Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Therapist Within: a Guest Post by Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar

Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar is a Psychotherapist and blogger, practicing in Sydney, Australia.  Her posts on The Therapist Within offer some very valuable and thought provoking perspectives for those dealing with issues of  mortality .  My thanks to Ms. Gawne-Kelnar for preparing this wonderful guest post for The Daily Undertaker. 

Setting Sail for Shores Unknown: Living with the Idea of Death

There’s a cemetery in Sydney, Australia, which stands on a cliff and overlooks the ocean. It’s a strangely stunning place with gorgeous coastal views. A sea of white marble against a backdrop of bluest blue. Prime real estate to commemorate the dead.

And yet there’s something very mournful – almost eerie – about the way the statues of angels perch atop gravestones and look out to sea, when those buried beneath them will never do so again. 

As you wander through the crooked rows of graves, a nautical theme bobs up every now and then: anchors chiselled from rock, or ship’s wheels carved as headstones; for ships that (depending on your beliefs) may never again set sail. 

So it’s quite a melancholy place, too...

Yet perhaps there’s another, deeper, layer here – something for the living as well as the departed. Something about the way the ocean itself breathes in the waves beneath…

For there’s a concept which would link us all in waves like this. It’s called an “oceanic feeling.” Thought to originate in Sanskrit texts, it outlines a sense of infinite connectedness with all things:

You are an infinite ocean.
The universe is a wave.
It can swell or subside.
What is the difference?
You neither gain nor lose thereby.”[i]

Sigmund Freud felt this oceanic feeling was “a subjective feeling of an indissoluble bond or oneness with the whole universe, a feeling of something limitless (infinite) and a sensation of eternity”[ii]

Have you ever felt this sense in your life?
A connectedness?
A bond?
A sense that your shores might be linked to all others via some indefinable sea?

And if so, could that sense somehow help you live with the idea of your dying?

A similar idea of a “celestial ocean” has also saturated many mythologies throughout time, as a body of water which embraces our world as well as the heavenly spheres and underworlds that may accompany it.

So maybe it’s actually very fitting for this graveyard to find its moorings here, on a windswept cliff top, overlooking the waves.

And maybe in some ways, despite whatever unknown shores await us in our death, we might all look out to this same oceanic sea…

[i] The Astavakrasamhita, cited in The Oceanic Feeling: the origins of religious sentiment in ancient India By Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson

Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar  is a Sydney psychotherapist in private practice at One Life Counselling & Psychotherapy.
Gabrielle also co-facilitates telephone support groups for people who are living with cancer, for their carers, and for people who have been bereaved through a cancer experience.
She is the editor of a journal on counselling and psychotherapy, the author of a private practice blog, and she provides regulartherapeutic updates on facebook and Twitter @OneLifeTherapy.

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