Episode #42 Grief Walker and Fire Keeper: Medicine woman Fiona Shaw speaks of Trust, Grief and Emotional Authenticity
In 1997, Fiona Shaw was initiated as a Medicine woman in the Red Path tradition. Since then, she has created communities of ceremony in the UK, Germany, Portugal and Israel.
As the years have progressed, she has seen the acceleration towards the crisis of these times, and seen the changes in the nature of the circles. This podcast was recorded at the Autumn Equinox of 2020, when Fiona had just come out of ceremony. The grounding of that, informs all that she says of who we are, who we have been, who we could be – and the pathways of ceremony and human connection that can bring us to a profound healing of all that we are.
Manda: So it is the day of the equinox today. We were up the hill this morning. I am guessing you were probably doing things at your end. But as I understand it, you’ve just come from a full weekend ceremony honoring the equinox. And it seems to me because it is the equinox and because what we’re trying to do is really find ways to help people to connect to the land and to open to the land, perhaps, could you talk a little bit about the ceremony? And then we can talk about how you came to be a person who is holding that nature and that depth and that intensity of ceremony?
Fiona: Yes. So I carry a lineage, the fire of Itsachey Laland. And when I was given this bundle – given this initiation to be a medicine woman within that lineage – the invitation was to use the form, the design of the ceremony to remember the medicine of our own land with the understanding that that sacred fire. It belongs to everybody. With the understanding also that that fire is like the origin before religion, before other ideas came in, the people – us – sat with a fire, sat with the water, sat on the earth -and connected to what was holding us.
My understanding is that on this land, we prayed, particularly at the equinoxes and the Solstice and Samhain and Imbolic and those moments, because we were so connected to the land, we were in gratitude and we also prayed. And the gratitude is, ‘Thank you for this harvest and please help our seed grow in the next cycle’.
And so, in my journey to remember the medicine of our land, I’m carrying this altar and this form, but I always try to hold ceremonies very close to these moments in order for us to remember who we are way beyond the current paradigm.
And so, yes, we just met this weekend. We sat around the fire in a circle, there were 30 of us to comply with the fact that we’re allowed to meet as a religious ceremony in groups of 30. We are a religious ceremony. And it’s very profound because it becomes the reminder: we always work with an intention, a group intention, a collective intention. And actually finding the intention is half the work. So a few of us spent time thinking, ‘What do the people need at this particular moment in time? What’s happening around us collectively and what will serve us to go into the winter months?’.
The purpose of this ceremony, the intention of this ceremony was ‘To remember our connection with our allies in order to be whole integrated and with integrity.’ With the understanding that all that’s going on, politically, energetically is pulling us from that center place, the place of our integrity, the fear.
And so rather than going into all of the fear and all that’s not right, we’re wanting to remember what serves us.And I think we were talking a while ago about how to work in these times, and I said something along the lines, that it’s about going back to our practices again and again. And so we use this space to elevate our vibration and remember the truth of our vibration.
But also, perhaps what I love most about these ceremonies, is that is a safety which I understand is connected to the format of the ceremony, which is very, very ancient and has been repeated again and again and again, which creates a power in itself by being obedient to it. Right. That gives us this level of safety – and I also feel that’s enhanced because of the spirits that travel with me and those guides and allies that travel with me are my personal ones, but also the spirits and guides that accompany this lineage.
And so it feels like there’s a bit of a gravitas there, just by their presence. And so what happens in the ceremonies also because it is the direction of my work, is there’s a very deep level of emotional releasing. Somehow that safety of reaching the deep grief, the rage, the shock and giving it to the fire, moving it towards the fire and being witnessed at the same time by a small community — that brings us the memory of being in tribe, or in village, that so many people carry the grief of the loss of. That witnessing means that something can be let go of, and then the elevation can happen so that the spirits that are there can lift us up.
So the journey is messy in the sense that the deepest healing often looks messy from the outside. And always when the light comes back in the morning, pretty much everybody is in a different space, although it takes a lot of time to integrate.
