Tag Archives: The Three Marriages

Death in the workplace

Very recently a friend who was planning to leave her place of work and move on, put in her resignation (yes, she had watched my TEDx Talk and I think it should come with a warning).  When she put in her resignation, management asked her to pack and go immediately. Even though the news was now out that she was going in the moment of hearing her news they thought they had a month to prepare, they thought they would have time to have a few more laughs together, more time to dream and create a few more things. Management requiring her to go immediately was unexpected. Her sudden departure was a little like a sudden death. It’s been around a month now and her old crew have been kept busy with immediate and pressing priorities, and now the realities are starting to sink in. Her office door is closed, dust has settled on her desk and there is none of the familiar giggly banter in the corridor.  The lights don’t go on where she once worked.  Her work buddies are beginning to feel the real strain of her absence – her wise counsel, clear head, quality leadership and competent support – all gone.  Her love shared, no longer just down the corridor.

I remember President George Bush (the younger) talking about his Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as his ‘work wife’.  The intimacies of the workplace are real; and in this workplace, sisterhood brings all the features of any cloister you hosted Hildegard.  The work site is a second home and for some perhaps the first home of their deepest relationships and the place where some find most meaning in their lives.  I recall your angst and sadness when your dear friend Richardis moved from your convent and despite your protests (even to the Pope) you weren’t able to reconcile what you considered a defection.  Loss runs deep and grief has to find its own way of worming its way out.

Once upon a time in a workforce I was leading, our boss decided to resign immediately and in making the announcement to the team, one of the most senior people, a tall strong male (who I often dubbed as one of my weapons of mass distraction), fell against the wall and I thought he was going to collapse.

Resignation can be a death in the workplace. When the working community have time to prepare in the weeks or months leading up to the final departure a kind of palliative care can settle in, often it is the one that is leaving doing the caring of the others.  When Fates get her way, and the leaving is instantaneous, the sudden death experience is shocking.

David Whyte‘s work The Three Marriages reminds us that the relationship to our self and our work is one of the key marriages and for many of us we also fall in love with our work mates and our work as well, so when there is a falling out or a resignation, the partings hurt. The other side of resignation is the impact your work death has on those who are left behind, especially when the leaving is accelerated not by your own hand.  Once you have gone, your ghost still remains and your spirit may live on in others, your legacy will be visible in the people you have trained and selected, maybe the products you have designed are marked with your indelible fingerprint … whatever remains you are not written out of the story. “We become visible to the world through our work” David Whyte reminds us, and even though we may no longer be in that work, having been there, our legacy remains. ( I recently discovered a cartoon that I had commissioned back in the 1980s was still being used in promotional material.)

When you decide to leave a job you step into a risk and some may consider you foolish or even selfish for leaving others behind – but you know it is the step you need to take.  You are taking up, not relinquishing and for many it is a return to your deepest and truest self, so that self can be nurtured and grow in a new way – a resurrection.

I like to find satisfaction in my labour and how I hold the other marriages of my self and my love together is a triune challenge, but one that I sign up for each and every day.  And in that signing up it is inevitable that I will experience the full range of what it means to be in relationship – intimacies that open me to love, death, betrayal,  joy, anticipation, grief … and every other emotion that the landscape of the three marriages offers. I have always valued my work and understood it as vocation.  Vocation is a summons, a divine call, it is not a job.  It means that I am always following that call regardless of the job I might find myself in, when I do find myself travelling with others who are fellow travellers it is a blessing and I miss them when we aren’t on the same road and I  like to remind myself we are still on the same journey and that gives me some comfort.

When we find a real vocation we “marry” our work but we also commit beyond the immediate work to a legacy we will leave behind us; we make vows to an invisible future that will somehow be sustained by own equally invisible harvest somehow gleaned from all the very, very visible effort. In work we marry a hoped-for future as much as we do when we marry a person. The memory and the hoped-for legacy is with us ’till death do us part”.   The Three Marriages, p.316 D. Whyte.

Isle of Wight Graveyard

Isle of Wight Graveyard

Betrothal Panel in the Triptych

I have never lived alone, was married to my one true love at 19 and had four children under seven well before I turned thirty. I followed the pattern of my mother and her mother before that – love, marriage, baby carriage.   So when I came to turn fifty several years ago I was struck that I had not made much of  vow to my true self.

When I turned fifty I invited my women family and friends to join me in a ritual to celebrate my arrival into cronedom. Even though I was not yet through the menopause and not yet a grandmother I thought marking the beginning of my sixth decade was an appropriate moment in time.   This was a ceremony I did without the men in my life and the vow I took that day was to take up more of being married to my self. To begin to own the wisdom I had accumulated over my lifetime of womanhood, motherhood, wifedom, sisterhood and auntiness. I wanted to claim both my singularity and my collective experience of being a woman.  My own betrothal to myself to be intentionally on the journey to union with the cosmic powers of creation and the centrality of our mother earth.  I was so blessed that day by the presence of a woman from this most ancient land the Kaurna people who smoked the site for us to come together and who generously gave us permission to be there invoking the generations and the spirit of the land to support me and the community of women who had gathered.  I was further blessed by a woman who shared my faith journey and celtic spirit to lead the ceremony. The women who gathered were from all parts of my life and as I have no sisters and no aunts and therefore no cousins (male or female) I had created this sisterhood and was blessed by their presence.  During the ritual I crossed over to Cronedom and embarked on the next stage of my life, knowingly supported by my experiences  and memories gained as a maiden and a mother.  This threshold welcomes wisdom, holiness, a right to be revered and respected, a gateway to transformation and capacity to live with the ambiguity of mystery.

