Reverse Therapy

Bodymind healing and awareness

Crying for Diana

The fact that it is the 10th anniversary of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, coincides neatly with my reading and talking about Mark Earls’ blog on emotions last night, which you can read for yourself by clicking here.

If I understand him rightly, Mark is saying that grief, of the kind we saw in epidemic form in the week after Diana’s car crash, has a primarily social function. The tears we shed are released by what I call Bodymind in order to signal to us that we are in need of comforting and, indeed, crying is also in itself soothing. And the tears also signal to other human being around us that it is time for them to exercise empathy and compassion.

Now this is certainly borne out by neuroscience. The brain creates the emotion of sadness and signals the release of tears automatically once the limbic system detects that we (or people close to us) have received a shock – usually connected to losing someone close to us. Tears are involuntary and we have no conscious control over them. According to Anthony Damasio, once we become aware of an emotion it turns into a feeling and we straight away connect to the body’s ‘thoughts’ about the situation we are in. At the same time, the body is using an elaborate system of hormonal and neural signals which dictate what we (and the people around us) ought to do next. These, in turn, should trigger such social activities as empathy, compassion, sharing and the offer of constructive help.

OK – all well and good. But I felt nothing at all for the Peoples’ Princess. I recall grouching to my wife on the morning of the funeral about ’stupid royal soap operas’ watched by people who had nothing better to do with their lives before I went off to my completely empty gym club. Coming back, there was my wife glued to the TV. I stared at the thousands watching outside Westminster Abbey while Elton John tinkled through ‘Candle in the Wind’. And – yes – before long I was blubbing too. But WHY THE HELL WAS I CRYING?

According to Mark Earls I cried because everybody else was crying. And they were grieving because they had lost someone important to them, because they were experiencing compassion for Diana’s two sons, and because they were sharing in what was seen then as a national disaster. The huge amount of money that was raised for Diana’s Charitable Fund attests to the help that followed.

However, it seems to me that this explanation – as true as it is for most people – doesn’t explain why I and many of my fellow republicans were crying. At this point I offer a deeper (or, if you prefer) an additional, explanation. It seems to me that I was crying for the same reason that some people cry at the theatre, or the opera, or when they recall the sufferings of Christ. They go through what Aristotle called ‘catharsis’ -a release and cleansing, indeed a celebration of the tragedy each one of us carries through life. The death of the heroine reminds us of our own death, the death of those we love and the terrifying suddenness of it all. We weep for our fragility but we also celebrate our ability to withstand it – so long as other people are there to stand with us.

So tears can have a mythic point too. It is Bodymind’s way of registering our what it means to be human.


August 31, 2007 - Posted by | Reverse Therapy

1 Comment »

  1. Hi John. Really interesting stuff onyour blog here, particularly this Diana post. I think we are pretty close (I’m but I suspect that I have a rather different perspective on things: I’m particularly interested in the behaviour of large numbers of people and how to understand it/shape it while I suspect that you, quite rightly, are more concerned with seeing things in terms of the individual agent and their experience of their lives (and how to change it). As a result, it’s easier for me to see peer-influence in behaviour such as this as being more important than what is going on in side the individual being influenced…

    That said, would be interested to explore these issues further together…

    PS Mark McG mentioned he’d shared some of my stuff with you.

    Comment by herdmeister | September 1, 2007 | Reply

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