And what I notice this time, which is related to this time, I suppose, was there was so much sorrow. Deep, deep sadness and rage, there was two elements to it was my sense, One is the desecration is happening on the Earth and this tradition is an earth-honoring tradition. I haven’t found a way to transfer it to Zoom. It really is about sitting directly on the land and feeling the spirit of that piece of land.
So we’re earth lovers. And so there’s a deep grief that almost cannot be expressed it’s so huge. And then there’s also that personal grief that seems to be around in so many stories at the invitation of the movement of this time. So there was an enormous amount of sorrow and rage.
Manda: And can you say a little bit more about the rage? Is that that’s a collective rage also at the desecration of the earth and also a personal rage at the politics of the time?
Fiona: I think there is a rage about the politics of the time, yes. But I feel and it’s just a sense, I’m the conductor of the service, so it’s what I feel in my body: it’s very connected to the feeling of disempowerment and helplessness about how to make a change and wanting it so much for all beings, particularly the next seven generations. And we’ve been making these prayers while I’ve been walking this particular path for 25 years now. And when we were praying for the protection of the water, that it would always be clean. 25 years ago. It was a little bit of a dream. It was a prayer that was said. But I don’t remember sensing the level of urgency. And now it’s very, very different. It is a reality that our water could be unclean for our grandchildren.
And that sense of helplessness is huge. But I think what can come through on the positive side is that while we’re releasing all these feelings there is also a memory that we are absolutely not alone. We’re accompanied by our ancestors, guides and allies. And there is so much support.
And so once you’ve moved this feeling of disempowerment, grief, rage, despair, whatever’s there, there’s so much love available and so much possibility. And so I’m really with these two things that as we elevate ourselves, we do not have an idea how it will look. But it for sure, elevating ourself supports that change. And that’s why ceremonial work is so important. We don’t really have a clue how many spirits are being impacted by our prayers and our work, but I feel unquestioningly that a lot happens.
Manda: So let’s talk about the birds that are impacted by our prayers and our work, and if we go back a little bit, you said that in finding the intent you were looking for, what do the people need? And my understanding is that this is the 30 people who are with you through the night. Is it in a yurt? A roundhouse?
Fiona: It’s usually in a teepee or a round house, yes. Selecting the intention is for the collective, actually.
Manda: So my question then is, is it the collective of these lands, the United Kingdom or Britain. Or presumably by now it’s the Planetary Collective?
Fiona: Yes, it’s totally global. What we want is we want to see the evolution of our consciousness. So we’re looking always at ‘What’s happening to me personally? What’s happening in the collective and what needs to change in me that supports me and what would support the collective?’ And we’re always coming from a relationship with the spirits, the invisible ones.
I wanted people to go away with a tool to journey into these winter months. The tool that felt very relevant is to remember our allies and our connection with the fire, with the elements, with our guides, with our ancestors, with beings from very high dimensions, with the light beings, and not to get caught into the game that’s happening between the light and the dark beings. And so that’s like any of our practices, meditating every day to keep elevated, but not bypassing the emotions coming up because they’re really valuable as well.
Manda: And I get a lot of interesting feedback from people who are caught in an internal contextual paradox where they don’t know how to keep elevated without bypassing. So can we talk a little bit about your experience of of doing exactly that in real time, in ceremony and in the rest of your life?
Fiona: I think my work has been emotional authenticity. I’m a midwife and I have a deep trust that if you make a space safe enough, then we can drop deeper and hear our true voice. And understanding the true voice is overlaid with layers of defences and patterns for all the different reasons, whether it’s lifetimes of stuff or childhood stuff or whatever. And so dismantling those is a very challenging process. But it is my work. So it’s about finding the safety to feel the deep feelings. And my true belief is that unless it’s witnessed, it just can’t move. It has to be witnessed. We are social beings. We aren’t isolated being. So we need someone else to witness that in order to be able to let it go. And that is incredibly powerful in these ceremonies where people really go to some very, very, very deep places and are weeping or whatever while everyone’s singing and the ceremony carries on. But have had that held is transformational. It allows the person to allow those feelings in themselves because other people have allowed it in its purity, not fixed it, not stroked them, not tried to make them better, but just allowed them to run it until it’s finished and we carry on and we’re with you. And that’s really a contradiction, isn’t it, to how our society works? It’s very freeing. It’s very profound. And I can’t remember your question.
