Easter: A Time to Weave an Intergenerational Fabric Made of both Sacred and Secular Threads

© Jane A. Simington PhD, 2017

Easter is a time for resurrecting from the old; it is a time to honor the good that has been a part of our past and to consider how we can use that good as fertilizer for the new seeds we will plant during this particular springtime of our lives. Reflecting on the good that has been a part of past Easter celebrations can help decrease the emotional responses we may experience related to any anniversary reactions that might surface as we plan for and participate in Easter celebrations.

Anniversary reactions triggered by this season are reminders of what we once had. The memories that surface surrounding the events of family gatherings and Easter traditions and celebrations can stir emotional responses of loss, ranging from feeling mildly distressed to more extreme reactions including significant mental health and/or medical symptoms.

My life experiences related to anniversary reactions surrounding my own grief have taught me that the best way to manage these symptoms is to spend time in reverie; focusing on the many experiences of joy and happiness I have experienced during the Easter Seasons, both prior to and following my losses. In doing so, I now recognize how my positive memories of childhood Easter celebrations were interwoven into the ways in which I celebrated Easter with my own children and how I now do similarly with my three grandsons in the hope of solidly braiding them to intergenerational ties of goodness.

Celebrations of Easter during my childhood were strongly connected to church feast days, yet my Mother sprinkled her own flavors of mystery and magic on each of our family activities. One of my favorite recalls happened in early life. Mother directed my older sister to bring to her a large kettle for boiling the eggs that we children would all later take part in decorating. My sister was then asked to remove the lid and fill it with water. As she did so, to all of our amazement, out jumped a young rabbit. After capturing the rabbit and freeing it to the outdoors, we children in our excitement were easily convinced that this was the Easter Bunny and that he was hiding in that kettle listening to our Easter celebration plans and deciding how he could be a part of them. Now as an adult I am sure my Father had found the young rabbit when he was doing early spring field work, but the logic of that remains lost within the magical memory I can easily recall.

As a mother I modeled my Mother’s abilities and infused my Easter celebrations with my own touches of beauty and playfulness. One favored memory is how my children splashed onto the remaining snow, the dyes left over from the coloring of their Easter eggs, and how we would then examine the snow, for any Easter shapes the dyes had made on it. Sprinkling our Easter Celebrations with magic has and continues to be a rich part of my Grandparenting. In preparation for each Easter, their Grandfather Bill and I examine our photograph albums of the Easter joys we have witnessed of our grandsons’ experience. One photo that always brings us delight is of our oldest grandson at about three years of age, standing in the box of his Grandfather’s truck, proudly displaying a blue Easter egg he had just discovered there during our outdoor Easter egg hunt.

I believe that by keeping alive and bringing into our present practices those from our past that have brought joy and happiness help us and those who follow behind us to acknowledge the special gifts and traditions of our families. In doing so, we strengthen the awareness of how our family’s particular blend of spirituality is woven together in a fine fabric made of both sacred and secular threads.

Being Grateful for Post-Traumatic Growth

©Jane A. Simington PhD.

During the month of October, many of us who live in countries of the Northern Hemisphere will gather in celebrations of gratefulness. For those who are newly bereaved, these days can add to their sense of loss and feelings of injustice. I clearly recall the first Thanksgiving celebrations after my son’s death. The closer the holiday came, the louder my inner voice chided, “What do I possibly have to be grateful for?” Now years later and only after much sorrow and having left few stones unturned in search of healing, I am aware that there are two aspects to grief: the destructive aspect, and the transformative aspect. While those who are now still in the early stages of grief, do not want to hear that their suffering will change and transform them; many who remain committed to achieving healing; and while it may take a long time, will at some point be able to acknowledge the personal and soulful transformation that resulted from their tragedy.

jane gratitude centre 1

Empirical research demonstrates that many people experience personal and spiritual growth following extreme trauma and bereavement circumstances.1  My own experiences and those of many I have helped through their grief and trauma, parallel the research findings. For most of us, the struggles to cope with the tragic events changed our priorities. What was once important became unimportant and what was once of no importance had become paramount. This shifting of importance seems especially true related to an increased appreciation of meaningful relationships.

