needed to have some fun now, and that he deserves every happiness. I thanked him for being the best father a daughter could ask for. That I’d do everything to make this world a little better, in whatever small capacity I could.
What did I get back? Not much. I didn’t need anything back, this wasn’t about me, and my grief was a pretty selfish thing if I were to believe in Heaven.
Oh wait, Dad did say one thing. Which was….
‘That’s my girl’
As I was going through my bit, so too were the others. I would walk passed them and we’d all want to hug each other, but we felt strong enough to know that everyone cared for us and the need to people please was ceasing.
I felt very close to so many of the people now, including the crew, and yet we said very little to each other. David had clearly had some epiphany when he posted a note under my door saying ‘The key to the secret of life, is love’.
When I saw David a few hours later, his face looked different. He’d ‘de-aged’ by about 5 years. Everyone began to look lighter. More happy. Even Jon was becoming more accepting of the food.
Once you get the pain out of the way, I forgave some people with those letters you see. One was an ex-boyfriend whom I had been going out with over the death of my father, some were friends, and one was to myself. I found myself being quite fearful in some aspects of relationships after being so badly burnt by these people. But as I was quickly learning, in order to walk on water, I needed to get out of the boat. In order to truly enjoy my relationship with boyfriend and my friendships with my girls, I needed to trust and let go that they wouldn’t hurt me like I had been hurt before.
By the end of the time here, I felt a huge weight lifted. I had found some acceptances, I had begun to forgive a couple of people I never thought I’d ever forgive, and realise my worth as a human being.
You see, when these people had hurt me, and royally stitched me up – half the time they hadn’t even noticed and if they had been given the information, they would be in sheer denial.
This is where I discovered total clarity. No matter how many people who told me I was in the right, these people had done something completely wrong, or their fabrications would not be believed by others, I still somehow thought it was my fault. The pain and the long term stress of their hurts, lost me in a wilderness where I wasn’t sure who the hell I was. Albeit a confident girl, I people pleased a lot, and often to my own detriment.
The silence bought clarity to make me realise I made the right decisions to break off those friendships. For they were incredibly damaging. They all had something in common with each other. Which was total and utter self denial. An inability to hold their hands up and say they were wrong.
When something happens, they sweep stuff under the carpet and pretend they haven’t just hurt you. The complete insecurity that makes them unable to look at themselves and say ‘i messed up, but that’s ok, I won’t do it again.’ This inability to apologise, was what broke my heart, because I always found saying sorry to be quite easy. It wasn’t until the silence, that I noted the only thing I did wrong in these few but very prominent friendships, was to keep them on for longer than I should have done. In some way, they got more from that friendship, than I did. Finally I was able to begin to notice they were like this because they don’t have this insight about themselves, they were struggling to find inner strength and so pretend they can’t go wrong, or indeed, were just plain bone idol. Either way – I needed to forgive them, because my main aim in this game now, was to have peace – for longer than just 8 days.
The process that we all put ourselves on, proved that I certainly didn’t sweep stuff under the carpet, even busying myself for 6 years didn’t mean I hid from the grief – because I talked about it all the time. I just didn’t know silence would be the thing to bring it out fully. I didn’t realise being still would resolve the discourse in my day to day discomfort of grief. Talking about it didn’t work. Ironically the exact opposite was needed. Being still, alone, without the noise or opinions of others was what was needed. Finally, I had that chance to grieve fully and do it in a place of safety, and love.
Whether we were religious or not, which for this programme has seemed to get some backs up, it wasn’t about religion. It was about the encounters that everyone had in the silence. Helen poignantly says ‘I think I can handle the God stuff, I think I’ve got over myself with that’. Which to me was the perfect level headed approach of dealing with this subject. You’re not expected to necessarily believe in God, but it would be nice to not have your defences over practises that these people did. I hate rugby, but just because I hate it, doesn’t mean I won’t go to a match and embrace it as much as the fan next to me. In essence, it doesn’t hurt to try stuff out. No one is making you stay.
Once Helen found her own inner strength, the offense of religion that she first found herself in was no more.
We all ‘got over ourselves’ and started to look at the bigger picture. Whether that’s God or not, well that’s down to the individual who actually has the guts to go on these things. It’s about getting out of yourself and searching for the meaning of what our lives actually are.
A meaning beyond, your TVs and your mobiles, your friendships and loved ones. A meaning beyond even your own purpose. Beyond, dare I say, being the domestic Goddess is something more knicker tingling than we realise. Whatever that is it’s hard to find in a world of noise and opinion.
I don’t believe there’s one person on this planet, that would be so arrogant to say – there’s no such thing to a meaningful life. Surely we can do more than just exist.
Take a moment of silence and ask yourself, when was the last time you gave a moment for reflection?
In the reflection, you build clarity. In clarity, you make wiser decisions. Trust me. You do. In wisdom you find rationality and a better strength to handle overwhelming moments.
Anyway you look at this, I see no harm in wisdom.