Recently I did a workshop exploring 2014 and how I’m going forward into 2015. It was a beautiful thoughtful workshop with a group of like minded others cooperatively inquiring into what it means to be alive and together. I declared 2014 a year of “Relief, success, joyful connections and stuff that needs and beckons attention!” I love the contradictions in that yet feel how 2014 brought challenges that have informed my moving into 2015. I announced that 2015 is a year of “enriched relationships, deepening self-awareness and gratitude for my multitude of choices”.
I am now pondering relationships and what that means to me personally and professionally. What is enriched relationships? There are certainly my professional work based relationships, relationships via social media fora, social/fun connections and family. Yet there is something remaining invisible and ungraspable. The sense of what lies between us all, the mystery of relational connectedness. The moods we find ourselves in gesture to understanding the world. If I’m joyful the world I create around me is experienced vastly differently to a day attuned fearfully. For example arriving at a labour and birth attuning to fear directs my awareness to risk averse tasks, arriving with a feeling of joy draws me into something quite different, something wholly relational in quality. What is this mysteriousness going on between us, in our eye to eye contact, the mutual hug, the knowing smiles, eating together, sharing of stories, of being together…?
Yesterday I had the pleasure of sharing tea and cake with an old client and her 3 children. The mother gave me that extra-long hug and prolonged eye to eye contact infused with mutual positive regard when you just know you are connected on a deep level. The eldest child, Frida, as I was leaving run towards me jumped into my arms and gave a big whopper kiss on the lips. She starts school tomorrow at age 5, I was moved as I glimpsed a memory in her eyes of our first eye to eye glance when she was one minute old.
With this recent experience I wonder what is really going on – is something “always just there” despite my fluid moods which apparently alter my daily perceived realities! I feel something is surely going on between us in every moment. The moments between Frida and her mother were nourishing and extraordinary. There is something between us that beckons. A space of flourishing beyond right doings and wrong doings, notions of right and wrong. A felt sense of spiritual other when we attune consciously together in an intimate encounter, such as at a birth, tender moments with a friend or work colleague, when we sit in a circle (such as at a workshop), read a letter from a loved one. There is something tangible yet unseen in that space between I and You.
These precious and treasured moments I understand as a manifestation of relational spirituality. Although they are never complete they gesture infinite unravelling possibilities. Spirituality is thus not of faraway mystical places of the imagination (could be these realms also) but felt in our embodied experience of being alive together on this earth, in this time. Relational spirituality is felt when we see an old friend for the first time in years yet continue to just “know them”, their circumstances may have changed, their lives altered. However in those moments we are gifted the beauty of what lies quiescent and ineffable between us in our connections.
A beauty often over looked and given no significance in our busy professional and personal “doing” lives. The beauty is at the heart of who we are, our being; it is That which allows us to flourish. Yet this seems to require a certain authentic way of being in the world. The sweet possibility to be vulnerable with self and others in ways that are normally not expressed in everyday life. Someone recently reminded me of a Rumi teaching – “when you seek God, just turn to your friend and look into their eyes” – such a simple technique for dissolving conflict arising from difference or what seems contradictory. The challenge of integrating personal, professional and spiritual life encounters leaves me bewildered at times. The long staff meetings at the university where I work, teaching a class of student midwives, running a busy antenatal clinic, to name a few. Allowing myself to live through and within the presence(s) around and between us, gifts a certain permission to pause in my “doing” and to simply ‘be’ allowing access to this hidden treasure in life. This opens myself and others I encounter to celebrate and affirm our presence in the world. Such moments I find traverse the different aspects, roles and responsibilities of our lives.
I remember speaking with a student midwife recently who was concerned that she cried with joy at a birth. But why not feel and express joy in our lives? I asked her to share how the birth was special and how it made her feel. It was a beautiful dialogue. The potency of these feelings are embodied and embedded within relationships with others. In this context to be at a birth is profound, stirs us up and brings a depth of knowing not encountered much in our everyday life.
It is not surprising we are touched and moved – sometimes we experience embodied moments of tearful joy. It’s a celebration of our immanent experience of what is divinely sought in our lives. Immanent and transcendental presence in the world manifests in the form of our shared natality. Yet how is it that mortality over shadows natality? We focus copiously on mortality and morbidity avoidance in maternity yet natality sings out to us of newness, potential and endless creativity stretching far beyond our thoughts, protocols and daily activities. Tears of joy and sorrow are to be welcomed. They are embodied expressions of our relational spirituality. They are tears of yearning to feel connected and a symbol of our return from separateness and aloneness.
Spirituality is immanent, experienced in the ever unfolding creativity of creation in our lives with others. Immanent spirituality brings a sense of the sacred into our lives by connecting at once with the transcendent. For example when I am privileged to be at birth I am immersed in the magic of a creative act within creation. Simultaneously I and You are in relation with a vast unconfined unknown time that stretches back and forward meeting in a sacred Kairos moment.
The transcendent for me is beyond form, it is the non-material, otherworldly, unexplainable inspiring felt mystery of life. Participants in my own study and similar studies on spirituality at birth speak of unseen others, ancestors, spiritual otherness and the presence of those yet to come. This immanent-transcendent human experience co-exists, they are not dichotomous.
This living paradox in our lives frustrates our need to understand and have it all wrapped up in logic. This ineffable quality of our lives remains forever unexplainable. Do we need to remain open to further knowing and inquiry? My concern is that we simply avoid such inquiry. Relegating the spiritual explorations in life to a personal ‘hobby’ and dropping spirituality into the too hard basket at work avoids the risk of self-exposure in a revered and dominating “matter-of-fact” technocratic attuned world that would make us feel vulnerable. As Lammi (2008) asserts: “One might expect that if the question of the divine is undecidable, it is a particular kind of question unlike other questions. I would argue to the contrary that this ‘undecidability’ makes it the very paradigm for all questions beyond the merely matter-of-fact” (p. 51). To inquiry and be present to spiritual experiences in our relationships with others allows far more space in our personal and spiritual lives to live more authentically. It is a challenge for sure.
To draw into nearness enriching relationships is to embrace spirituality as relational to all that is seen and unseen. My own research into being at the moment of birth is one such occasion when there is a relational gathering when each there at that moment is touched by mystery. All who gather there willingly and unwillingly reach out and touch mystery. To be touched at birth is to touch seen and unseen realms, to be left vulnerable – physically and feelingly in the sweetest of ways.
So I embrace 2015 and wish you all the magnificence of flourishing enriched relationships and relational spirituality; be courageous, real and vulnerable and let the magic of what dwells between us fill your personal and professional lives.
Heron, J. 2006 Spiritual inquiry, Lulu Press, USA.
Abram, D, 1996 The spell of the sensuous, Vintage, NY
Buber, M. 1996/1923 (Trans) I and Thou, Touchstone books, NY