For some of us, the shattering of specific religious beliefs was replaced with the acceptance of a broader and more flexible spirituality. For many, the need to rebuild shattered assumptions created an enhanced sense of the meaning of life and of the need to fulfill our life’s purpose. This ever-growing existential awareness led, in turn, to an enriched relationship with the Divine in self and in others; and after an initial period of being angry at God and feeling a deep sense of injustice, many developed a deeper and more personal relationship with the “God of now.” For many, this resulted only after there was a major reshaping of long-held ideas of God, of the Universe and of the Universal Order. In my particular case, the shifting and reshaping of these views deepened my sense of belonging within the greater plan of life.

After a time most who stay committed to their healing, recognize that the journey has changed them in many positive ways. Many report that they would never again want to go back to being what they were, personally and soulfully, prior to their tragedy; and while most of us wish we could have achieved the same personal and soulful growth in any other way, we are extremely grateful for all the experiences our suffering and healing has brought.

During October celebrations, many altars and table-centers will be decorated with fruits of the season. Prayers will be recited in gratitude for the abundance of the harvest. This Thanksgiving, let us also raise our voices for the greatest gifts we have received. Let there be songs and hymns of gratefulness for the post-traumatic growth and healing that we and each of our loved ones have received.

  1. Shaw A, Joseph S, Linley PA (2005).Religion, Spirituality and Posttraumatic Growth: A Systemic Review of the Literature, Journal of Mental Health, Religion and Culture, March, 8(1):1-11.

Autumn Harvest Stimulates Life Review

©Jane A. Simington, PHD. September, 2016

In many cultures of the northern hemisphere, the September equinox is the official announcement of autumn. In Greek mythology, autumn is associated with when the goddess Persephone returns to the underworld to be with her husband Hades. It was supposedly a good time to enact rituals to invoke protection and security as well as to reflect on successes or failures from the previous months.

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As I gather the last produce from my summer garden I reflect on how each September, when I ponder the successes and failures of what I have planted in the spring, I am drawn inward, there to consider the fruitfulness of my personal and professional efforts in moving me toward the fulfillment of my life’s purpose. As I mull over how the seasonal changes in my garden metaphorically prompt my own seasonal life review, I recall that Erickson1 described the two parts of a life review: as a soulful attempt to examine and bless those aspects of life that we feel satisfied with, and as a soulful urging to alter any circumstances that need changing so that soul growth can continue into our next season.

While my annual life review is stimulated by the final harvest from my garden, reminiscence, an important aspect of the life review, can be activated by many things including music, photographs or visits. These things naturally stir memories and because of that, each can be used in a therapeutic way.

For a time I was a nursing director in a long term care facility. I like to sing, and I often sang for the residents. Their selection of songs would almost always bring a number of them to tears. Because I was intentionally using song as a therapeutic way to stimulate memories, I would later spend time with each teary-eyed resident, exploring the memories that had surfaced for them as I sang. Together we re-enjoyed happy memories and in most cases, all that was needed to release the emotional load attached to a difficult memory, was for the resident to know they were being compassionately cared about and supported in their attempts to come to terms with their feelings.2

This experience guided my response to my husband’s questions about how to best help his dying mother. As he left to be with her, I encouraged him to help his mother recall the good times that he and she had shared throughout his lifetime. He later reported that even though she was only semi-conscious, as he spoke and caressed her, a tear would roll down her cheek, or she would frequently smile and nod as he related each, “Remember When Mom” detail. He described that as he spoke to his mother he could hear soft sobbing in the background. When he turned to investigate, he recognized that the three other women in his mother’s ward were also listening to what he was relating. Were they perhaps vicariously receiving and delighting in the love he was conveying? Or, were they perhaps wishing that their own sons would be by their bedsides helping them with their own “Remember When Mom” narratives?

As we enter the autumn season, is it time for you to also turn inward, there to examine how the seeds you have planted have ripened? Is it time for you to ponder how the harvest you reap will support you on your next great movement forward? Or is it time to offer “Remember When” details to a loved one, and thus assist them to bring a peaceful closure to their life in anticipation of their next great movement forward? Whatever this autumn equinox stirs within you, may it aid you in harvesting bushels of ripe fruit from the good seeds you have planted in the spring of this year and in the springs and early summers of your entire lifetime.

