The Jawara Tribe in the Andaman Islands has fought off nearly all attempts by civilized people to penetrate their domain. As a result, this primitive culture has retained its customs for thousands of years. Yet a few visitors have been accepted, returning with remarkable footage of a kind of people nearly otherwise decimated from the earth.
I saw a documentary that introduced Jawara women who wear the bones of their dead husbands around their necks.
In some cases, the widow totes the man’s skull. The documentary’s narrator suggests, “Imagine trying to make love to a woman who is wearing the skull of her dead husband around her neck.” While the comment is odd, it struck a realization within me. In our culture many of us also wear the skulls, bones, or remnants of dead husbands, lovers, family members, business partners, or friends around our necks—not physically, but energetically. We hang past memories, resentments, and upsets over our hearts such that we keep other people from getting close to us. Clinging to the past, for better or worse, manufactures a psychic armor that new people, events, and experiences cannot penetrate. These skulls might be “treasured wounds” or even treasured positive memories. In either case, history overshadows the present and delays us from stepping into our highest destiny.
I heard about a German woman with a psychological disorder in which she would get stuck on a particular moment in her experience, and then not know what happened for a period of time after that. For example, she would be holding a pot of coffee in her hand and that scene would freeze in her mind even while the “movie” of her life went on. She would be pouring the coffee but still think it was in the pot, not knowing where she was pouring it. This phenomenon is similar to the Jawara skull bearers in that we get stuck on events in the past at the expense of being fully present now. Every moment in our life is a frame in a movie that keeps going on. If we fixate on a past scene, we cannot see the movie as it continues to play.
Perhaps the most familiar bearer of a treasured wound is Charles Dickens’ Miss Havisham in his classic novel, Great Expectations. We meet the elderly spinster who was jilted at the altar many years earlier. Miss Havisham still wears her yellowed wedding gown while the cobwebbed china for her marital feast sits on her dining-room table beside the uneaten wedding cake. Miss Havisham is the quintessential bearer of a treasured wound. Her tattered wedding dress and rotting cake serve as lifelong badges of victimhood. Daily she reminds herself of the loss she cannot get beyond, and glorifies it to the world.
Forgiveness, as taught by A Course in Miracles, calls us to release the past scenes upon which we are frozen. It does not ask us to overlook bad things that have happened, while still holding onto them subconsciously. It is said, “We bury the hatchet, but then we remember where we buried it.” Real forgiveness means rising above the belief that we are victims, and that any person or experience has power over our lives.
The skull and coffee pot symbols run even deeper.
Many of us carry old belief systems that keep us from growing into new ones.
We harbor religious dogmas, judgments from our parents, opinions pounded into us from public education, cultural stereotypes, nicknames we were called, guilt over past mistakes, and all kinds of ideas that keep us living smaller than we are and we deserve. I have studied with many amazing teachers and thought systems. At some point I had to let go of each of them to move on to a more expanded vision. Every belief system exists to be learned from, applied, and then transcended.
Consider if you are wearing any skulls around your neck or pouring hot coffee on yourself. Who or what are you holding on to? What you hold to is holding you. If so, take an action, communicate, do a release ceremony, pray, affirm, discuss with a friend, or do whatever you need to do to get beyond limiting past relationships, painful events, self-judgments, fears, and a sense of “small me.” You are too big for that now. Such beliefs are the toys of childhood, and we are maturing into spiritual mastery.
We honor our dead by remembering them, but there is an even more important memory we need to preserve—the remembrance of our true Self. There is a you greater than your past, a deeper inner spirit that has never been touched by your personal history. This is your true Self, the one you were born to know and live. We cannot carry around the bones of the dead and be fully available to embrace the hearts of the living.
“The past is over. It can touch me not.”
— A Course in Miracles
Alan Cohen is the author the many popular inspirational books, including his latest The Grace Factor: Opening the Door to Infinite Love. Join Alan in Hawaii December 5-10 for Miracles in Paradise, a retreat to bring A Course in Miracles to life. For more information about this program, his free daily inspirational quotes, online courses, and weekly radio show, visit www.AlanCohen.com.