Manda: You’re answering it. It was about how really to reach that level of elevation that we need to in order not to get caught up in the difficulties of whatever is dragging us in other directions, but without spiritual bypassing. The question that arises from the fact that it’s so much better when it’s done in company is that we’re in the middle of lockdown, only 30 people were able to come to your ceremony. Is there a way that people listening can begin to find that level of authenticity in a lockdown situation? Because, as you said, Zoom is hard for doing something that requires that you be on the earth? Although my own experience is if I go up and sit on the earth alone, that I feel a connection with the spirits of the land and the spirits that we’re discussing, I don’t feel alone, alone. And yet coming together in tribe and ceremony is such an extraordinary, powerful thing. Is there a way that we can help a larger collective to find enough authenticity and connection to the elements, to the spirits without leading them all through ceremony? Particularly in the current moment where it looks like we’re heading back into a version of lockdown.
Fiona: Very good question. For me, the safest place to go is to nature. So to go and lean against a tree or to sit by the water and to literally invoke the support of the elemental being of the water or the spirit of the tree – to really ask it. And then to pay attention to what emotions need meeting. And to know that when you’re doing it in that little ceremonial moment, if suddenly you feel fear not to think, ‘Oh dear, I’m not spiritual because I’m feeling my fear.’ But to get curious. Where has this come from? Is this mine? What is it trying to say to me? You know, really curious. Engage with it. Really engage with it. And if you’re sitting by the water, when you have found the depths of it, speak with the water. ‘Help me. See me. Help me be more fluid in this.’ I feel like all of our work is with the elements. I work with the elements, particularly the fire. And so by sitting in the fire asking my questions in ceremony, when I’m holding everybody, I’m watching the fire to reply to me.
And when we put the fire, when we set up the fire. we are invoking the spirits, the ancestors, the allies, the guides, my lineage. And my feeling is that what happens is that I when I’m holding the space, I become empty and I’m watching the fire. And so what comes through me is, I think, what the spirits are inviting me to say. But it is really with the fire. It’s as if, when the fire moves, when it drops, when it changes shape, it brings the messages into my head as a way to explain it.
And so, in this time use the fire. And when you sense this feeling of being trapped in old stories, old beliefs, sit in front of a fire and call in your spiritual allies, make a sacred space, and even if it’s ten minutes, offer this story and cut ties to it, cut ties to the beliefs of these stories in the patternAs.
And actually for all the difficulty of these times, my experience is that there’s an enormous amount of support, which is why so much is coming up for so many people. It’s ready to be transformed. It is moving very, very, very fast in the transformations I’m seeing in people around me are very fast.
So I don’t know if you’re finding it the same, but it seems to be an incredible time to be able to move your consciousness.
Manda: Yes. It’s as if everything is accelerating. You’re right. Everything is moving faster so that things that would have taken years, perhaps are happening in moments. I am possibly exaggerating a bit, but I’m certainly watching. It’s as if all the curves have tipped upwards.
Fiona: And the willingness is suddenly like people are willing or they know they need it and this is their moment and they haven’t felt that urgency before. So I find that very exciting and it gives me a lot of hope.
Manda: Yes. And therefore we hope to give everybody else hope as well. Because it seems to me that hope and agency are absolutely key. And hope is not that everything will suddenly become baskets of kittens and bunches of roses, but it’s hope that difference is possible, that we can, as you said, evolve to be something different. But that it takes work from all of us to to keep doing exactly what you said. And I I think this idea that we can sit with water, we can sit with fire, even if it’s a candle, if we’re on the 10th floor of a tower block in the middle of London and we’re not allowed out, we can still light a candle and connect.
