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Interesting article from Beyond Indigo's old site


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Hi everyone,

I was reading this interesting article from our Beyond Indigo site, www.BeyondIndigo.com. I transfered it over here and copied it in full because the site is being moved over and glitches have been occuring in the process.

So, tell me what you think about this:

New Perspectives: Excerpt from Losing a Parent

by Alexandra Kennedy

The dying and death of a parent trigger a process of initiation, sometimes one that is long overdue. In the basic pattern that applies to all initiations, we feel tortured. We die over and over again as we have to let go of old beliefs, structures, and ways of being. We die to who we were.

In ancient cultures, initiation was incorporated into the very fabric of life, rituals marking each major life transition. Our culture, on the other hand, is seriously lacking in the rituals that could help us with these transitions. For example, each family struggles with separation issues as a child mature into adulthood; often separation is not fully and cleanly achieved. The death of a parent can bring to the surface all the unresolved separation issues, thereby complicating the grief.

Other cultures, both past and present, have acknowledged the importance of marking with ritual the transition from childhood to adulthood. This took different forms in different cultures. In his video, "A Gathering of Men," Robert Bly describes a ritual still practiced today in New Guinea. The boy who is considered ready for initiation into manhood undergoes a ritual enactment of separation. Armed with spears, he and his mother walk onto a bridge. They are met by a group of men, also armed, who threaten to take the boy. The boy clings to his mother, looking to her to protect him as she always has.

But this time it is different. He knows that a major change is about to take place, and like all of us he clings to the comfort of the known until he is wrench away. The time for separation has come, and after a long mock battle the boy is led by the men away from his mother. It is a poignant moment, for there is no going back. He is leaving his old life.

They take him to an island where he will live isolated from the rest of the community, struggling to assimilate new perspectives in preparation for his return. After weeks or months he emerges as a man with a new name and a place in the community. He has died as a boy and been reborn as a man.

This initiation ritual can serve as a metaphor for what we pass through when a parent dies. On a bridge between two worlds, the known one behind and the unknown before us, we desperately make a stand against the forces that threaten to change our life as we had known it. We know deep down what is to follow, but something in us wants to fight the inevitability of death, of loss, of aging. We look perhaps to our parents to protect us, but they cannot, will not. We feel alone and afraid, yet strangely excited about the coming changes. Finally the battle is over-perhaps we have finally accepted our fate or we have been overcome by stronger forces than we can fight.

Then we are led into the territory of grief, where nothing is certain or predictable. And what happens on the island while we are separated from the rest of the community? In that dark time of isolation we begin to question, searching for new meanings and ways of being.

The death of a parent, in true initiatory fashion, shakes up the very foundations of our lives. Daily routines are disrupted, assumptions about life and death jolted, values challenged. The gut-wrenching awareness of our own mortality, of the fragility of life, of the depth and intensity of our feelings, of the power of love and the reality of our aloneness thrusts us into a relentless and often painful questioning that probes to the depths of things, searching for meaning. We may ask, "What is the purpose of my life? What is death? What do I really value? Is there a God? What is God? Does my life really matter?"

There are not may times when we are willing to subject our lives to this scrutiny, for it is painful and unsettling. It takes courage to acknowledge that there is emptiness in our daily lives, that we have compromised our aliveness for security, that our existence had become mechanical and dead. It takes courage to question why we are here, our beliefs about God, our relationship to the universe.

If you want to emerge transformed from the long, dark passage of grief, it is critical at this time to question, probe, and inquire into your life. There may not be ready answers to alleviate your anxiety; at times you may stand stunned before the emptiness of your life that has been exposed in your scrutiny. The deeper you probe, the more you may uncover a gnawing dissatisfaction with your work, marriage, relationships, or life-style.

But where the way had seemed blocked and hopeless, you will eventually find new passages, new possibilities. The question of what death is, while it may not yield any clear answers, may initiate the beginning of a spiritual path. The struggle with how to live in the face of certain death may lead to a new appreciation of each moment. The disillusionment with your life-style, work, or relationships may spur you on to make changes in these areas.

