Francis Weller is one of my teachers, even though I’ve never met him. He writes and speaks about the 5 Gates of Grief. These are what he believes are the gateways into sorrow. The different and very human ways that can be portals into the expression and movement of our grief, in all it’s shapes and forms.
‘What we Expected but did not Receive’ is the 4th gate of grief that Francis speaks of. This is such a deep and painful place to enter into, if we allow ourselves to go there.
There are obvious ways that this gate might show up. For me, it has usually been through a process of reflection of my childhood. How, coming into this world I know that I wasn’t received and welcomed fully, in the way that my inner coding was longing for. I believe this is a very common experience when many of us begin to research either the facts of our arrival, or unpack through the intuitions, senses, or glimpses through inner seeing.
In the Wild Edge of Sorrow Francis writes,
‘When we are born, and we pass through childhood, adolescence, and the stages of childhood, we are designed to anticipate a certain quality of welcome, engagement, touch, and reflection. In short, we expect what our deep-time ancestors experienced as their birthright, namely, the container of the village’.
We live in a culture that does not know how to really welcome and, therefore, how to fully receive, because of this we don’t often know how to feel safe and therefore, how to create safety. The one thing that each human needs to know on a biological, psychological and physiological level is that we belong, that it is our birthright to be here. We long to know ‘the container of the village’.
Francis writes, ‘Our profound feelings of lacking something are not a reflection of personal failure, but the reflection of a society that has failed to offer us what we were designed to expect.’
Ok, so most of us in the modern, dominant culture (one that is disconnected from earth or a lifestyle that is aligned to her rhythms) have not known this in our developing years, but we can still work with it now that we’re all grown up, right? How can we support each other to know that we, each of us, belong? That we all have a place here ‘in the family of things’*? What could this look like?
One of the most beautiful things I’ve learnt over the last few years is that it is possible to know my belonging. I have been around and engaged with people and practices who’ve been around, or are based on, earth-based cultures, or, nature’s pattern language. One of these models is the 8 Shields. This is one of the maps that I teach from and it has been one of my biggest teachers. The model uses a wheel based on the cycles of nature that are in all of us and that are happening all the time. There are 8 directions on the wheel (no surprise!) and each direction holds a different quality and energy depending on the time of day or year that it represents. Let us look at the East shield. This is often a good starting place because it’s all about beginnings (the sun rises in the East, at least here in the Northern hemisphere, so it represents the beginning of the day). Similarly, when we arrive in a new place, including when when we are first born, it is the beginning of something (our life!) and we need to be welcomed and to experience enough safety that we feel we want to stay and to stay in a way that means our gifts shine.
For most of my adult life up until I really started to delve into the 8 Shields model, I did not know how to be welcomed and therefore how to welcome. Nor did I really know what it felt like to be in a connected community. I had not had it role modelled to me, so I didn’t know what that really looked like. I’d never even thought about it.
During an internal 8S UK gathering I deliberately chose to hold the East qualities and tasks in order to embody the quality of it. To my surprise, it was not only enjoyable but it was also an extremely healing process. I began to understand the importance of welcoming as part of our cultural healing in order that we all know that we belong – to the earth and to the vast web of earth community.
Now that I have that in me (most of the time but not all) it is always hard when I then experience the old paradigm of not being welcomed, not being offered the chance by the other to know that I belong. It is in fact, very painful when this happens. It somehow feels shocking to my system now that I have become attuned to the original coding that we’re designed for. What’s the old saying? Ignorance is bliss..? Before knowing that the welcoming and belonging was exactly what my being longed for I wouldn’t even notice when it wasn’t being offered to me. Now that I know it I expect it, so quite simply, not receiving it is distressing to my system. I would suggest that for most of us we carry on as usual simply because we don’t know any different.
Let us for a moment imagine a person whose patterning only knows what it is to be welcomed, received and who knows their belonging to the ‘family of things’ as a birthright. Say, one of those rare people who live in deep connection and reciprocity to the earth and in close community with other humans – ‘the village’ that Francis speaks of. If we can imagine them arriving into an average setting here in this first world culture I believe they would be distressed also. They simply wouldn’t know any other way of being other than to really be received and it’s likely they wouldn’t receive that. Greetings customs are such a huge part of many other cultures but not, in my experience, the one to which I am conditioned.
I want to look at a very specific scenario here that many of us may relate to – when we’re sick and we need support. Many folks I know, including me, have had some kind of lurgy over the tail-end of this winter, and it’s been tough. I know it’s particularly tough for those who live alone but I’d like to say that, as someone who lives with someone else who was ill at the same time, it would have been very healing (emotionally but also perhaps physically) to have received support from people close by.
I realize it’s wise not to get too close to those who have ‘the lurgy’. It is also possible to create a field, or indeed, fuel the old paradigm of separation by not knocking on the door of your neighbour or even picking up the phone to ask if there’s anything they need. This can feel like the opposite of having ‘the container of the village’. There’s the 4th Gate of Grief right there. Just having someone reach out to offer help, for me, is an act that says – ‘I welcome you and I want to support you to know your belonging.’ It really can be that powerful, that simple. The absence of it can be painful.
I know many of us already know this and are already stepping outside the comfort zone of separate living stories and ‘healthy boundaries’ that for me can become ‘unhealthy boundaries’ (see blog: https://naturewisdom.life/challenging-our-healthy-boundaries/) and, I believe we need to keep role modelling and inviting others into this way of acting as part of the new paradigm and cultural healing the world needs at this time. Otherwise, we’ll stay locked into our individualistic, ‘me and mine’ version of reality where a cultural shift is less likely to take place. It is my believe that the longing of all us to re~member our non separation with all of life is one vital part of the shift required at this time. And looking out for each other is one way of making sure that re~membering happens.
It is of course ok to ask for help – I know that can be the edge for many of us. But I’m wanting to bring our focus on how we re~member each other into the web of life by inviting it, by being the one who offers. This can be an act of kindness and kindness, for me, is the most important thing in life.
Is there someone you know who might be struggling with a lurgy, or worse, and who lives alone or whose partner is also unwell or unavailable? Could you pick up the phone, drop something at the doorstep if it’s at the contagious stage, offer to make them broth? What might it look like in this moment to co-create a culture of kindness and connection where we are all supporting each other to be the best versions of ourselves because we know our place in the vast web of life really matters?
* Mary Oliver, Wild Geese poem