by Deborah Grassman
The Power of Myth, a book by Joseph Campbell, awakened me to the value of myths and rituals and their relationship to the change and trauma recovery process. To my scientific mind, myths were untruths. Yet, here this brilliant professor was showing me how myths spoke truths about personhood and humankind. Just as parables (stories that are not “factual”) are used because words cannot completely embody truth, so too, do myths embody larger truths.
Myths use symbols that access the energy of the unconscious. Campbell reminds us that truth is often hidden in symbols, requiring nonphysical eyes to see it.
Campbell spoke similarly about rituals. Yet, for me, the word “ritual” meant a habit that was empty of meaning; it meant actions that were robotical, automatic, habitual. However, Campbell writes that rituals are just the opposite. They are filled with meanings that provide maps for navigating change. They provide order in the midst of chaos, helping things fit together. Their purpose is to transform the experience by bringing congruence to what was initially incongruent.
The ritual does not fix the problem, but rather opens us to a deeper interior dimension that allows us to be at peace with the changes that have occurred. Just as myths speak a larger truth of the unconscious, so do rituals.
The soul speaks a unique language. Symbols, myths, and rituals reflect the soul’s paradoxical, artistic, and intriguing expressions. If I was to better understand Soul Injury, I recognized that I had to better understand rituals. The more I learned, the more convinced I became of their therapeutic value. The more I let go of my preconceived ideas about what I thought rituals were, the more I became open to their effectiveness in reckoning with change. I realized that in times of uncertainty, loss, and change, therapeutic rituals provide a format for letting go of the old, integrating the uncertainty of change, and redefining a different, hopeful future.
I became so convinced of the value of rituals that I designed my graduate school master’s thesis on the relationship between rituals and hope. I embarked carefully upon the study of designing therapeutic rituals that could be used clinically to provide support, guidance, and hope for hospice patients and families as they faced the uncertainty of changes that accompany death.
For healing to be complete and heartfelt, the unconscious mind must be engaged. Rituals provide access to the energy of the unconscious. Once these rituals are valued, I hope that people will learn how to develop them to navigate important changes in their lives. When combined with integrative letter-writing, it becomes a powerful tool for abiding hardships and reckoning with the changes needed to create peace and healing.
Benefits of Therapeutic Ritual
A gaping hole in our society exists that would benefit from a therapeutic ritual. One example of this gap occurs when soldiers in combat are killed. Their surviving comrades are given no time or formum to grieve. Stopping to grieve would get you killed. Plus, “good” soldiers don’t cry. So where does their grief go? Mostly, the grief goes into the unconscious where it remains hidden until a later loss triggers its release.
The Opus Peace team developed a ceremony specifically for combat veterans so they can come forth to finally honor their dead comrades and honor their own grief.
Its origins stem from providing clinical consultation services to the staff at a State Veterans Home. I asked a Vietnam Veteran, “Is there anything from the war that might still be troubling you now?” The veteran, hardly able to talk due to severe COPD, nodded his head. Then he said, “My brother and I both went to Vietnam, but I was the only one who came back.” Tears slowly ebbed down his cheeks while we waited in calm silence. Then, he added: “I didn’t even get to go to his funeral.”
We suggested that we could design a ceremony to honor his brother and create space for his grief. We explained the value of unmasking his unresolved grief. The veteran’s face visibly lightened and he eagerly participated in the designing of the service.
That’s when we realized the gaping wound in many of the veterans at the State Veterans Home, so we invited all of them to the service to mourn their comrades fallen during battle. About 25 showed up! There were many tears as these veterans allowed themselves to confront the Soul Injuries they had been carrying for decades. Unmourned loss was liberated and healing begun.
Books about Soul Injury
You can read more about rituals and ceremonies and stories about how to apply them to navigate needed changes in Deborah Grassman's books, Peace at Last: Stories of Hope and Healing for Veterans and Their Families and The Hero Within: Redeeming the Destiny We Were Born to Fulfill.
Soul Injury Leadership Training
You can be trained to lead ceremonies that restores wholeness to people who have experienced Soul Injury by attending the Soul Injury Leadership training.
Click here for more information