Fiona: We are those elements. I think it’s understanding that we’re mainly made up of water and we have the fire of light, fire of the original light inside us.
Manda: We are those elements of the flesh on the bones and the teeth of the earth and the breath of the air.And we can bring them all together.
Fiona: So it’s not as unfamiliar as it might seem. So when you sit with that that candle, the ancient part of you will remember something.
Manda: The ancient part of us does remember, I was listening to a podcast with a Forest School teacher the other day and she was talking about having brought a group of inner city schoolchildren and taught them how to light their own fires with a flint and iron. And this little lad who had the reputation of being unruly and difficult and bouncing off the walls – the kind of person that they would give Ritalin to. And he lit his fire and sat with it, unmoving for 90 minutes.
And eventually she went and just sat beside him and said, ‘Are you OK?’ He said, ‘I’ve never seen a fire before.’ It’s just so heartrending. And yet he has now and the magic of that and the ancient, ancient deep in our bones structure of it are there.
I was really interested that for you the questions are, thank you for this harvest. Please let the sea grow in the next cycle, which is we are an agrarian community now, a culture/species. But I am sure that the setting with the fire happened when we were not planting. And it was ‘Thank you for the hunt.’ And ‘Thank you for the gathering,’ and Thank you for the berries’. Now we’re in autumn, the blackberries are just beginning to to die down, but so much life is around us.
Fiona: And as I say it, I’m almost remembering our nomadic lives that we’d be praying that there would be fish in the next bit of water we come to and the seeds we plant here for the next people to. It really is about food, isn’t it? The food and water and humans and bodies. And we need that.
And fire.We would carry our fire, this tiny little ember, with us from place to place to place. And it would be home and light and comfort and the ability to cook and that magic of, as you said, when you reach that place of the hollow bone where I don’t need to impose me anymore and even speaking, I’m aware that I am imposing me saying this. But the fire gets to speak.
And if we could spread around the world the understanding that if you let it, the fire wants to speak, the water wants to help, the earth wants to talk through us, the air wants to be given voice. Wouldn’t the world be such a different place?
Fiona: Absolutely. And so a very big part of the tradition is Vision Quest. And it’s quite interesting that one of the countries I work with which is in full lockdown, a few of them have decided, even though they’re probably not allowed to do that, they need to go and stay on the mountain and pray. They need to listen. And there’s something about those old ways that are as irrelevant now as ever. And they are about this level of listening, this level of calming down. To be able to hear what is wanted of us individually and collectively.
Manda: So can you tell us a little bit about how you came to this lineage? Because way, way, way back, you you trained in biodynamic psychotherapy and the Gerda Boyson school, and you’ve been a midwife. You are still a midwife, I think. And yet it seems to me that the core of your life revolves around the spirits that guide you and the holding of the fire through these ceremonies.
Fiona: Yes, I think that’s true. My journey with The Unseen World started very young, but I probably wouldn’t have had words for it. I was at boarding school in my sanctuary was some of the trees on the land making dens there. That was my sanctuary, my safe place. My deep connection with the earth started then – I just thought it was normal that it was very, very important to me. And also, weirdly enough, Christianity. I was able to go to the chapel and so that was a quiet, safe place. And as I got older, that changed.
Then I started nursing. And, you know, at a very young age, 18, 19, I was laying out bodies. And it created some big questions in me: ‘What happens at death?’ And I had some very profound experiences with patients who told me things and things I saw. So it definitely awoke that surge.
And what happened is I was about 30, I ended up hearing that it was Mexican medicine man in town and we were invited to join the ceremony. I Had absolutely no idea what the ceremony was really about, but I knew I had to be there.
