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The end, the new beginning and the transition in between.

I am working on a book proposal on spirituality in psychotherapy. There are many books on that subject these days so, why write another one? I suppose it's because the subject has been part of me for many years now, and the book project has been rattling around inside, evolving over those years. A writer writes. So, I found myself talking with my editor at Springer Publications about the project and she suggested I add a chapter on a topic I had not thought to include personal eschatology.

Personal what?

Eschatology is a theological term, but eschatology itself is not limited to theology. The word refers to last things, or as it has come to be known, the end of things the end of the world or the beginning of the world to come. In science, for instance, astronomers study the life cycle of stars, and so we know that stars come to an end. Various religions have schemes organised around their respective beliefs about how and when this world will come to an end as we know it and/or turn into the next world, the world to come. Doomsday prophets from various fields have been forecasting the end of this world for decades, either from the depletion of natural resources, global warming, an asteroid hitting the planet, or nuclear war.

Personal eschatology refers to the last things concerning any given person the end of that individual's life. By extension it can also refer to any kind of ending affecting that person, any kind of “last thing”, whether that be the loss of a pet, the loss of a family heirloom, the ending of a relationship, a marriage, or the loss of a loved one. Since the ending of one thing leads to the beginning of another thing, personal eschatology also includes the issue of transitions.

A great deal of what psychologists and counsellors have to deal with in their practices entails personal eschatology. Currently, there is a controversy around the potential inclusion of grief in the next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), which will be published by the American Psychiatric Association. Until now grief has been considered a normal process of life and, thus, not a “disorder” at all. Aside from that, depressions, anxieties, and adjustment disorders are routinely triggered or exacerbated by endings and transitions of various kinds. Personal eschatological events like ending one's stay in one house and moving to another house rank high on lists of common stressors that people routinely experience. In today's economy people have been experiencing the loss of jobs, the loss of careers, and the need to downsize, which can mean the loss of the “toys” that used to distract one from problems or relational and family matters people often choose to ignore. When stress builds up, people often seek help from a psychotherapist, and that is a wise thing to do.

Ageing carries with it a tendency to reflect, to look back and think about the various phases of a life of one's own life. When a person does that, he or she revisits the people, places, and things that filled up life at various times. Of course, they would all be gone at the time of remembering. Either they would have actually ceased to exist, or they would have ended to a great deal because everyone and every place would have moved on and changed. For example, I grew up in Sacramento, California. I recently saw a picture of the house I used to live in at one time, and someone had remodelled it, put on a different roof and changed the way it appeared. The house I lived in was essentially gone; it had ended and certainly my life at that time in my growth had ended; I have grown up. That time period in my life had come and gone, and I found myself reflecting on it with some nostalgia and some hindsight.

Buddhists might say that attachment to things is one cause of suffering. People who believe the Bible would say that all things in this world, including the world itself, are in the process of passing away. Nothing stays the same. Things, people, and situations are constantly evolving, and so endings are a normal and common part of life. It is an illusion at best and a deception at worst to think that anybody or anything in this life can be kept as we currently know it/them. I believe the effort to keep things in the status quo is part of psychological disorder, and certainly the effort to control other people and make sure they do not rock one's world is a cause for relational dissatisfaction.

We will all die. My grandparents are all dead. My aunts and uncles have all died. My youngest brother died, and my mother and father are dead. If I were to live a long life, I probably have about 20 to 25 years left. Where was I 20 to 25 years ago? It seems like yesterday. So, I find myself “packing” for the trip that will comprise my personal eschatology.

What do I want to take along with me on that trip? Oh, I know they say you can't take it with you, but that is wrong. There are at least two things you can take with you.

First, I want to take with me the knowledge that I have ended well. What does that mean? I want to be like St Paul who claimed that he had kept is faith intact, that he had believed and trusted Christ all the way to the end. Life is filled with challenges and trials that test one's faith and demand endurance. I want to more than endure. I want to grow in my faith and my knowledge of God, and I want to hear God say, “Well done”.

I want to take with me my knowledge of God so that when I am in His presence I can experience the “update”. We see things only in part and dimly here. There is no church or theologian who has it all right. We are all a bit off, and so there are surely things that I have believed about God that will be updated, and I want to experience that. It has got to be one heck of an update! The aha of all ahas.

Personal eschatology, the end of earthly life is an end indeed. But it is also a beginning. Personal eschatology involves the transition between the two the final act in a purposeful existence.

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Published March 13, 2012 at 2:00 am (Updated March 13, 2012 at 9:20 am)

The end, the new beginning and the transition in between.

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