We may one day be remembered as one of the most sorry and irresponsible societies of all time, no least of all for our approach to the treatment of grief and depression. More than 50 million prescriptions for anti-depressants are handed out every year in this country, prescriptions for drugs that present all sorts of horrible side-effects from anxiety, to nausea, loss of appetite, headaches, bone problems, gasto-intestinal bleeding, not to mention weird behaviour and apathy. Worse still, these powerful and poisonous drugs are often considered by the medical profession only to be effective in extreme cases; the thousands of people that cheer themselves up by taking “just a low dose” of an anti-depressant are probably not doing a thing. These drugs are chemical compounds that are excreted by us and do not break down in the sewage treatment system; they turn up again and again in our drinking water. For me the most upsetting effect of anti-depressants in the drinking water is not so much the effect on us (as we make a cup of tea) but what they are doing to the more delicate life forms, like birds (particularly starlings and other flocking birds) which become apathetic and stop feeding and searching for food, or even breeding.
This month Jean Francis, an interfaith minister based in Horsham, held a wonderful festival of ceremonies, with the help of Horsham District Council, and a variety of celebrants and interfaith ministers. The ceremonies covered everything from story-telling to celebrating animals, baby arrivals, old age, the blessing of pure water, life, death, marriage, separation and divorce – you name it, there was a ceremony to mark the occasion. Each ceremony brought some kind of inspirational and beautiful benefit to those participating, sometimes very important and life changing. At this festival I carried out a memorial service for my mother, who died 10 years ago, and left me the money that paid for my training as an interfaith minister. As I hoped, the discussion that followed the memorial celebration was proof positive that ritual really does heal. Bad funerals can cause great distress. The grieving process goes on and on because the individual who died has not been honoured properly. There is no closure, no kindness, no acknowledgment of the unique loveliness of that person. Several people attending the memorial for my mother, found it both fun and thought provoking, and later commented on the massive disappointment surrounding the insensitive funerals carried out for members of their own family. Over the years it had caused them real grief. They will shortly overcome their pain and disappointment by holding loving and sensitive memorial ceremonies for their parents, a service that will celebrate important lives in a very special way.
When we attend loving rituals we change, just as we change when we look at a wonderful garden or landscape, or visualise something we enjoy in nature. Those that come to the meditation and visualisation group I hold, reckon that the experience, and the meditations they share bring positive changes. One of our number has learnt to lower her blood pressure at will by using meditation, using the techniques we use together. Other people I have treated on a one-to-one basis learn how to visualise or hypnotise themselves (not a lot of difference) and overcome anxiety, phobias, pain as well as dealing with unpleasant treatments like chemotherapy. Visualisation is always a pleasant, and sometimes a spiritually uplifting experience. The day when we discover that the healing process can be real fun and something to look forward to, rather than something toxic and horrible, will be the day when we might begin to love and connect with our world in an entirely different, more beautiful way.