And actually, I was sitting in the circle in the early hours of the morning and one of the women was working with a feather fan. She was doing healing with the fan. And I heard myself saying. ‘But I do that. I know that’. And just so it was very deep for me. It was a profound coming home. And then within a few months, I went up the mountain, I did my vision. Everything arrived in that moment for me.
I invited this Medicine man to come to England.I really felt we needed that work in England. I was living in Spain at the time, which meant I had to come back to England and start organising something here. I wasn’t so keen about that. But that’s what happened.
And a family gathered, a community circle became a circle which would go to Vision Quest each year, and then eventually I was asked if, I would accept being initiated as a Medicine woman and continue doing this work and holding it. I was very reluctant. I was young and I was reluctant. But I said, yes.
Manda: Because you were a mother of young children at that point.
Fiona: I was. But it wasn’t that. I think I had a memory of a level of responsibility. I’m not an extrovert and I saw what I saw without knowing what I was seeing, what would lie ahead. And it carries a lot of memory from a lot of previous existences. A lot of grief. Yes. And so it’s like coming to a lover that you love so much and yet with it carries so much. It’s something like that for me.
Manda: So can we stay with the grief a little bit and see, is this a grief of colonialization and a crushing of the old ways? Or do you think it goes deeper than that?
Fiona: Can it go deeper than that?
Manda: I think it can, sadly. I know that was horrendous and unspeakable. And the biggest genocide ever on our planet is the killing of the indigenous peoples around the world to make way for what we have now. But yet I wonder, I have an instinct that there is something underneath.
Fiona: I think it’s layered. So, for whatever reason. I’m a grief walker. I’m very familiar with that. Almost comfortable. I think it starts with existential separation from the oneness. I don’t know if it starts with that, but that’s the deepest place. Then there’s the memory of the colonialism, and knowing and remembering the desecration and the loss of the tribe and the people. And that is a very body memory that I have. And there’s a lot also about what’s happened to women through the witch hunt that I carry also. That got very triggered by being an independent midwife and just feeling it in my being. It’s layered and layered and layered, and I’m in a different place now. I’m just absolutely not having it anymore. Which is what these times are.
It’s as if I’ve lost a lot and actually now I feel as if I’m on the we’re on the front line and I’m happy to be there. And I know that whatever happens, we’re going to keep doing this work to the last breath. I’m not looking at outcomes – well, I am, but who knows when that will come through. I know that we’re in the times that we’ve been praying for for this change, which means a dismantling, which is painful.
Manda: There’s so much in this. And I would like to touch on your experience, personal experience of grief, but you just said that you were not looking at outcome and then you qualified that with ‘Well I am’. Can you say a little bit more about the outcome that you might be glancing at sideways.
Fiona: When when I’m really trying to expand and feel it, I feel the sadness, the grief, the longing. And it is about the honoring of the earth. I love tending and making altars, and a very big part of ceremonial work is honoring each other and the earth and the elements in the water and the dawn and the birdsong, the simplest things, the natural rhythms and that loss of honor and respect and humility, I find it unbearable where we’ve put ourselves as humans in the web of life. And so my longing is that we return to our place within the web of life.
Manda: I love that. Thank you. Because that is also my great end point also. And I don’t know what exactly that will feel like, because it feels to me that there was a point when we were in context when we did live as part of the web of life for a very long time of human evolution. And then something happened, whatever it was, and we are where we are. And yet everyone who undergoes Near-Death Experiences and comes back says, ‘Stop worrying. Everything is as it needs to be.’ And my conscious mind finds that really hard to get to grips with. But the bit of me that hears it, hears that there was something that we had to do, something that we had to learn, something that we had to become. So that when we step once again into that full honoring, into that openness of ‘I am here to do whatever you need of me.’ We are bringing something different with us and I don’t know what that is. And therefore, I have no concept of how we can be when we fully step back in. But it still shines out there is the light at the end of a somewhat winding and difficult tunnel. Does that resonate with you?
