The gift of Death


At the juncture between life and death sits a man with tormented yearnings, with a broken heart and fragmented soul, determined to yield only to Truth, a hollow bone for healing what is “out of joint”.

Hamlet is such a great hero for our time.

He seeks a return to wholeness, but his noble attempt at healing the land and settling scores in a non-violent manner are pulled asunder by the overwhelming force, by the magnetic blow of an unconscious vortex of annihilation. In this death lies the resurrection, the promise of rebirth.

I recently went to see the latest production of this brilliant play at the Gate theatre in Dublin.

The whole cast wore contemporary clothing and the soldiers, the guards were armed with modern weapons, setting up Hamlet’s actuality.

As the actors came in and out of the whole theatrical space, mingling with the audience, the public turned into another ‘actor’, the collective unconscious.

Hamlet is a play of revolving between worlds, the living and the dead, the conscious and the unconscious; between what is visible and what is hidden, between the veneer and the truth, between the real and the fake, the fragmented and the whole.

This was made more flagrant through the casting by South African director Yael Farber, of mixed race actress Ruth Nega -- Oscar nominated for Best Actress in Loving last year-- in the title role; a play on bridging black and white, dark and bright, unconscious and conscious.

In the same vein Hamlet's father, the dead king, is black and the king’s brother on the other hand, the usurper of the throne, Claudius, is white.

As all classic three-part tragedies, Hamlet is edifying. It enquires into and assaults the fortified self: the personae hiding under repressed feelings and ‘unwanted’ emotions — our unconscious —, that performs life as if it were nothing but duties and compliance with conventions --our conscious.

In fact this is where the play begins, outside the Elsinore fortress as guards doing their night watch witness the return of the wandering ghost of the murdered king, Hamlet's father -- such a great metaphor for the seeking soul, such a great omen for the subsequent unleashing of the unconscious onto the whole theatrical space.

Why am I bringing up Hamlet in the context of craniosacral therapy you may ask?

Because I went to yet another brilliant craniosacral postgrad facilitated by Jane Shaw last weekend on the theme: Death and Rebirth in a craniosacral practice.

It was set over three days and she very cleverly divided them by Rollin Becker’s famous three stages of healing: seeking, settling into a state of balance or “stilling” and finally reorganisation or “letting something else emerge”.

Just like in tragedies, “Death is ever present in craniosacral work as we ever let go of one state and then let something else emerge,” Jane Shaw explained.

And so on our first day, we learned to “fall apart” as Jane called the first phase of Becker’s process.

In our initial contact with the fragmented self as therapists we trust that the “I” can emerge again as whole, renewed, and resolved.

We hold this promise and let it go at the same time.

We are at once a witness and safe container for our client to soften and surrender.

Hamlet is also seeking in his famous soliloquy as he asks Life, Death to be his witnesses:

“To be, or not to be: that is the question: Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep; No more; and by a sleep to say we end The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks

That flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep; To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub;

For in that sleep of death what dreams may come

When we have shuffled off this mortal coil, Must give us pause: there's the respect That makes calamity of so long life; For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,

The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,

The pangs of despised love, the law's delay, The insolence of office and the spurns That patient merit of the unworthy takes, When he himself might his quietus make With a bare bodkin? who would fardels bear, To grunt and sweat under a weary life, But that the dread of something after death, The undiscover'd country from whose bourn No traveller returns, puzzles the will And makes us rather bear those ills we have Than fly to others that we know not of? Thus conscience does make cowards of us all; And thus the native hue of resolution

Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,

And enterprises of great pith and moment

With this regard their currents turn awry,

And lose the name of action.--Soft you now!

The fair Ophelia! Nymph, in thy orisons

Be all my sins remember’d.” Act III, Scene I, Hamlet, Shakespeare, written between 1599 and 1602.

These lines are central to and form the midline, the axis on which this most amazing play hinges.

Hamlet’s words speak so well of the fragmented, torn apart self that has trouble with letting go of its fear of death — “(…) The undiscover'd country from whose bourn No traveller returns (…)”.

Hamlet scorns the resulting cowardice: we are scared of facing our unconscious, our shadow and this is the main reason why we are not truly, authentically living.

In our societies, “death is taboo”, we have “survivor’s guilt” and constantly wish to “fix things”, as Jane Shaw put it.

She invited us to go outside and witness the signs of Autumn, the season of Nature’s “falling apart”; to deeply feel the dying process everywhere at this time of year.

Have you noticed its flamboyance in the face of death? The reds, the rusts, the yellows...

There is such a promise of aliveness in this everlasting cycle.

Nature does not shut down the “soul’s expression”, it unconsciously unashamedly ineluctably reveals and renews it.

From this witnessing I thought: death sustains life; how could I get in the way of life’s ultimate ecstasy? How could I not trust its dissolving to form?

On our second day, we held this place of “not knowing” that is death, and connected with grief to meet our many losses in life.

“Disconnection is a survival tool, “ says Jane Shaw. “As craniosacral therapists, we can offer our clients a safe reconnection to wholeness, or Source in Jungian terms.”

She quoted Jungian analyst and writer, Lionel Corbett who speaks of a “receptive silence”, of “pure awareness beyond thought”, a place and most precious quality to be accessed in our craniosacral practice.

As Hamlet meets his resistance to death through grief, he can then face the “dark night of his soul” and attempt to come together again at the other end of his journey in the Underworld.

Our third day was about this re-birth, this promising third phase in Becker’s process. Following the dismembering, the acknowledging, we can then“re-member” as Jane Shaw said.

Hamlet falls apart, dissolves his fear and steels his resolve just like in another three-step healing process.

The third phase in the cranio sacral process, the reorganisation and resolution, is also the concluding stage in a classic tragedy like Hamlet. They are the few seconds of silence, of stillness that precede the potent clapping of a thrilled public smiling the inner sparkles of a joy spurred as much by appreciation as by relief, before the return home.

I re-member this is what a therapist once answered when asked what is craniosacral therapy: “we help our clients to return home.”

Here is a poem Jane Shaw read to us, written by Rabia, a Sufi poetess, in Basra, Iraq, 500 years before Rumi:

“Ironic, but one of the most intimate acts

of our body is

death.

So beautiful appeared my death - knowing who then I would kiss,

I died a thousand times before I died.

"Die before you die," said the Prophet

Muhammad.

Have wings that feared ever

touched the Sun?

I was born when all I once

feared - I could

love. “


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