Many Funerals: Honoring the Death of our Dreams
(On a recent podcast, Rob Bell repeatedly called for “many funerals”. He was interviewing Shelby Forsythia about the multitude of losses each of us faces throughout our lives, losses that we may not mourn fully or even acknowledge. You can listen to that podcast here: https://robbell.podbean.com/e/shelby-forsythia-is-giving-permission-to-grieve/ Our next few blogs will examine our individual and collective need for more funerals -- for more rituals of all types. We would love to hear from you about ways you use ritual in your own life; contact Amy at firstname.lastname@example.org to share your stories and experiences).
“Why am I creating a memorial for something that never happened?” The young woman working with me expressed confusion and a bit of frustration. She had come to me for support in moving through the recent end of a significant relationship. The break-up had been intense and messy, and she longed to put all of it -- the separation, the union, her former lover -- far behind her.
Rather than helping her create an on-line dating profile or visualize what she wanted in her next partner, I was inviting her to stay in the space of loss. In fact, I had just asked her to increase her experience of loss by turning her awareness to losses caused by the break-up that she may not even have considered. Every time I work with someone who has recently ended a relationship, be it with a significant other, a job, a home, or just about anything else, I guide them through a very important ritual, one I call a Funeral for a Dream.
We begin most relationships with a dream. We envision some distant future in our new career or our next home; and from that very first vision, we invest energy into that dream. Sometimes that energy is consciously used in the physical creation of something, as in purchasing items for our new space or changing our wardrobe to better align with how we imagine our future self will dress.
Most of that energy, though, does not take physical form. It lives and grows in our thoughts, our plans, our daydreams; and it can become so powerful as to almost have a life of its own. The woman I was guiding through this particular ritual had told me of future children, holidays not yet shared, vacations still to be taken, and many plans for how her relationship would eventually have looked and felt if she and her partner had just lived up to the fantasies they each had cultivated about one another and their union. Although none of these had materialized, the images continued to exist. Whenever her thoughts turned to what “could have been”, she was connecting with the vitality of the dream she had constructed.
And it was that dream that needed to be mourned, perhaps even more than the reality of the relationship that had ended. His snarky comments, socks on the floor, and lifestyle utterly incompatible with hers? She was happy to be rid of all of that. And when she focused on the very real ways she was disappointed in the relationship, she felt ready to release it and begin to search for a newer, better version.
And yet I was asking her to refrain from doing that. Instead, I directed her to feel the fullness of the fantasy she had created about the man her partner could have changed into, the ways they might have interacted, what their relationship was going to look like if only both of them would be the people she knew they could have been. . . eventually. When we fail to acknowledge the end of a dream and to gift ourselves the space to grieve that death, it is like having a window continually open somewhere in our psyche. Some amount of energy continually leaks out of that window and feeds into the dream that was likely to never have come to fruition. And, when we begin our next relationship (and the construction of that dream), our old, seemingly forgotten fantasy informs what next we cultivate.
Creating a ritual in which we witness our dreams fully, feel our connection to them, and experience the loss of them as they die provides us a signficant opportunity. It allows us to grieve and mourn that which can never be.
Such funerals for dreams can take a multitude of forms. Here’s my favorite recipe, one I’ve used for decades in my own life and in support of those I companion; it involves two separate phases:
1. Releasing the pieces: make list of all the items you relate to the dream you are memorializing. The fantasies, the plans, the “what ifs”. Take your time, as things will arise in your awareness the more you focus on this dream. Once you feel your list is complete, write each individual item on a biodegradable substance (my favorite things to use for this purpose are leaves). Sitting next to a flowing body of water, assign each item on your list to one object. As you pick up that object, feel the fullness of your love for that piece of the fantasy, and then release it into the water, witnessing it be carried away from you.
2. Memorializing the dream: create a funeral for your dream, just like you might for any beloved person who has died. I like to create an effigy from clay or any other biodegradable substance. Then, I bury it. Say a eulogy, sing songs, allow yourself to mourn.
What out-dated dreams might be still taking up space in your world? Perhaps it is time for a funeral.