Fiona: Yes, totally. Which is why I suppose I can’t give details of how I imagined it. I can only know how I feel.S
Manda: o say more about how you’d feel because I ask a lot of our students to to feel how would it be if we got it right and I get a lot of emails saying ‘I genuinely don’t know how to do that.’ So could you just tell us how you would feel? A little. And again, I know this is hard. It’s the edges of ourselves.
Fiona: When I drop into my body, it’s a profound safety.An expansion. It’s how we feel when we come out of ceremony where somehow time gets stretched and it’s achingly beautiful. And when I say achingly beautiful, it’s the beauty of grief, it’s the sweet grief where the child’s laughter absolutely just opens your heart. It’s really simple.
And those are the the things that give me that feeling. So it’s very, very, very expanded and also very connected to the fact that life is continuous beyond death. And I know that. I am very blessed to know that in my being. And so when you’re expanding to that knowing, I think if everyone had that knowing, we’d live out our lives very differently. It would be ceremonial a lot of the time.
It’s like the Dagara people have their grief ceremonies every single day. Because it’s the importance of knowing that our relationship with the spirit beings is so alive and so full and giving them space for that. Everything changes and we have none of it in our mainstream paradigm. So it feels empty and unfulfilling. It doesn’t nourish us. We’re not nourished. Yeah. So that’s why it’s filled with all the other things.
Manda: All the stuff that we don’t need. Miki Kasthan talks about the patriarchal wounds of powerlessness and scarcity and separation, all of that. And this is the healed-ness of that. And I was really struck by the first thing you said was safety, and always I don’t know how unsafe I feel until I drop into that space where I feel safe. And it’s so liberating and then I can let go. And Be. And then experience life. I love what you said about the sweet grief and the child’s laughter, opening up your heart and just be fully human. And there is something about the unsafety and the separation that has left us not being fully human. And if we could be that again, all of us, wouldn’t it be wonderful? It really, really would.
Fiona: And I think going back to the ceremonial work, there’s something about being in that very, very held space, that there is safety that’s actually experienced which allows these deep feelings to move that have been carried for so long, whether it’s ancestral pain or personal. It just allows it to move because there is enough safety in holding to go there. And I suppose where I totally trust is through my experience as being an independent midwife, I know that if I can create a space that’s really safe for the mother and do nothing and say nothing, she’ll find her way because it’s a natural process.
Manda: Right. But you have to create the space first>
Fiona: And that’s within me as well as without me.
Manda: Yeah, yeah. I would love to explore that, the independent midwife. So let’s come back to that, because your personal experience of grief also seems to me to be a big part of where you are at this moment. I wondered if you would be able to speak a little bit about that?
Fiona: Like I say, it feels like I came in with grief. Didn’t really know why, but it’s definitely been with me. My childhood experiences at boarding school and all of that made that even more concrete. I then got very ill. My lungs were really, really not in a good place. And through a lot of work, it became clear that it was an unexpressed grief that was just feeling like a stone on my lungs and as had physicalized to damage my lungs. So I actually had to do a lot of really deep work for about 10 years, which helped me to see the pathways which I now use in my practice with my clients; those pathways of releasing deep emotion. Almost making space for other parts of you to come in. Whatever your spiritual belief is, whoever you believe is there that’s bigger than us, it doesn’t really matter to me what it is. I just want to support people finding that and knowing that they’re not walking around just on their own in isolation to a bigger story.
So I’ve been working with that sort of my whole life and was feeling like it was almost done. Not quite but I was much lighter. And then two years ago, pretty much to the day my son died, my 19 year old son. And nothing could prepare us for that. It was death by misdemeanor. And my children were…we were a very, very, very tight family. Me and my daughter and my son were very tight. It basically utterly dismantled me. Utterly.I wondered if I’d ever sit in front of the fire again. I didn’t lose trust in God/Goddess/The One, actually. But I couldn’t get it.
