In May 2019 we invited Tuomas Rounkari to Ireland, from Finland to reflect upon the rich but neglected form of Irish oral poetry and song, Keening.
Why? Over the course of twenty years he has taught over a thousand people in the principles of Lament framed by his own Finnish-Karelin heritage. Along with a woman named Pirkko Fihlman he has created a method to teach lament as a revitalised genre. In 2017, he joined up with Marian Caulfied in a pilot workshop in Cork, on the college campus of UCC, and together they recognised the potential of a revival movement here, one that would mirror the re-imagining of Lament in Finland.
In 2019, I stepped in to steer a private event that allowed us to invite Tuomas back and offer a collection of people (some artists, grievers, grief workers, musicians, performers and death doulas) an opportunity to experience the Finnish framework. This also allowed us to wonder about our conversion of this Lament framework and how we could begin to draw focus on our need to find new ways to release to Grief, using a lost artform.
What is the value of employing this cultural tradition as an instrument of healing and reconnecting?
Our initial enthusiasm is discussed in this recent news article.
The key aim of this initial project was to create a framework for cultural, creative and social benefit,‘gathering’ people together through tradition, sound, image and word. There were some constraints however. Without funding the project could only be run as a private event. Also Tuomas was not in a position to travel such a far distance again from Finland. His perspective was that, not unlike his beginning, someone would need to step into the facilitation role here, and drive the movement from inside out. He understood this to be me. I was very fortunate to have the support of people like Sinead Gallagher (song writer, spiritual guidance & co-facilitation, creative director of The Song House), Anna Mae (performer, shamanic and mystical support), Michelle Collins (artist and researcher) and Marian Caulfield (fellow Keener, and writer of a thesis on the re-imagining Keening), & of course, as always, as a backdrop or scaffold – my teacher and friend Tuomas, guiding me.
A Residential setting was favored to create a safe enough environment for people to let go to grief. As a pilot event the numbers were restricted due to the nature of the work, with a focus on inviting individuals who had already started to look at the nature of grief. This is new territory (well, old tradition to support a new approach) and ultimately Tuomas trusted if we used the established and well tested framework (20 yrs of support work) the rest would look after itself.
THE WIND OF CHANGE
Does the project need to take a different direction?
How can we bring this tool to the people who will benefit from it the most? As it is currently presented it is as a carefully organised event where people pay a ticket price for the venue, organic food, and support. The care-package involves pre-care and after-care elements. The participants present with diverse emotional needs. Some are arriving with an understanding of what it is they are turning up to grieve. Their Grief is ripe for the lamenting. Others, who have suffered the inevitable losses of life not yet clear on how to express these shocks and perhaps confused about their resistance to grief. Our aim: To provide enough safe-guarding support and guidance to allow participant to understand the art of surrender.
Reflections made from the 3 strands of work that took place in 2019 (and subsequently within the context of the Death Doula Community) show the cultural wounds we experienced as Irish people potentially hindering our ability to release our tears. Barriers to expressing grief come up, irrespective of cultural background, but there is a differentiation in some cultures being ‘more’ willing or able for ‘expression’. There’s a cohort of Irish, with a generational heritage from this Isle, that appear to be reaching out to find a faith between religions, in that place of Interfaith. A faith in the unseen. This need still feels unmet. Leaning into the ´unknown´ with confused ideas of Spirituality may leave people struggling to find a platform to work from.
What Lament Offers
People imagine that if they start to break-down into tears they will not be able to finish! The comparative there is that someone like Tuomas ‘knows’ Lament is a tool that allows people to cry elements of their defense system out of being, and that when it’s done, it’s done – the body’s wisdom will stop the process, once the anchor is provided. Podcast here
For those with deeply programmed conditioning around not letting go to tears, this programming is not unmoveable. There is a ́stuckness´. However this does not necessarily reflect a rupture or a core wound. Our assessment model has allowed us to discern who’s ready and who might need an alternative form of support. With the right container and framing, people, desiring to learn how to cry can reach this goal with gentle repetition and steps towards understanding the role of witness in order to let go.
In Finland, a version of ‘resistance’ was visible at the beginning of their movement. A numbing or holding back in participants. They’ve moved through this, collectively, over time. Now, in Finland, Lament workshops happen like Yoga classes. People turn up and cry and then return home to cook the dinner and get on with their day. It’s been absorbed into their daily lives as a recalibration system. Very few Finnish people do not know about this tool. It’s safe to say that their history and attitudes are very different to us. The Finns keep things simple. They have not fully lost their connection to nature. They did not experience the rigidity of religious dogma, nor the the disempowerment or mass starvation of a their peoples. And yet, we can use their willingness as a guide to what’s possible. What part of ourselves have we driven underground that can be retrieved? What did we sacrifice? Keening was a raw passionate part of our nature. Is Lament a way back to relinquishing our False sense of belonging? Was the ‘silencing’ a representation of our current ‘never enoughness’? Breaking the silence may be the way to take back permission to remember our uniqueness, on an individual level and for the Collective.