I am thinking about all this as in the past six months two of my children have announced their betrothal. I like the power of the word betrothal.  It declares, it states intention, the promise to act and to follow through. A sacred pledge to the world that you are for a single person and they for you. As two lives become threaded and woven together the tapestry you will make together begins.

As the families and the communities gather together to support the couple and give witness to the love and the intentionality it is also a celebration of betrothals of the past that bear witness and are bearing fruit.

Each generation works out what this commitment will look like for them. The deep seeds sown in the dark so long ago are now in bloom and the fragrance of love is heavy in the air.  I am taking a moment to remember those early days of being head over heels in love that I now know lead to the promises of being “true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, and until death do us part”.  The promises that lead to many gifts, and for me those gifts included children.

One of the betrothed has never lived alone and I am delighting in the knowledge that it will be a tribe gathered today as the commitment is publicly declared.

I am encouraged again by David Whyte from his book The Three Marriages, when he writes of the conversation between the triad of marriages – with self, a partner and work that this conversation offer us  “a sense of profound physical participation with creation, the reconfirmation that we are not alone in the world, and the reminder that there is a larger context to existence than the one we have established ourselves.”

I am seeing the croneing ritual for my fiftieth birthday as my betrothal and the conversation maturing as I head into my mid – fifties and so perhaps the marriage to myself is taking its right and proper place in my triptych. It is a Garden of Earthly (and unearthly) Delights!


Trinity Spring and Harvest

Dear Hildegard,

In less than three months I will be taking my pilgrimage off shore to Italy, Ireland, UK and a UAE.  I am preparing in various ways the body, mind and soul. I am reflecting on the work of David Whyte as central to the journey; and knowing that it might be just as important not to be prepared. I am remaining as open as I can be to the elemental experiences that lie ahead.

As part of the preparation, I have been reviewing Whyte’s The Three Marriages. I remain drawn to the thought that “sometimes the best thing we can do is to hold a kind of silent vigil beside the part of us that is going through the depths of a difficult transformation” (p340f).

I have actively been keeping vigil and the liturgical seasons of Lent and Easter have been a wonderful companion to me in this time.  As the Easter tide opens, I find I am falling in love with myself and  my work again.  This is both a relief and a joy. I have some of the symptoms and signs of falling in love. I find myself smiling and giggling. I think about what I am going to wear and what I am going to look like, people are saying I am looking younger and brighter -even glowing!  There is an innocence and awe  too. Child-like, I am embracing this new beginning and trying to come to this new space, fresh.  I am still finding old habits creeping in and at times the old lover haunting me like a phantom or even stalking me like a domestic violence perpetrator. These moments are now infrequent and more often than not, impotent.

For Whyte it is not a work-life balance, but a marriage of marriages. This trinity is three marriages: to our self, our partner and our work.

“Doing something innocent, dangerous and wonderful all at the same time may be the perfect metaphor for understudying one of the demands made by a marriage of marriages: the need to live in multiple contexts, multiple layers and with multiple people all at the same time without choosing between them. A kind of spiritual and imaginative multitasking, but in which we attempt to be present to everything occurring, to have a foundation that will hold them all and not be distracted by passing details” (p352).

The foundations are holding me well and the tedium of distracting details are falling away as they no longer serve me (or in reality never served me at all).

I am in a virtual and real time cornucopia.

I am reconnecting with old friends. I have been selected to present at the next TEDx event in Adelaide. I have had surprise visits from people special to me who have done me the honour of seeking me out in their precious time in Adelaide. I have received happy news of love and commitment. I have been greeted and affirmed in familiar and surprising places.  I am blessed. And on top of all this, my physical pilgrimage is getting closer by the hour.

As the snow melts in your homeland Hildegard, and the spring flowers start to find their way to the sun (the Easter season makes more sense in the Northern hemisphere than in the South), I can see and feel and touch and taste and smell and intuit that spring has come in my heart too.  The steps I am taking in my journey seem a lot lighter right now. (This could well be preparing me for what lies ahead and so be it.)  But for now, my basket is overflowing with all the fruits of the season and the season is both spring and autumn.

Your love, dear Hildegard, of all things green, and your instruction to be green and to do green things, I think is not just about creation but also about ourselves. I hear it as a call to renewal and spring time.  You reflect that when we warm ourselves by the fire in the winter, it is to store the heat and energy to move closer to the light so we can stay ‘wet and juicy’ and catch the greenness of good works and the energy of the heart.

“The soul that is full of wisdom is saturated with the spray of a bubbling foundation” (cited in Fox, M  Illuminations of Hildegard of Bingen p.64). The intimacy that occurs when we connect ourselves to our foundations, keep watch and allow for both the spring and the harvest is a pilgrimage all of its own.  The journey is fuelled by the energy of love that delivers abundant justice for ourselves and the planet – all fruits of our labour and our love become visible once again. Maybe Whyte’s Three Marriages is your Trinity ?

“A flame is made up of brilliant light, red power, and fiery heat. It has brilliant light that it may shine, red power that it may endure, and fiery heat that it may burn” (Hildegard of Bingen The Ways of the Lord p.68).  The marriage of marriages weaves my commitments together. Being in love with more of those marriages brings a harvest in my season and the green shoots of spring in yours.