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Through the Dark Forest: Transforming Your Life in the Face of Death

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Death - the subject no one wants to deal with. Our culture denies it, fights it and sees it, not so much as an ending but, as a failure. Which leaves anyone actually dealing with the process of dying at a loss. Is it better to put every ounce of energy into flailing at the inevitable or would it be better to meet death head on and make it the capstone of a life well lived? Each person must answer this for themselves but for those who wish to face this final process with dignity and courage, therapist Carolyn Conger has written the guidebook that will strengthen and inspire. Drawing on more than thirty years of experience working with terminal patients, Conger understands the confusion and fear this process holds. Her coping methods run the gamut from deep soul searching and the tying up of psychological loose ends to more esoteric explorations of energy medicine, self-hypnosis and dreamwork. While some of these methods may give some people pause, everything she presents is practical and down-to-earth, no doubt due to her work with prison populations. Some of the exercises have a spiritual bent but there is something here for everyone regardless of religious view (or lack thereof). Included are numberous exercises, illustrative case studies and plentiful resources thus making this the definitive manual on dealing with death and dying.

With perfect balance, Conger presents death in a way that calms fears yet does not sugar coat. She also does not shy away from presenting the heroic nature of facing death with mindfulness and courage, for in this process life can take on its deepest meaning. With being over 50 and having an ill parent, I found this book particularly poignant. I gained a new and fresh appreciation for what this process entails and was especially moved by the "Use Your Imagination" chapter. More than a book about the process of dying, it is just as much about a living a meaningful life. Highly, highly recommended for anyone and everyone. ( )
  buchowl | Apr 27, 2014 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Through the Dark Forest by Carolyn Conger is a sensitive approach to facing death. Rationally, we all know our life will end. However, most of us are content to wait ‘till the very last minute to face that moment. This book is a guide to dealing with not the medical aspects of death but rather handling the transcendent issues.
The book has a deeply spiritual aspect. I was struck by the author’s acceptance of all sacred traditions. She does not suggest one is better than another, although her writing indicates she personally is more comfortable with shamanistic beliefs. Her writing is gentle and tolerant, easy to follow and filled with clearly explained exercises. In the 200 some pages the author covers a wide range of end-of-life issues, from family, pain, forgiveness to the celebration of a life. The exercises were as varied: journaling, dreams, meditation, and imaging. I really want to master the heart-centered meditation.
I read the book front to back, but one could read the chapters in the order of interest. Each section deals with separate issues, but all deal with personal growth. The real stories of Conger’s patients tie the book together.
I read this book in order to review it. This book moved me, it re-awoke in me the teachings of my childhood: that is in essence one was born so one could die. Carolyn Conger argues that death, although unescapable, can be an opportunity for self-discovery and actualization. ( )
  edieh | Mar 27, 2014 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Through the Dark Forest: Transforming Your Life in the Face of Death by Carolyn Conger has numerous ways to deal with imminent death, including many exercises. Most of the exercises would be helpful even if the reader wasn't facing death. The main thrust of the book is learning who you are in order to deal with dying. Each chapter incorporates this idea in a different way. So, I'd guess few people would find every chapter helpful, but I'd be surprised if anyone found none of the chapters helpful.

I'm 63 and feel that I have a lot of years ahead of me, but am aware that one never knows, so the subject is one in which I'm interested. I wanted to give the book more than three and a half stars, but the writing wasn't engaging; it didn't draw me in most of the time. Some of the stories about different clients Conger worked with were engaging and did draw me in, but it was because of the story, not the writing. That's not to say the writing was bad, just nothing special. ( )
  CharlesBoyd | Dec 20, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I found this book particularly evolved. I found the section on energy medicine frank and full of exact insightful advice to help all break-through into a more engaged and authentic life expression.
  Herrington33 | Dec 8, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
A wise and wonderful guide filled with imaging and writing exercises to help those facing death find wholeness and balance within themselves.

Carolyn Conger is a clinical psychologist with an interest in the stories and rituals of indigenous cultures, but, for years her main work has been with people in America facing terminal illnesses, helping them to resolve the “unfinished” psychological issues that can intensify the fears and pain of death. She teaches them to use tools of meditation, imagery and writing to access their own unconscious in order to find balance and wholeness with which to die without terror and frustration. Her approach could be valuable to any of us willing to realize that at some point we all face death.

