I stopped in my tracks when I saw the sign that said Spinach on what had once been my favourite cafe. I’d seen that Chandelier was closed a week or so before but assumed it was for refurbishment. It was only when I saw that a new place was opening I looked on the local forum and saw that it had been known for a while that it was closing.
I felt a strange sense of free fall, the same as I had when I noticed that the railings where I met Mark on our first (blind) date had gone and there were bike racks in their place. We lose people, we lose the places and landmarks that were once part of the fabric of our life.
When Mark worked at the Laban on Saturdays I would go to a class at Push Studios nearby and then cross the road to Chandelier and sit there for hours sometimes, either reading or writing or staring into space. Some days Mark would meet me there, but always with a nod to the fact that it was ‘my’ place. I loved the decor, the textures and colours, the light of the chandeliers, the table set with cakes, the glass jars of tea, the flowers and designs of the delicate mismatched china.
There was a particular armchair that I liked to sit in when I could. It was a Saturday routine that managed to weather changes such them stopping selling brioche, then my favourite marble cake – and even my favourite armchairs disappearing. When we organised an evening there to mark 40 days or so after Mark’s death, Daphne the owner told me that she had been concerned when she had done it because she had seen I liked to sit there and while away the hours. it meant a lot to me at that time to feel known like that and it was a shock to discover that it had gone.
Sometimes things change and you have to adjust, sometimes you have to adjust your thinking in order to fully perceive the reality you are in. Theory U, which I’ve been studying for the past couple of months as part of the Reinventing Democracy from the Emerging Future programme, looks at change from an organisational and systems viewpoint. It puts the onus on the “quality of awareness, attention, or consciousness” of participants in a social system when it comes to the quality of that system. The framework, methodology or leading profound change and personal practice are all summed up in the phrase: “The success of an intervention depends on the interior condition of the intervener.”
Although it’s a “social technology” it’s helped me navigate my personal experience. I first heard about Theory U when I was talking about a project I’d started on a month before Mark’s death. Six months in, I said that I felt I was looking at the plans and expectations I had at the onset of the project from the bottom of a 60 foot drop and my old certainties and anticipations seemed far off and superficial. Someone mentioned Theory U – and the fact that change happens at the bottom of that drop.
I experienced this most acutely at a friend’s and I realised that there was nothing that I had known or experienced before that could get me through losing Mark. All my usual responses, all my tactics were useless. It was terrifying, but I felt there was nothing I could do, apart from let go and fall into the unknown. It was after I did that, that I began to sense tiny specks of light that I could move towards. I was still groping in the dark, but I learnt to edge myself towards, developing an intuition for what I needed to do at that time.
Letting go isn’t something you do just the once, though. The fact that Chandelier closed along with other places that were once fixtures in that old life, are further reminders that it’s a constant process. Now I’m having to adapt to the fact that I’m not in mourning anymore. I’m having to let go of the patterns that I developed for surviving, as I move into a new phase of creating a new life for myself.
There is a further stage in Theory U, one that is about presencing, which requires connection “with the Source of the highest future possibility” in order to bring it into the now. I’ve got think this one is really tough. I have a lot of questions about this, to do with what the future is, how we engage with it, conceptually I don’t find it sits easy with me yet.
At the last session I went to at King’s Cross Hub we did some Social Presencing Theatre. People acted out the different players in democracy. First they had to embody what they thought the present situation was and make a statement from that position. Then they had to sense how to move and position themselves in relation to what could be the possible future. Interestingly, in both scenarios, the person who was ‘the earth’ and the person who represented the ‘highest future possibility’ both got left out of the action entirely. Understandable when they were aligning themselves to the present, quite remarkable when they were attempting to sense and respond to the future that they sensed was emerging.
Maybe ‘the future’ is a blind spot, because as Rebecca Solnit argues in Paradise Built in Hell “Mostly nowadays we draw our hopes from fragments and traditions from a richly varied past rather than an imagined future.”
As I have a very clear sense that the past is somewhere I can’t go back to, that things can never be the same again, I do feel compelled to engage with the future in an active way. The next phase of Theory U is what is termed ‘Crystalising’ during which you stay connected to the Source and begin to operate from it, clarifying a sense of the future that wants to emerge. This might be the toughest bit of it all, because even as you move towards change, the old memories and patterns, both individual and collective, come haunting. It seems one thing to let go when you are in free fall, but difficult to be free entirely from those patterns when you begin to try to move forward.
The next stage is prototyping, which is all about doing and experimenting – small actions and interventions and learning from the feedback. They might work or might not, but they all have to move in the direction of what seems to be emerging. I’ve been experimenting with both of these, but like the group, I’m not finding it easy. Projects that aren’t quite coming off, ideas for new adventures that crumble into nothing, work that seems promising and then fades out. Sometimes I feel really weary, sometimes I rage against the fact that I’m in the position of having to build a life when I had one, which was beautiful, and I didn’t want to lose it. But, astonishingly, I do feel that I’ve let go of that life, and as the mourning recedes, I’m finding a determination to keep going, trying out new bits of life for size. I like the fact that it’s experimental, that I don’t feel over-invested in things if they don’t come good. And it’s definitely a different dynamic. Perhaps the strongest indication I’ve had that I’ve moved away from mourning and have ‘let go’ is the fact that I looked at my playlist and decided I couldn’t stand listening to any of it. Melancholy is beginning to get on my nerves – at this point of the ‘U’ I need some new music.