Umbilical Cord Rituals

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The task of leaving home psychologically takes a lifetime.  For some it begins before the age of 5 as we make early decisions about ourselves in the context of our life so far.  The family has a never ending effect on our sense of self and our revisions of our identity, needs and direction.  Human beings are like programmable instruments.  Our primary processing systems of sensing, intuition and feeling  and the data they take in affect our behavior all of our lives, allowing us to  react to what we have experienced unknowingly.  When we begin to use language and develop cognitive capabilities, we override the sensing, intuiting and feeling systems in an attempt to please others and maintain connection with those to whom we are attached, often leaving important parts of ourselves behind, and much of our potential hidden, even from ourselves.  The character armor of the false self begins pushing others parts of ourselves into the unconscious to be discovered later, if we are fortunate.  The archetypes of the persona become woven into the fabric of our being, to be unraveled later, again, only if we are fortunate.

As newborns, we are attached to our mothers by an umbilical cord.  It is intended to nourish us when we are unable to receive nourishment directly.  Sometimes parents, well-meaning but ignorant, interject ideas and rules into our memory which do not apply to us, but are rather projections of them.  The late, great James Hillman urged us to look at each child with the question “What have we here?”  This the first task of a successful parent, preparing us to survive without them.  In a world of symbols, rather than words, a smile from a parent, a reassuring embrace and soothing words mean everything to the child.  When I first went to an Adult Children of Alcoholics workshop decades ago, the participants were asked to make a circle and the facilitator went around the room, stood behind each participant, and made an affirmative statement while putting a hand on each person’s shoulder.  In disbelief I watched each person burst into tears, as if  the seed of an  unmet need had suddenly been planted in our hearts.

Two rituals emerged from this experience.  The first involved a letting go.  The second involved creating a form of what was lost in two forms.

The letting go ritual involved the use of symbolic umbilical cord.  In the past, this connection was easily seen with a telephone cord (no longer used) or an extension cord (still in use).  In this ritual, the name of the parent who was seen as a person who was connected in an inappropriate way to the adult child was written on the cord, alternating with that of the participant.  The cord then was cut into pieces and then burned collectively.  We all did this ritual together so we could move forward together.  One of the people correctly knew that her mother’s tongue was what connected her to her mother’s hurtful words, so she wrote on and cut up and burned a cow’s tongue.  We all got it and never forgot the power of a parent’s words.

My favorite umbilical cord ritual was given to me by my therapist while I was in graduate school.  After learning that the words of our parents remain in the cells of our body in the form of interjected words and feelings, he gave me a knob like the ones that were on radios before the digital age.  I was to speak out loud when I heard or felt these interjected messages the following:  “Which one of my parents is advising me today?”  Always, I knew which parent it was and I said out loud, while turning the knob, “I am turning you off”.  I then added “I am cancelling my reservation to where you are sending me”.  Later we found out through the development of Voice Dialogue Therapy that speaking to our internal thoughts out loud created an overriding download which allowed substantive change and healing.

Try either or both of these rituals with those whose guidance and unhelpful suggestions you still are influenced by.  A big clue is when you hear yourself say or think “I should”.  That is always a sign you didn’t think of it and it should be re-examined by your authentic Self.

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