Erickson, E. H. 1963. Childhood and Society, 2nd edition. New York: WW Norton & Co.
Simington, J. A. 2013. Through Soul’s Eyes: Reinventing a Life of Joy and Promise. Taking Flight Books, Edmonton, AB.

The Golden Altar Metaphor for Healing From Grief

©Jane A. Simington, PHD

A few weeks ago I visited the Church of the Golden Altar in Panama City. Legend has it that when the Welsh pirate Morgan was burning and looting the original settlement, a resourceful priest had this huge altar of gold, painted in black tar, so that its value was disguised. As I viewed the priceless treasure, I was reminded of a parallel experience in Bangkok. On that morning whilst in a small temple in Thailand, I gazed in awe at a Golden Buddha, which at one time, to mask its value from invaders, had been cast in clay. The similarities in those two accounts, one Christian and one Buddhist, caused me to reflect. Regardless of belief systems, universal truths do exist and continually reappear inviting us to ponder the symbolic messages and their applications to our lives.

Golden Altar

In both instances, I recognized that deeply buried beneath layers of our own construction, lays a “Golden Buddha” and a “Golden Altar.” Our task is to clear away those outside layers so that we can be similar to the symbolism of the Golden Buddha and the Golden Altar, and become beacons to automatically reflect our True Essence, giving others permission to witness it, and perhaps do likewise.

I have created a series of complimentary teaching videos. In these videos I describe ways to help others heal from their intense grief, which without healing, can leave them buried beneath heavy coverings of fear and hurt.

Click here to view the free videos.

 

Honoring Darkness Prepares Us to Welcome the Returning Light

©Jane A. Simington, PHD. 2015

As the winter solstice approaches we are once again reminded of how the seasonal changes in nature mirror the cyclic rhythms within our own lives. When we pause to examine our interconnections in the web of all existence we acknowledge that times of darkness fall upon every life. As the light fades and cold settles in we recognize that each of us experiences times of darkness and isolation.16426_882031781829415_5278592370910128062_n

As the world around us lies mostly dormant, if we allow ourselves to seize the opportunity, we settle in and re-centre. As we do so we become aware that this time of stillness allows us to amass energy for our next great movement forward. Being thus connected with the seasonal changes in our own lives, as mirrored by the cyclic changes in nature, we bless the darkness knowing that the balancing messages of the Winter Solstice promise that it is always darkest just before daybreak, and that very soon a door will open through which the returning light will stream.

Winter Solstice celebrations are a meaningful way to gather with like-minded friends to honor the spirit of darkness and the spirit of returning light. The following ideas for a Winter Solstice ceremony acknowledge what has been gained from our times of inner darkness so as to find the new seeds to plant during the times when the sun returns to our outer and inner worlds.

Honoring the Darkness
Allow some time at the beginning of the celebration for participants to sit in almost total darkness as a way to allow them to ponder the dark times they have experienced during the past year. After this time of stillness invite them to reflect on and perhaps journal what they have gained from their darkest time/s. The following questions can help in their reflections and in the acknowledgement of the gifts and abilities resulting from that darkness.

1) How has your darkest experience of this year changed your life?
2) What strengths do you now have that you did not have before that experience?
3) How has that experience influenced what you view as important?

Honoring the Light
After each participant has responded to one or more of the reflective questions, pass a jar of seeds. Have each pick two seeds and reflect on the following question:

1) What new seeds are you now able to plant when the sun returns, as a result of having that dark experience?

As each responds, invite that person to light a candle representing the return of light into their inner and outer worlds. As each candle is lit, ponder the increasing brightness each light brings into the darkness.

As a parting gift, you might offer some of the evergreens and pinecones used to decorate your ceremonial centre. A small Rosemary plant can also be a meaningful parting gift since they were known to our ancestors as the “herb of the sun,” and were included in early solstice celebrations. To close your solstice celebration, a prayer of thanksgiving for the cyclic teachings of nature will allow each one present to ponder how year after year, nature generously repeats her cycle.

As a gentle mother, Nature annually reminds us of our interconnections and of our constant potential for renewal and regeneration. As we begin our winter celebrations, many of which are rooted in early solstice ceremonies, may each of us receive the blessings of both the Darkness and the Returning Light.