What was incredible is that because of years of ceremonial work, there’s a very, very big family. We call each other family. My mailing list has 800 people but it’s worldwide. It’s this lineage. And I was caught in the net of my family. The people arrived at a house we were given and the fire was lit, cedar was burning and the songs were going I wailed and wailed and wailed. It was extraordinary. It was beautiful. As much as it could be beautiful in that moment. They sorted out the funeral for me. I just was taken by my tribe. There were pipe ceremonies all across the world,. And I needed to know that that work was happening. So my son would be OK on the other side.
It doesn’t stop here. As a mother, I still want my boy to be elevated and not get stuck. And that work happened. It was incredible. I’m eternally grateful. And somehow, two years later, a lot of me has returned . It’s going to take me years to overcome the shock, but I have even felt the ecstasy of that grief and I never, ever thought I’d be able to say that, ever.
It is something about the work that happened that elevated him and me, that I feel as if he’s my guide now. He’s helping me to know realms of ecstasy and bliss, of expanded love that I was so unidentified with I didn’t even know if I wanted to really feel those sort of things. I’ve been working with Grief in the Shadow for a long time. And I do want to, but it’s challenging for me.
But I have to say in the last few weeks, the connection is so profound and so beautiful and is really helping me keep standing. I’m sure there’ll be dips again, but I can see how it supports the work that I do because it’s all about communicating with the spirits and he’s always there and the whole circle gets this transmission that we’re really not alone, that our journeys with our beloveds in the spirit world continue.
And they long to support us. They long to be in communication with us. They long for us to know that they’re there. And it’s all been shut down when we were so young. So it’s very difficult for us to trust our connection with spirit.It’s very alien. And then there’s lots of examples with the new-ageing bypass that makes it quite difficult, the language around it.
I feel I’m being initiated, it’s a new process, I’ve been asked to write a book about it, which is very challenging because I feel like I’m very much in the journey at the moment.
Manda: Is this a publisher who’s asked you to write about grief in general or about your personal experience of this event?
Fiona: Well, when they asked me, I was in grief in general, particularly relating to the climate change grief rhythm. It felt like when Arro died was also the time the real consciousness suddenly shifted. It was two years ago and I really felt something extra happened at that time. The following year Extinction Rebellion really got going and somehow it’s very related.
I was asked to write a book about climate change grief from my own personal journey, and now they just want my journey instead.
Manda: My own experience of writing books is that it’s always an ongoing process. You never finish a book. You just decide that at some point that you need to stop for the alterations for now, I’m imagining something like this when I’m hearing that this feeling is evolving and you almost capturing it in its fluid times enough to put it down on paper. First of all, does that change the process for you? And second, how do you know which bits to put down and how it’s which bits you leave until they have evolved further?
Fiona: That’s a very good question, and I’ll probably come for you for some guidance on it, actually! I’ve never written before, so it’s really new. And I think I’m trying to write from two places. One place is the place that I communicate in ceremony. There’s a part that wants to speak from that place.
And then there’s another part that wants to speak from the mother, the raw mother. So they’re both there. Lockdown was an amazing time to write. Then it’s all stopped. And so I’m literally just recording moments. And then I’ll go back into it. So it’s very new for me, this whole process. And I was not sure how much I was wanting to do it. And then I really saw that it could really support my own journey. And then I didn’t know if it would really support anyone else’s journey. So I’m very in and out of the whole thing, really.
It feels very vulnerable. But it also feels congruent with what I teach stand for, which is that our vulnerability is so powerful, our vulnerability is so beautiful and it will touch people and it is healing. It just takes a lot of courage..
And I truly, truly believe that grief is almost like a being, And if you can surrender to the being of grief and allow her to work you – really surrender – I just have so much trust in grief, in being worked by grief as a being.And my experience is that it can take you to places which you just don’t know if you’ll ever come back. And then you kind of get a break. But you can reach out and and then you’re taken again and with such a wisdom. There’s just such a wisdom.
