In Ernest Becker's Pulitzer prize-winning book, The Denial of Death, he writes that what young people need most in their lives is the chance to face death, be courageous and be a hero. True heroism and courage is about facing death, yet our Western culture is replete with heroes that merely shoot hoops or behave badly, giving children false mythology. Psychoanalyst, philosopher and auther of The End of Courage, Cynthic Fleury writes that individual courage has eroded in contemporary society. In Greece, heroes were echoing acts of the gods. Later, heros were finding an individual destiny through heroic acts and to be heroes of their own lives. People need acts of individual courage and a collective ethic of courage to self-protect, self-regulate and to be durable, she says. Our modern society hardly assists our children in these needs. Luckily there are stories!
The Queen of Bohemia, Sydney Solis, tells the Middle Eastern story of The Bird Who Would Not Die during a Halloween party at the the Good Hope School in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands.
Children can face death and be heroes by listening to stories. The psyche doesn't know the difference between real or imagined, so a child journeys and experiences the dangers and fears and stores them away as memory to be able to recall when real instances appear in life. The stories give us clues and guides of what to expect and how to behave. Death is no exception. Children can safely experience and prepare for the realities of life and death. Because death is real, yet it is constantly avoided in our culture, at our peril. For we see the repression projected onto violent television programs in the psyche's desperate attempt to integrate this reality it has been split off from. Wihtout stories and rituals around death, kids are unable to cope or deal with their fears, unlike in Mexico and other cultures where death is expressed through ritual and are able to deal with death and grief in a positive way that relieves the anxieties and emotions.
Many fairy tales and traditional folktales are filled with death and violence. While our culture sanitizes them, I never leave anything out of my tellings, for death happens to us all and death and violence happen to lots of children in their daily lives, whether it be the death of a parent or a drive-by shooting. And in our dualistic world, death and violence happens in the cosmos. It is part of us, and recognizing this makes us whole rather than neurotic.
When you tell stories of death to kids, it's a great opportunity to teach children yoga philosophy that there is no death - the bodily dies, yet the soul is eternal. It is reborn. From death comes life. That's how things hang together in our dualistic world that is informed by the transcendent. We can, as Joseph Campbell says, participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world by recognizing this truth and remaining firmly identified with the eternal that is participating in duality. This gives us courage in life and to go to our deaths singing.
This Halloween, take time to tell kids stories about death, demons and the dark stuff. Keep it age appropriate and use prudence as not to traumatize kids, whose imaginations are very powerful. Skillfully tell tasteful scary stories, stories about death and skeletons and help them confront this natural aspect of life, laugh at it, recognize their fears and heroically face death and journey beyond it safely into the realm of eternal life that awaits at the end of the story.
Namaste and Have a Magical Day