Honoring the Thinning Veil, Glastonbury, 2010


Each year the San Francisco Jung Institute celebrates Ancestors’ Day around the time of the Day of the Dead. Analysts, candidates, and interns gather and remember those in our Institute community who have passed the threshold into the Beyond.

This last Sunday we especially honored Donald Sandner, an analyst who passed suddenly on Easter Sunday 1997. In part two, to be posted later this week, I will talk more about Don.

We began the day by watching a video of Don, Joe Henderson, one of the founders of our Institute who lived to be 104, and Mary Jo Spencer, still with us at close to 100 years old. In this yet to be released film produced by Steven H. Wong, these three analysts discussed the ancestors and death.

To watch this film brought back a wash of memory for many of us. I had seen an early version of the film in 1999, but this time I was alert to how all three talked with certainty about the presence of the dead. Joe Henderson said that grief and sadness bring us close to the dead, although he added that he did not so much miss those he loved who had passed as he felt them in the present. Mary Jo talked about her ancestors visiting her in her living room, something I have heard her say more than once, and Don talked about the draw into death when loved ones die and about the recent loss of two very close friends and the impact of their deaths on him. He died within six months of the filming of this segment.


Although my own experience is that when I am aware of missing someone who has passed over, they are most near, I also realize that we westerners have few differentiated ways of acknowledging their presence besides grief. However, Rudolf Steiner stated that it is not grief but gratitude that opens us to communication with the dead. Gratitude for our relationship with them humbles us, allowing a waking dream state that accesses the whole. Then we can learn the telepathic language of Spirit, one which communicates not only with the dead, but with the not-human world as well.

What is your own experience in knowing your ancestors? Do you have an active relationship with them? Steiner felt this relationship to be an important one in our evolution, something I will explore in the coming weeks.

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Comment by Patricia Damery on December 9, 2013 at 7:41am

 Thank you for sharing this. I am reminded of a comment from Jung about the importance of sorting out our individual shadow material from the collective. Taking on the enormity of the collective wound is too much. But maybe when we do our individual work, the healing can be of the eternal, going both backwards and forwards, and our ancestors experience some healing as well.

Comment by Ed Koffenberger on December 9, 2013 at 7:32am

I have a bit of a different experience with the ancestors that took place in my middle school years and still "haunts" me. It happened when I became personally aware that my heritage is German and the event was learning about the Holocaust. For years I felt personal responsibility for that horror simply because I have German genetics, at least that was my way of imaging as a middle school student. I wanted to approach every Jewish person with a personal apology as if I had been there. Now, whether there is some ancestral "energy" that is still seeking reconciliation, or my shadow reminding me that although I hold life sacred - I hold such a killer potential, both, or more, the thoughts (even as I type this) create a great discomfort.

I attempted to revisit all the German personages that have affirmed this sacredness of life since and before that horrendous time, but the emotional awareness and underlying discomfort remain. Sometimes what our ancestors have to offer doesn't initially come across as sweetness and light.

Comment by Patricia Damery on December 8, 2013 at 7:25am

Thank you, Gail, for this moving account of how relationship with the ancestors has brought healing for you and your lineage. You are so wise to open again to your traditional ways of relationship to the ancestors using the pathways of ritual that all of you have used over the generations. It is also is so helpful to hear how this began: in a dream which you obviously took very, very seriously. When we tell each other these stories, perhaps something within us is quickened. Psychological work is married, then, with the spiritual, and we are open to healing guidance.

Comment by Patricia Damery on December 8, 2013 at 7:16am

Comment by Gail Thomas on December 7, 2013 at 5:40pm

i'm reminded of the first dream celebration and ceremony with my native tsalagi ancestors...it came at a time when i had worked so hard to break a family behavior pattern and actually made it through several experiences that were the same pattern looking slightly different :) and recognized that trap as well. the ceremony was beautiful and felt so connected. it seemed as if they were all released from this pattern 7 generations back and forward and stayed with me to help so much with the evolution of all my relations in this way. i have since returned to the traditional ceremonies on the land i had just moved to at the time of this dream (13 years ago). i do regular inipi ceremonies in a very traditional way and honor ancestors with an alter as well as songs and spirit bowls. my ancestors are very close in my everyday life as well as my spirit guides and i pray only for "help and health" with amazing response. 

Comment by Patricia Damery on November 24, 2013 at 7:40am

Yes, our culture is sadly unaware of the importance of remembering those who have passed over. Yes, I really do think they appreciate our fond memories of them. I suspect this is very much in the shadowing areas between the conscious and unconscious for many and this communication goes on regardless of our conscious intent.

Comment by Catherine Poloynis on November 23, 2013 at 5:29pm

I think that grief opens communication with the dead as well.  Also, genealogy and just fondly remembering them.  I think they appreciate that.


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