Retirement & Leaving and Institution

The signal was a lessening of the institution’s aliveness to me and an increasing sense of burden and frustration. It has been a work-home yes, part of an identity and a platform, but also a mechanism – a means to an end. To engage with and through the institution to that desired end, I leant in to put its vital mechanisms into motion, to be alive in it, requiring cathected energy and desire. To write the grants, the reports, to fill the forms, the checklists, the requirements for ‘keeping up to date’; to animate the rules, negotiate the system, to network, befriend, to strategize and work through what is available – all part of being there, and necessary for the desired end. Within this to be sensitive to the needs of the many others in the place, to recognise one’s particular role, the relationships that need nurturing, the respect that needs giving, the duties that need doing. (I’m not alone; the sum of many people doing this animates the institution and makes it work for its ends and our ends). And then more intimately the people closely around me, the team, the students, the young people coming in at the beginning of their lives in work, the visiting students from abroad, and the students and the researchers that we give work to – all of these creating a community of action towards our joint purposes. So when the tide starts to go out on this energising commitment, first indeed in relation to its more bureaucratic aspects, then that seems like a signal…..

Particularly, in relation to the people close to me, the question is shared; withdrawing will change our shared landscape, and I’m thinking that a creative leaving will be to some extent a joint project between us.

I’ll feel many dimensions of loss. A gradual loss of presence and relevance (with, to balance that, a relief from the input that now comes to feel more of a burden). But another layer of deep loss will be to the sense that my own goals are those broad goals – they are me…This identification needs to be felt as it is released, as an adjustment of my relationship to it; such that there could be other ways of carrying it forward, ways that could feed creatively into my future life. So a withdrawal and relocation…….. The loss of a role of active leadership (but a gain of eldership). An afterlife that will be increasingly outside that animated institution and be more into other creativity and activity – how this will be precisely I don’t know, I will need to trust that what is relevant will remain.

So, I sense that an important way of creatively doing this will be to feel how I begin separating out from a passionate identification with the institution – and within that separating to allow a clarification between that of the work which is to be left behind in others’ hands and that which is to be kept inside me – and how that will pan out. What comes to mind as I write this is my reading of the Tibetan Book of the Dead many years ago as I sat vigil beside a dying friend – the process it vividly describes of a gradual cleaving away of will and essence from body (the de-cathecting of my energy from its everyday container and motor) until they float free from each other. I hope of course for imagined things; more wandering time, more creative flexibility, more art-medicine cross-over – other networks that I link to and feed from and contribute to. That this would be easy is a fantasy since it will all surely have to be made as well. But for now, what enlivened the motor of the institution to my and our ends needs to be gradually handed to others, to sustain in their own way. What will be left inside me I need to trust will find a way of sustaining itself in other ways. The mechanism of the change I can feel is this explicit recognition of my own position in this – much around me will take care of itself!

Jonathan Green March 2023