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Divorce and Loss

by Kathleen Wall Ph.D.
& Gary Ferguson

The issues you'll deal with in the early stages of divorce are generally on opposite ends of the emotional spectrum -- yet another example of how polarities, or a sense of opposites, are part and parcel of major life changes. Indeed, most people going through a marriage breakup enter therapy disoriented because they can't choose between wildly conflicting emotions. 

"One minute I love Jack" says a thirty-five-year-old woman of her feelings about her former spouse, "and the next minute I hate him. Sometimes I think I must be going crazy."

The secret lies not in the ability to choose the right feeling. The secret, odd as it might sound, is the ability to choose both feelings while maintaining the ability to choose neither. Accept each feeling as it arises, even if it conflicts with what you felt five minutes ago, and at the same time, release yourself from feelings whenever the emotional roller coaster begins to make you sick.

Reducing the day-to-day  world of change to a collection of preferred options -- good over bad, happy over sad -- and trying to chart a course by choosing one and repressing the other will only lead to dead ends.

Healthy life, and therefore healthy ritual, consists less of choosing this feeling over that than of simply acknowledging the polar urges that are always present in us and building a path between them -- a path, as a Chinese philosopher once wrote, that leans toward the light. As writers Alan Watts and tai chi master Al Chung-liang Huang point out in their book Tao: The Watercourse Way, the art of life is more like navigation than warfare.

An individual devising a divorce ceremony must recognize both the anger she feels toward her former spouse for his past behaviors, as well as the sadness that comes with having lost a shared, precious dream. Mixed into the packet of seed that life hands to each of us are many kinds of plants. The beauty is that as each one sprouts, we may choose how we can best use the plant to create the garden we most desire. 

With care and attention, anger grows into strength, sharing becomes friendship, and apprehension leads to adventure. "Everything is paired," explains an Indonesian elder to the children of his tribe. "Everything has its other half -- the opposite, the counterpart. If no pair exists, there is nothing."

The following discussions will help you deal with two distinct pairs of divorce-related issues. One pair has to do with disidentifying yourself as a wife or a husband while still fully acknowledging the pain of having played that role. The other pair involves retreating from society into a time of respite and self-maintenance, and later using the people around you to firmly affix the lessons of your experience.

Continued in Part II: 
The Need to Disidentify
& Embracing Loss.


This article has been excerpted with permission from the book "Rites of Passage" published by Beyond Words Publishing, Hillsboro, OR 97124-9808. 800-284-9673. http://www.beyondword.com.

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About The Author

KATHLEEN WALL practices psychology "with soul," providing helpful transition consulting for individuals and organizations. She serves on the faculty at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology, has a private practice in San Jose, California, and is a counselor at San Jose State University.

GARY FERGUSON has been a free-lance writer for sixteen years. His science and nature articles have appeared in more than a hundred national magazines. He is also the author of numerous books. He and his wife make their home in Red Lodge, Montana.

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