Many of my clients have made dramatic changes in their lives following the death of a parent. However, I have observed that there is a tendency to avoid the painful period of questioning and examining one's life by jumping headlong into dramatic changes. We may, in our anxiety, grasp at one possibility and in so doing miss others that may be more appropriate. But more important, we may close down the opening to new perspectives that has been initiated by our honest inquiry into life.

During your sanctuary time, take some time to question your values, choices, and life-style, to inquire into death and life. Make a list of the questions that you want to explore, and spend some time with each.

For example, if you were to explore what death is, you might begin by writing down all your present associations with death along with the conditioning about death you learned as a child. You might want to make a list of all the little deaths you have experienced throughout your life. Then be willing to open to new possibilities and information by reading, talking to others, or just sitting with yourself and observing what comes to you out of the silence. You might choose to imagine your own death, experiencing in clear images the circumstances, the people around you, the good-byes, the final moment. Don't expect to come to any final conclusions about death, as your investigation may lead you deeper and deeper into the unknown, into a greater mystery.

As you begin to wrestle with a deeper purpose in life, it is important to acknowledge the dissatisfaction and hurting within. Something deep within you knows that there is something more to life, something about the quality of life, the spirit with which you live. Ask over and over, "Why am I here?" The hurting that this question provokes will take you deeper, through many layers and levels.

On one hand you may want to explore you uniqueness. What am I as an individual person here to do? What are the strengths and weaknesses that can serve me? You may begin to contact the force within that guides your unfoldment into a particular kind of person, unique and unprecedented, just as within a seed there is a life force that directs growth into a particular plant, flower, or tree. However, unlike with the plants, often our conscious ideas conflict with that inner urge to become what we are meant to be. Pierre Tielhard de Chardin speaks to this in The Phenomenon of Man when he writes, "What is the work of works for man if not to establish in and by each one of us, and absolutely original centre in which the universe reflects itself in a unique and inimitable way?" (p.261). Still deeper levels of this questioning may lead to exploration of the mysteries of creation and your relationship to God or Spirit.

One way to clarify your values and priorities is to engage in an exercise in which you imagine that you have only six months left to live. How do you want to spend this limited time? Whom do you want to be with? What feels important? What do you want to eliminate from your life? This is a powerful exercise. Many with terminal illnesses have had to undergo this questioning about their lives, which leads often to a new sense of fullness and purpose to their living, even in the face of imminent death.

Our questioning thus supports and deepens the work that the grief has begun of tearing apart old structures, challenging old assumptions and beliefs, and disrupting the patterns we have become accustomed to and often become deadened by. This is a painful process, but growth always seems to involve some pain. Children have growing pains at the times of maximum growth; adolescents certainly experience pain as they grow out of childhood and into adulthood. Even a seed must experience its own version of pain as it pushes through dark soil and cracks open its outer husk, to emerge in a burst of green growth into a vast new world of warm sunlight.


Alexandra Kennedy, M.A. is a psychotherapist and author of Losing a Parent (HarperCollins, 1991) and The Infinite Thread: Healing Relationships Beyond Loss (Beyond Words, April 2001). She lectures at universities, professional organizations and major conferences. She offers a unique perspective to grieving through her work with the imagination, weaving together inspiring case histories, practical advice, and experiential exercises. Alexandra has been interviewed in USA Today, the San Jose Mercury News, the San Francisco Examiner, New Woman and the Boston Herald as well as on NPR's "Talk of theNation", CNN's "Sonja Live", KQED's "Family Talk," and "New Dimensions Radio". She is a faculty member at the University of California Santa Cruz Extension, and taught a popular graduate level course on dying and grieving at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology for six years. Her articles have appeared in Yoga Journal, Mothering Magazine, Magical Blend and the California Therapist. Her website (www.alexandrakennedy.com) offers resources for grieving, along with information about workshops. To order The Infinite Thread call 800 284-9673 or oder on line through Amazon.com.

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