The Story So Far
In April 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-carelin 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 take over the directive for now. I was very fortunate to have such amazing support, from people like Sinead Gallagher (song writer, spiritual guidance & co-facilitation), Anna Mae (performance, the Mystical & client support/media support), Michelle Collins (artist and researcher) and Marian (fellow Keener, and currently writing a Phd on the concept of re-imagining Keening), & of course, always with the backdrop of my teacher and friend Tuomas, guiding me from afar.
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 felt we just needed to use the framework they developed and the rest would look after itself.
THE WIND OF CHANGE
It now feels like the project needs 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 a carefully organised event where people pay for the venue, organic food, and entertainment. Currently it seems that those who choose to turn up are also presenting with diverse emotional needs. There appears to be what we could call a ´tier´or contingent that are arriving with an understanding of what it is they are turning up to grieve. They are presenting with stable emotional platforms, willing to use the suggested mirrored Finnish model , with an sense that it will help us steer ours. These are the people who have suffered the inevitable losses of life yet have inherited or developed strong foundations to fall back upon. These are people hungry for release, at the right stage, and with guiding support can jump right into this framework and surrender. Their Grief is ripe for the lamenting.
Then a second ´tier´, people with a deeper need to be met by the group and the facilitator in a particular way. Their attachment style could be considered anxious. They seem to be grieving a rupture in their belonging! Through our filtering system it is a discernible thing. That is to say it is possible to recognise, in advance, those needing more minding but the felt sense so far was that we would try to offer them the opportunity to be witnessed in this need. There is a risk, however, we have now discovered, that the focus becomes more about this aspect. It becomes a therapy group rather than a creative lamenting group, with the use of the tool of Lament as the key to calibration. Being witnessed is important, and the group and the facilitator play a role in that, and setting up a sacred space, with no interruptions seems important, but the boundary of the work is about trusting the that the tool itself will, with the right attitude to Surrender, bring the person crying, Keening, to a place of equilibrium. The Lament is where there person is met. Each person has their time. And when that time comes that is when they receive the bulk of the support. Outside of that time they are the Witness. This is how the model is functioning in Finland.
Reflections made from another strand of work is that the cultural wounds we experienced as an Irish people may be hindering our ability to grieve. Similar barriers to expressing grief come up, irrespective of cultural background. but some cultures seem better to be able to adapt. However the level of security within the people´s of Ireland in finding faith between religions and that place of Interfaith, or faith in the unseen does not seem to be as accessible or fluid. They don´t feel they can lean into the ´unknown´ or they are turning up with confused ideas of their own Spirituality and find it hard to manage their fear as they are struggling to find a platform to work from. In my experience, therapeutically, some Irish experience crushing inhibitions of shame that alter their inner safety. They are not able to let the ´drop´ happen. “When I start I won´t be able to stop”! It seems that where ancestral trauma is still in real time, 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 sees the Lament as a tool to cry elements of his persona right out of his system. Podcast here
And that brings me to the third tier. Those with deeply programmed conditioning around not letting go to tears, but that appears to be another story. This programming is not necessarily a direct reflection of their attachment style. Here, in Ireland, men do appear to find it more difficult than women to cry. There is a ́stuckness´. However this does not necessarily reflect a rupture or a core wound. With certain attention or certain care over time this could shift. These people, desiring to learn how to cry may just need repetition in the witnessing role in order to let go. According to Tuomas, a version of this was visible at the beginning of their movement, although my suspicion is we suffer more numbing here, due to our history and attitudes. The Finns keep things simple. They have not fully lost their connection to nature and they did not experience an invasion like ours, nor did the Catholic Church absorb their societal system.
So far it does seem that our history here in Ireland suggests we cannot use the Finnish framework EXACTLY as is. WHAT NOW?