Manda: Yes. And letting yourself that letting go, isn’t it? I’ve spoken to, so many people who feel at a core level that if they take the lid off their grief once, they will never get it back on again and they will be utterly overwhelmed forever. And yet the experience is, as you say, that it’s a waveform and bits of the wave feel as if we’re drowning, and bits of the wave. we’re surfing and it’s glorious. And even the drowning after a while—
Fiona: It feel glorious. I mean, you hold out, but then you get space inside. What’s so contracted expands. I feel like this goes back to what I was saying before about I don’t think it’s something that should always be done in isolation. And certainly it’s witnessing so that you can feel the compassion of someone else. You can feel like you’re not mad that it because you feel mad and maybe you do get a bit mad, maybe it’s a healthy mad. And that it’s about being witnessed. And so then you can when you’ve been witnessed enough in it and held through, you can then start trusting. It will get you to the other side.
And I suppose that takes me back to the midwifery, just really trusting that if you can hold the space enough… As a midwife, sometimes I just had to look in the woman’s eyes and they knew I trusted and it was that transmission they needed that they could trust it. And it’s a bit the same that if I’m holding something deep grief, there’s no words, but they can feel in me that I’m not frightened. And so they’re allowed to go where they need to go because I’m not frightened. Not many people are not frightened because we’re so frightened of death and it’s all so connected.
Manda: Were you unafraid of death before your son’s death, do you think? Or have you become unafraid as the process of that?
Fiona: It takes me back to nursing. Right. I know it’s a doorway to another level. I don’t want to die, but I’m not at all frightened of dying.
Manda: As a veterinary surgeon, it’s that thing that that death not only is a doorway to sometimes such a relief and a release. And I look at the superrich in California who are having themselves cryopreserved so they can be brought back. And I have a book I’ve written called ‘It’s Only Hell, if you Remember’, of what happens to somebody when they have died and then they are summoned back by the will that they wrote when they were alive.
How would you feel? And I think it’s a form of extraordinary insanity to to think that once you’ve died, you’ll want to come back. That’s a very different conversation. But we have a few minutes left before we are at the end.
Fiona: I’d love to just share a little story. When you say ‘Am I afraid of death?’ Was when I was about 19 and it was a Sunday morning. I was nursing and it was in my early part of my nurse training. And so we were told to go and talk to the patients. It was a quiet afternoon and I went and sat and was talking to this woman and she’d had a major heart attack and been resuscitated and survived.
And I remember her saying, ‘Can I share something with you?’ And I said, ‘Yes.’ And she said, ‘I want to tell you what happened.’ And she said, ‘I died and, it’s the same story you hear everywhere: a white tunnel, that was so beautiful, there was so much love and I just wanted to go. I wanted to go so much. And then I knew that my daughter had just had a child and so she really needs me. And I was so torn. And then they started resuscitating me. So I made a decision that I would come back, but it was so hard.
And I don’t know if those were the exact words, but the transmission of the beauty and love that she had experienced, I felt. And I had a few experiences like that. And that changed something about death for me. I’m sure I must have been wired to be very connected to those realms anyway, but they were very transformational.
Manda: Thank you. Because you said right at the beginning that you’d had experiences, and I wanted to ask, but I also wasn’t sure if it was appropriate and I didn’t want to to stop the flow. So I’m so glad that we came back to that because that feels enormously powerful.
As we’re heading towards a close, is there anything that you would like to say that you feel is incomplete of what we have talked about?
I don’t know. I don’t think there’s anything. I think I just want to say to anybody listening, we’re in this together and we can really make a more beautiful world. I believe it, I really believe it. We might not experience it, but we’re not doing it just for us. We’re doing it for the children to come.So whoever’s listening, thank you, and know you’re not alone.
Manda: Yes, know you’re not alone. The more beautiful world is possible and we are working for the generations yet to come. Thank you. Thank you so much, Fiona. We will come back again and talk about midwifery. Thank you.
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