Beyond the Easter Bunny
By Lynn K. Hall
April arrives and with it the Easter celebration. Why do we celebrate? What is this holiday all about? We might have a strong Christian perspective and then, perhaps, the holiday makes sense—we celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But if Christianity is not our religion of choice, or perhaps we have lost touch with the true meaning of Easter, then what do we celebrate? The Easter Bunny?
Easter is first and foremost a celebration of rebirth, of doing away with the old, of taking a chance on the new. As spring arrives and nature comes alive, so can the season be a time of personal rejuvenation. It can be a personal time of giving up the old habits and past choices that encumber us and keep us rooted in the destructive patterns of our lives. It might also be a time of looking beyond our personal needs and paying attention to how we can contribute to the world around us.
Often we ask ourselves questions such as, "Why do I get angry every time my spouse says/does certain things?" "Why do I fear the possibility that my child has made another mistake?" or "Why am I so concerned that another person has spoken badly of me?" We could choose to let go of these and many other all-consuming doubts and self-defeating questions. If we are willing to rethink our past and reconsider our beliefs, Easter can be the perfect time to give up the destructive pathways of the past and forge new directions that could move us in more healthy and transforming directions.
Why do we have holidays, anyway? Perhaps it is the way we keep track of our lives. While we move from spring through summer and fall into winter, we also somehow track our development, our history, our stories through the celebrations and traditions in our lives. In much the same way, we move from New Year's to Valentine's Day, through Easter and Memorial Day and on through the year to the 4th of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Somehow these holidays seem to keep our lives in order. Perhaps we judge how our lives are progressing by how the holidays go. But do we ever look beneath the surface of these holidays or events and ask ourselves if the traditions and the rituals have any direct meaning in our lives? We might, this month, ask how our lives would be different if Easter did not exist—not from the religious perspective of questioning our faith—but how would WE be different this year, right now, if we did not have the Easter holiday?
Many people use this season for their yearly self-evaluation, a chance for personal renewal, much like the leaves bursting forth on the trees or the flowers springing from the fields. Perhaps, whether religious or not, we need to go through that process of the dark anguish of Good Friday to the transformation of Easter Sunday. It seems that, on some level, we need to go through the endings and renewals on a yearly basis to feel alive, to be able to move forward, to put away the burdens of the past.
We have all read about or known people who, when faced with death or personal tragedy, choose to see the world differently. Bernie Siegel, in the book Handbook for the Soul, wrote, "People who've become aware of their mortality find that they've gained the freedom to live. They are seized with an appreciation for the present: every day is my best day; this is my life; I'm not going to have this moment again. They spend more time with the things and people they love and less time on people and pastimes that don't offer love or joy." But isn't this what we should be doing on a regular basis, giving up those self-defeating behaviors and beliefs that stop us from "seizing an appreciation for the present"? Doesn't Easter give us the opportunity, during this season of the year that celebrates new life, to make changes in the way we see our lives and the world around us?
Alfred Adler, an early 20th-century psychiatrist and, in my opinion, a great philosopher, wrote that most people have determined by the age of six or seven what they believe about themselves, what they believe about others and what they believe about the world. One of Adler's major contributions to psychology was his contention that these important beliefs were formed based on our relationships with others, most importantly our families of origin. He also believed that a truly healthy person's world view includes seeing him/herself as capable and eager to contribute to others. Adler believed that we all have the choice to either hang on to the early beliefs about ourselves, others and the world, or to change those beliefs if they no longer fit our lives or our place in the world. With every decision we make, we have the choice to either confirm or deny our childhood view of the world. Most of us, however, are either unwilling to consider changing our beliefs or unable to imagine we even have the choice. Might not this be the appropriate season to reevaluate those beliefs? Or is it easier to stay stuck in old beliefs that we chose as children?
Thomas Moore, in the book The Dark Night of the Soul, says, "We need to be born again and again further into our humanity, discovering in increasingly sophisticated ways what it means to be a person in a community of persons. . . . The metamorphosis of the self never ends, and we need effective means to get through each phase successfully." He writes that often the turning points in life "cast a dark shade on your future" but these turning points in life can be the rite of passage we need to force us to alter our basic views and values. Often, Moore observes, "the only way out of the pain is to re-imagine your very existence," and in fact, "your healing may be a direct outgrowth of your suffering."
Change is never easy; it is often more comfortable to keep our heads in the sand and blame the world outside of us for all our misfortune. Change, as the Chinese symbol for that word indicates, is a time of danger and opportunity. Could we see the Easter season as a time of opportunity? An opportunity to see ourselves and the world around us differently? An opportunity to look into our sacred selves, possibly getting in touch with those unique strengths that each of us have? Sam Keen, a noted author and philosopher, warns us that in order to be reborn, we will be forced to deal with one of the great paradoxes of life, because we must first get in touch with the dark forces within—that we must confront those things we deny or want to forget before new life can be born.
As we get in touch with our strengths, our sacred selves, we might get in touch with lost passions, unrealized dreams or childhood joys we have left behind. How willing are we to view ourselves in a healthier, more positive perspective and therefore unburden ourselves from those never-ending, self-defeating beliefs? This time of renewal might even be an opportunity to look at the world outside of us and imagine ways we could make it better.
This Easter holiday just might be a rite of passage from the view of
a world full of pain and suffering to a world full of the possibility
of ending that pain and suffering. Are we up to the challenge? Or will
we stick with the Easter Bunny?