Healthy Options – The wisdom of grieving: A conversation about rituals of remembrance
Oscar Perez was born in El Paso, Texas, where he witnessed firsthand the effects of alcoholism, substance abuse, and violence.
The culture in which he grew up consisted of wounded adults passing their traumas on to the next generations. The only emotions that men in this culture were able to express were anger and rage.
When Perez was 21, his life spiraled down a familiar self-destructive path. One night, while under the influence of alcohol, he lost control of his car, and nearly lost his life. The experience woke him up. He realized how irresponsible he had been and how devastating his actions could have been on others. Consequently, he decided to begin honoring the life that he had been given by taking full responsibility for his every action.
He began the process of uprooting the emotional patterns that had encouraged his self-destructive behavior. After 60 days in a New Mexico county jail, he emerged with a new vision for his life.
He went back to school to study how community narratives shape people and he also studied spiritual traditions in Brazil, initially through the art and philosophy of Capoeira. A mentor there encouraged him to apply to Brown University, where he was accepted into a fully funded doctoral program. There he was able to integrate his interests in cross-cultural wisdom, Shamanic traditions, philosophy, storytelling, and Jungian psychology. After overcoming many obstacles, Perez received his Ph.D. in 2011.
In this week’s Healthy Options, we share a short interview with Oscar C. Perez, transpersonal coach and grief worker.
Q: How did someone your age decide to become a grief worker?
A: Because of my research at Brown and my personal experiences growing up, I realized that healing must happen within each person so we can stop reliving harmful family patterns. We need to take ownership of our resentments, our wounds, and our trauma so we can heal them and become whole. The skill of grieving is essential for this. Otherwise, unresolved grief becomes a cycle of anger and depression that is often expressed through self-destructive behaviors. The way out of this destructive cycle is to learn to grieve for our cultural and individual losses.
Q: How would you define grief?
A: Grief is the sorrow, sadness, and/or pain we feel as a result of loss. The most obvious form of grief occurs due to the death of a loved one or the loss of a relationship, but we can also experience grief for the parts of ourselves that have been shunned, neglected, or abused. Jungian psychology refers to the part of the psyche that stores the wounded and abandoned parts of ourselves as the shadow. Our shadow can be our greatest ally or our worst enemy. Knowing how to recognize the shadow and work with it leads to healing. Without this ability, it emerges in destructive patterns in our lives.
Q: Are there other types of grief?
A: There’s the grief we experience about what’s happening in our world. We can’t live in our world without experiencing sorrow for the destruction of the planet and the suffering of people around the globe. Even when we do not acknowledge it, it influences us subtly on psychological, emotional, and spiritual levels. This is an area of grief that many people feel very deeply but do not know how to express.
There’s the grief associated with not having a sense of community. For 97 percent of human history, we have lived in villages where rites of passage were witnessed and celebrated. The entire community acknowledged an individual’s gifts and responsibilities to the world. That is absent today, and it is a source of isolation and deep sorrow.
Finally, there is ancestral grief. This is the idea that the actions of past generations have a collective impact on the individual. This concept explains why people who appear to “have it all” can be depressed and self-destructive. They have material possessions, but their souls are not fed.
Q: How does one transmute or metabolize these types of grief?
A: Various indigenous cultures teach us about how rituals can be used to process our grief. Such rituals can help us honor those who have died and relieve us of the anxiety that death brings. Whether we admit it or not, many of us are afraid that, in the end, no one will remember us. Similar rituals can be done to transform the other areas of grief into a deep appreciation for the gift of being alive.
On Aug. 15, Perez will offer a day-long workshop on the cross-cultural wisdom of grieving. For more information or to register, contact him at 831-607-9404. Visit his website: http://www.inlakechcoaching.com.
Jan Fishler s an author and writing coach. To learn more, go to http://www.JanFishler.com.
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