Monday, October 24, 2011

The ghosts that haunt us...

Being that it’s nearly the end of October and Halloween is upon us, it seems appropriate to talk about “ghosts.” When I first started to write on this topic, I decided it might be interesting to find out a little bit more about our spirited friends…and then wondered, how did these beings come to be representative of past events or people in our own lives?

Beliefs about ghosts and their existence comes in a variety of forms. The most commonly held belief is that ghosts are spirits of the dead who have been unable to pass onto the next world because of some trauma or tragedy. They are in essence earth-bound spirits who don’t know that they’ve died, so they are unaware of their need to move on.

Interesting… especially if you contemplate the many ways in which people do not know that they’ve stopped “living” in the proverbial sense. They are trapped in some ways by the past or held captive by a traumatic event - their lives a reflection of their inability to move on. Living, it seems, entails a certain amount of dying… dying in that we let go a part of our self – a belief, a memory, or a past relationship – in order to experience rebirth, new life.

How a ghost haunts seems to depend on the nature of their passing or purpose for haunting. Some ghosts seem to be in a perpetual state of replay, i.e., repeating and limiting their appearance to where they once lived, or recreating some traumatic or emotion-laden event.
A sort of paranomal version of Freud’s repetition compulsion…the term a “living hell” comes to mind when you think about it – being trapped in the after world and never finding resolution of the trauma or event. A reminder to us all that while we live, we still have time to turn our fate around. ….eerie sounds of wailing follow, lol.

Other ghosts, however, haunt to give us a message. These kinds of ghosts are apparently the most common and short-lived, in that they usually appear only once. These spirits are aware of their deaths and oftentimes come to give messages of comfort to their loved ones, to say that they are well and happy, and to not grieve for them. Any additional visits are to help the living cope with their loss.
In short: when we experience loss, we should take comfort in the fact that things happen for a reason... our lives will still be okay despite the fact that it doesn't feel like it at the time. We should take comfort in knowing that we will better for it and give ourselves permission to keep moving forward.
A myriad of cultures throughout history have written about ghosts, but the notoriety came with their appearance in English literature – particularly within the works of William Shakespeare, Washington Irving, Charles Dickens, and Oscar Wilde to name a few. The role of ghosts has been as varied as the rationale for their hauntings.

For example, in Dickens’ The Christmas Carol, the three ghosts haunt old Scrooge as a means of helping him change his ways. In Macbeth, the vanquished Banquo haunts and taunts Macbeth so that he appears insane to others.

And in Oscar Wilde’s The Cantervile Ghost, the lovable Sir Simon is frustrated by his inablitiy to frighten the Otis family away. Ultimately, we see the vulnerability of this specter and the lesson learned by Virginia Otis is one of understanding “what Life is, what Death signifies, and why Love is stronger than both.”

Worthy lessons in each tale… and perhaps that’s just what the ghosts in our lives do: they help us remember what it is we wanted to forget yet still need to resolve.

In the romance department (literature and movies), ghosts frequently depict some form of unfinished business (like the unrequited love between Heathcliff and Catherine in Wuthering Heights);

or, the lesson of taking risks when it comes to matters of the heart (like the risk of heartbreak as one that outweighs the regret of never loving at all, as learned by Matthew McConaughey’s character in The Ghosts of Girlfriends Past).

A cursory search on the net reveals that ghosts in our lives can represent:

  • a person from your past that brought troubles and is bringing new troubles again
  • a horrific past event that occurred and keeps bothering you because its memories won't go away
  • a past that comes back to haunt you (not solely a traumatic one)
  • unfinished business of whatever sort
  • reminders of our past mistakes
So what are my ghosts? I’m not so sure I know them all… the good, the bad, or the indifferent. I don’t think I’d want them to completely disappear from my life just yet either. I feel like I still have so much more to learn from them, so to some extent, I am happy to keep a few on board for the rest of life’s wild ride.

There are, obviously, other ghosts in my past that I need to let go and to those, I am happy to release them… but in all cases, these specters of my being – reminders of my existence, are my teachers. And while I may not necessarily like the lesson to be learned that day, I can appreciate their function and be grateful that they don’t necessarily disappear until I’ve actually learned what it is that I need to know!

So, what would you say are your “ghosts”?  Do you have a few for which you are grateful for and plan to keep? And a few that you are happy to say adieu?

As always, please feel free to share… and happy All Hallows’ Eve!