This is not a religious book. It is not about what we believe about the existence of God or life after death. It could be used by those within almost any religious tradition or by those without any faith. She asks patients to explore their own beliefs primarily with the aim of releasing those which hinder us or cause us harm, such as persistent negativism. Conger values all kinds of spirituality. The most spiritual belief that her exercises require is the ability to imagine a transcendent power as a ball of energy, light and love which we bring into our bodies.

Conger makes a careful distinction between curing physical problems and healing our wounded and unbalanced selves. She has no quarrel with orthodox medicine. Her patients are being treated within the medical establishment as they work with her. She does not claim that the processes she teaches can cure, although some of those with whom she has worked have had dramatic relief or diminishment of actual symptoms. Most of those she helps die under her care, but they die less traumatized by what is happening to them. One of her patients committed suicide, an act that she discourages but refuses to judge as wrong.

In Through the Dark Forest, Conger addresses a variety of issues and provides different ways of addressing them. Each chapter contains several “exercises”, usually involving relaxing and imaging and then writing about what is felt and understood. Through these she helps us deal with pain and dependence, bad relationships with those we love, and the inability to forgive, especially to forgive ourselves. One section is devoted to dreamwork, and provides the means to interpret dreams in deeply personal ways.

Her underlying message is to engage in life fully, even as it is ending. One of the sections of the book that drew me in most was her description of each person having multiple “selves” within, often in conflict with each other. She uses imagery to create dialogs among these selves, viewing none of them as inherently bad. Trouble comes when some of them dominate over others. By engaging with all of them, we can balance them and become more whole. In addition to everything else, Conger provides a short bibliography for each chapter and even a list of music available on CD that is appropriate for meditation and imaging.

I loved this book. I found it enjoyable and look forward to working with Conger’s exercises. I have no terminal illness, but I am old enough to realize that all of us are mortal and have limited time on earth. I see no reason to wait until death is staring me in the face to use this book to explore some of my own “unfinished” business. Conger would agree that learning to die is essentially learning to live.

I strongly recommend this book to all who are attracted to the kind of work that Conger helps us do. Some readers with strongly orthodox beliefs in a particular religious or scientific approach to life may be put off by its broad tolerance for individual experiences. This is a book for those who want to explore their own inner spaces. As I read it, I made a list of those to whom I intend to give a copy.

I am always grateful to publishers who send me books to review. I am particularly grateful for Through the Dark Forest because I think it can help me live in a fuller and more balanced life. Thank you Library Thing Early Reviewers and Plume.
  mdbrady | Dec 3, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0452298709, Paperback)

It's never too late to transform your life.

A practical and deeply healing guide to becoming whole and finding peace during the most difficult time of life

When we are confronted with the end of life, we must tackle medical decisions, attend to family and legal matters, and grapple with overwhelming questions such as: How do I manage each day knowing that death is near? What has life up until now meant? What should I do with the time that remains?
 
Carolyn Conger, PhD, has spent thirty years working with people who are imminently facing death. Drawing on her research and experience, Conger shows how we can use active imagination, self-hypnosis, energy medicine, and dreamwork to begin the soul work that can both prepare us for death and enrich our lives. Profound and paradigm-shifting, Through the Dark Forest can help us all transform our lives no matter how long we have to live.
 

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:02 -0400)

It's never too late to transform your life. "A practical and deeply healing guide to becoming whole and finding peace during the most difficult time of life" When we are confronted with the end of life, we must tackle medical decisions, attend to family and legal matters, and grapple with overwhelming questions such as: How do I manage each day knowing that death is near? What has life up until now meant? What should I do with the time that remains? Carolyn Conger, PhD, has spent thirty years working with people who are imminently facing death. Drawing on her research and experience, Conger shows how we can use active imagination, self-hypnosis, energy medicine, and dreamwork to begin the soul work that can both prepare us for death and enrich our lives. Profound and paradigm-shifting, "Through the Dark Forest" can help us all transform our lives no matter how long we have to live.… (more)

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