Monday, October 6, 2008

Myths, metaphors, and mourning

Muslims call the cyclical summer flooding of the Nile, Wafaa El-Nil, The Night of the Tear-Drop. In Egyptian mythology, the Nile floods because of Isis' lamentations over the death of Osiris. She has so many tears that it causes the Nile to overflow. I can relate to the metaphor an ocean of tears. And disintegrated, amorphous, weighty, and fragmented: this is how I would describe my own journey into the abyss of grief. I'd lost my identity, my purpose, and any sense of a just existence. This was my dark night of the soul. One in which I would surely either die or I would be, in a archetypal sense, reborn much like Isis.

Many indigenous tribes purposefully seek their own dark night of the soul. The Umbandan, for example, send their members on a 17-day initiation into the wilderness. During this initiation, they are without food or human contact. They become intentionally disintegrated from themselves and others, they experience terror, they begin to question their place in the world. It is not until they return from the metaphorical death of their former selves that they are recognized as being fully human. Whole. Complete. This journey of the initiate requires the death of their former self in order to achieve authentic wholeness.

This type of transforming does not come without agony, or doubt, or despair, or hopelessness. Shucking the layers of hubris, control, ego, security, narcissism, pride, and all of those characteristics which stick to us like glue throughout our early lives is painful. Fragmenting the equivocal scraps of ourselves - such as the belief that we are somehow safe and exempt from tragedy - the belief that those things happen to others less worthy - the inclination toward narcissism in loss, focusing all attention toward our child who died in the belief that ours is somehow more worthy or traumatic than another's - yes, it wounds us beyond our capacity for understanding, and it is devoid of compassion or mercy or grace. As Fritz Perls said, it is not easy to die and be reborn. Yet, we must shed those assumptions and our egos and selfishness and entitlements and self-indulgence in order to really and genuinely exist.

And oh how I longed to be a complete person, wholly present in life and love and longing. Intentional. Purposeful. Actualized. Merritt Malloy said that there is no way but through... St John of the Cross says there is no way but within... With certitude, to achieve such a life of meaning, one cannot stand outside the darkness or fight to remain the same, intact person of prior. It is the darkness that makes us whole, when we are ready to see that which exists there. It is the dark night that bids tenderly form, meaning, and purpose.

The darkness gives rise to our becoming human, really fully human, and all that means. I do not wish to merely survive. I wish to become.


janis said...

As always, Joanne, beautiful and profound. You help me find words for what I think and feel. It helps me heal. *hugs*

Dr. Joanne Cacciatore said...


Sometimes I'd like to ditch the agony and be a partial person. Living hurts, but it's agonizingly beautiful too.


Noël said...

I read your blog to find feeling in a world I walk through, mostly numb....Numbness to survive the living of the day. Today I looked in hopes of a new post:) Thank you. This afternoon you gave some life and feeling to my living.

Dr. Joanne Cacciatore said...

Thank you so much for visiting...and for your thoughtful comment.

Travelwahine said...

It's a beautiful post. I come to your blog for enlightment. And as always, you deliver.

I wish I would've never been in a situation to walk into the darkness, to find my purpose and wholeness.

However, it is what it is. And I must overcome and become that whole person. Slowly, I can see the light but at times, I'm violently thrown back into that spot, the darkness. Awaiting my emergence patiently.

Jaden Paige said...


I found you through the Sits website and was moved by your words... I love your use of mythology and the way you have explained your journey through this... Thank you for sharing, I look forward to reading more of your blog. Bless you.


The soul still sings in the darkness telling of the beauty she found there; and daring us not to think that because she passed through such tortures of anguish, doubt, dread, and horror, as has been said, she ran any the more danger of being lost in the night. Nay, in the darkness did she, rather, find herself.

--St. John, Dark Night of the Soul

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