Horne: Coming to terms with our own mortality

A group of women will be gathering for a workshop on April 26 and 27 called The Wisdom Circle.

Talking about facing our own death is not something that we engage in too easily with our close family members and friends.

It certainly doesn’t seem to come up in conversation too often at the social gatherings I attend.

Many of us have had experiences of death over our lives and we take the images, observations and feelings that were prevalent in those experiences into our psyche.

Particularly as children, we learned how to or how not to deal with loss from our parents and grandparents and it can set a tone of avoidance for us for our lifetime it seems, until we pause to sit with it and perhaps question if there is a better way.

My husband’s father died of a heart attack at the age of 36 in front of him, a young lad of only five at the time.

He does not remember anyone really explaining what had happened to him and attending to his fearful confusion that his beloved dad had left him so suddenly in this manner.

It is not really any surprise that when he began to have symptoms of heart problems himself, he ignored the signs and did not want to deal with facing not only what was happening to him, but what had happened to his dad so many years ago.

I noticed for myself as well, that I did not want to face the emotions of what this might mean for our future or feel the deep emotional pain of potentially having him leave me sooner than I ever imagined.

We ended up just not talking about it and I watched as we both became somewhat numb in the months following, choosing not to face the reality of what was happening for each of us.

Death loomed within our relationship like a dark cloud, until we began to address what we were feeling.

Freud described two primordial forces that he thought drove the human experience. One is libido, the life instinct and the other is thanatos, the death instinct.

These bipolar energies that are at work in the human psyche, in his view, were quite black and white.

Libido being full of creativity and gratification and thanatos as driving us towards annihilation and the cessation of all activity.

Well, who wants to dip their big toe into that?

David Feinstein, co-author of Rituals for Living and Dying states: “When we confront our mortality, a shift occurs in our attention that makes us more aware of how precious life really is.

“We have an enhanced ability to accept ourselves, along with a greater ability to love. We lose the pervasive anxiety that makes us grasp obsessively for power, wealth, and fame.

“As we discover a deepened sense of purpose and a profound connectedness with other people, we tend to be motivated by higher, more universal values, such as love, beauty, truth, and justice.”

To me, that would say that there is purpose in not putting a lid on thanatos. That perhaps embracing rather than rejecting the message of our death instinct might allow us to stay connected to the source of creative vitality that is within us and thereby experience not a contraction from the thought of dying, but a freedom that comes from connecting to truth and our own authenticity.

Looking back over our life and embracing all of our experiences of both loss and elation, seems to hold the key to becoming more willing to uncover the hidden meaning to our life as we age.

I don’t think there is any age limit to this discovery. What a wonderful thought to realize that the door to growth is always open if we choose to stop negatively thinking of ourselves as victims of what has happened to us in the past.

We can instead begin focusing on what is the deeper intention or purpose for our life that is perhaps still labouring to be born.

By fearing death, we feel anxious. What is anxiety? Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi in his book From Age-ing to Sageing wrote: “It is the pain that we give ourselves whenever we trespass into emotionally dangerous territory.”

I have been told that every seeming problem is a lack of forgiveness, sometimes of others, but often of ourselves.

Forgiveness requires a slight shift of consciousness and the willingness to risk opening your heart to another person.

A group of women will be gathering for a workshop on April 26 and 27 called The Wisdom Circle, to explore coming to peace with their past in order to live more fully in the present.

Please contact me at 250-863-9577 or email marjorie@caresmart.ca for information on this event.


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