A Time to Begin Anew: Applying Lessons of the East

Jane A. Simington, PHD.

© May, 2015

Help me celebrate as much as you help me mourn.

sunrise

Many training and practice models designed to guide therapists use as a framework the three phases for healing trauma described by Judith Herman.1 The three phases are: Safety First; Remember and Mourn; and Reconnecting with Life. Clients often report however, that while their trauma experiences tore them apart, and their healing processes reshaped them in ways they themselves often did not recognize, their therapists paid little attention to helping them through the processes of Reconnect with Life. For them, that would often have meant claiming a new identity and taking major risks as they tiptoed through doorways of the numerous new beginnings awaiting them. Clients also indicated they would have perhaps moved further and more quickly along their journey toward transformation had their therapists helped them acknowledge the forward movement they had already made, and helped them recognize the signs indicating their souls were urging them to celebrate the healing they had done and that they were ready to reconnect with life in new ways. A number of years ago, one woman stated this clearly. “Jane, you must help me celebrate as much as you help me mourn.” In this article I will describe symbolic indicators of readiness to reconnect with life in new and exciting ways and I will offer strategies for affirming in ourselves and others progress made along the healing journey.

1)    Pay attention to the rhythms and the cycles of nature and align with these rhythms.

Some years ago a client commented how strange she found it that on each of her daily walks she seemed drawn in an easterly direction. Listening to her awoke within me a similar memory of a time following my son’s death, when regardless of the path I had chosen for my morning walk, I would end up heading East. I still recall the excitement in her responses as I described my discoveries of the significance of the East and the symbolic reminders it holds. She positively connected with the teachings surrounding the Teutonic Goddess Ostara, after whom the East was named. Ostara was celebrated as a Goddess of new beginnings because of her associations with dawn and springtime and therefore the increase of sunlight. In helping this woman recognize the connections between her internal rhythms and the energy of the East, I recalled how affirmed and validated I had been when during my own time of healing someone reminded me; “It is often darkest just before sunrise.”

I also remembered the “awe” of another woman, who had similarly related being drawn to the East when she related her discovery of the Medicine Wheel teachings associating the East with new beginnings. One of these teachings emphasizes the value of making a morning journey into the East to allow the goodness of the new dawn to enter our being. According to this teaching, the golden rays of dawn energize the energies required to live in wholeness.

The Medicine Wheel and various other cultural and spiritual teachings also associate the element air with the East. Based upon this, I love to encourage people to pay attention to the direction from where the wind blows so as to absorb the related teachings. Winds from the South remind us to pay increased attention to the maintenance of our physical strength; winds from the West encourage healing; the North winds bring wisdom and remind us to be grateful; and winds that blow from the East encourage us to welcome newness into our lives.

2)    Pay attention to the birds and other symbols of transformation.

In most ancient societies, people studied the natural world to understand themselves. This knowledge lingers within many cultures. One common belief is that birds are messengers from the spirit world. The Eagle, one of the noblest of birds, is placed by some in the East of their Medicine Wheel.  A rooster is also a symbol of a new beginning. To have one appear in a dream or in art work forecasts that a new day is dawning. The crowing of a rooster reminds us that from the darkness comes the dawn.

3)    Pay attention to the colors worn and the colors used in art work.

As we awaken to the powerful symbolism surrounding us, we acknowledge the many forms in which we are being provided guidance. We begin to see that colors are significant; we pay attention to their mirrored reflections and ponder the meanings of those reflections. On most of the Medicine Wheels, yellow is placed in the East, and is therefore the color associated with new beginnings and with the gaining of clarity. The color yellow resonates with the third chakra, the energy centre associated with risk-taking. When I feel drawn to wearing yellow or notice myself or someone else using a lot of yellow in decorating or in art-making, I believe it is important to ponder the color and its message of encouragement to take the risks required to move life in a new direction.

As we pay more attention to the symbolic messages being continually given and as we align more closely with the rhythms surrounding us, we acknowledge our capacity to recreate ourselves anew and welcome our journey into the East for we can now accept that we can transform ourselves and our lives, regardless of what we have been through.

 

1). Herman, J. Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence–from Domestic Abuse to Political Terror . Basic Books.