Spoiler alert: I’ll be talking about parts of the film that unfold toward the end.
Mr. Holmes is a beautifully crafted film that has an important message for our time, to wit: logical thinking and the ability to deduce clever solutions–these have their limits. More comprehensive solutions can emerge only if we open ourselves to the “mystery of life”, the more-than-logical. Focusing gives us the “how to” do this.
Sherlock Holmes trails Ann, the wife of a client, through London, and finally initiates a conversation with her. He comprehends the motives for her actions and, for a brief moment, she feels seen and understood. She shares her feeling of aloneness, and he admits that he has been alone all his life. She wonders if there would be a way for two souls to accompany each other in their solitude. They feel connected to one another.
Then, much too quickly, he advises her to go back to her husband, who loves her. His advice and his urge to jump to a solution seem perfectly rational and well-meaning, yet they trample upon the intricate meaning that their interaction has awakened in both of them. And, as he admits years later, they come from his own fear.
She does not need advice. She needs to be seen for who she is, to acknowledge the longings of her soul with another human being. These longings have been ignored by her husband, who has not validated her sorrow, nor given her space to mourn her losses, and who has not, despite his love for her, been open to her insights about life and death.
Mr. Holmes feels all this, yet looks for a solution rather than receiving her feelings, and his own buried longings, just as they are. His suggested “solution” leads her to discard the brief reprieve from suicide that came in the moments they shared. And it leads him into guilt, anguish, a sense of failure, and the abandonment of his life-long profession.
In Focusing, we pay attention to the felt sense of a situation in all its complexity, knowing that as we express one part of its intricacy, more meaning can come. We take time to listen to all the voices. Only then does the implied next step emerge, on its own, to carry the whole situation forward.
Ann has suffered loss. Loss implies mourning. When mourning can’t happen, there is no carrying forward of the sequence of loss-mourning-renewal. Things remain stuck, and as Parker Palmer recently said, “Violence happens because there seems to be no other way to express our suffering.”
Now I am going to apply this to something that might appear to be unrelated, moving from Holmes-era England to the current situation with racism in the United States.
Our country is still dealing with the impact of slavery. Back in 1903, W.E.B. Dubois chronicled the enormous vacuum in thought, care and policy that surrounded the freeing of the slaves, and which led to the growth of Jim Crow. It was only through the Civil Rights movement, 100 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, that the situation started to be addressed. Laws like the Voting Rights Act, were seen as solutions, but are starting to unravel today.
So now we have an complex mesh of circumstances evolving from slavery, economic exploitation, racism, lack of opportunity. Many black people have made the best of these circumstances and have led productive, expressive and successful lives. Many have not. The Black Lives Matter movement is trying to increase awareness of institutionalized racism, calling attention to the feelings of suffering, loss and mourning that are unexpressed and unheard. Many white southerners also have a sense of loss. The problem affects our society as a whole.
There will be no solution until all the voices can be heard. We will continue at an impasse. Having a black president moves our society forward, but it also means that these deeper contradictions can rise to the surface. We are now at a point where dialog has to happen.
There are no easy solutions. The deep feelings that are evoked in this encounter affect all of us. Instead of expecting a solution at this point, we are called upon to bring this national problem out into the sunlight, listen to each other, to acknowledge the pain, and mourn together.
If we did this, it would imply a change in our whole exploitative system. If we don’t do it, I’m afraid that a candidate like Bernie Sanders, who has always stood for change, will not be able to win. Because we would be jumping to a solution without previously acknowledging the pain, without allowing all the voices to be heard, so that the collective wisdom can emerge.