Over the course of history, ceremony has been an integral part of our development as humans. Though it may seem outdated or insignificant to the modern person, there are so many ways in which our lives are detrimentally, and often unknowingly, affected by the loss of this deeply meaningful and uniquely human practice. Ceremony gives us the opportunity to bring sacredness into our lives and has been a part of celebrations, life transitions, initiatory experiences, life commitments and times in seasonal and cultural life for millennia. Though we may not even realize we are missing it, there are so many ways that its loss affects us deeply. Until we can bring this practice back into our lives, we may be missing out on the full richness and depth of our journey through life.
One of the reasons ceremony holds such power is because of the way it calls us into full presence and intention in the moment, and brings focus, significance and an experience of the spiritual to a time or event that holds importance. How many important milestones in our lives go by without any significant recognition? Think of the kinds of problems that result from this. How can we fully experience and integrate these events when we give them no time, no attention, and no recognition? There is so much we just push aside, push through or try to ignore. What if we gave these milestones, either joyful or challenging, space to exist in our lives and in our psyches? What if we honored them for the life-altering effects that they hold, for the lessons they have to offer? Think of all the trauma we carry around as a result of simply holding onto unprocessed emotions. Ceremony offers you the opportunity to give time and space in your life to things that really matter, to allow yourself to sink into them, feel what is happening and move forward from a place of healing, acceptance, support and intention.
Ceremony is particularly helpful in honoring transitions and the changing roles we hold as we go through life. In many traditional cultures, this practice was held with great reverence. People were initiated into adulthood, parenthood, elder-hood. Their changed status was seen and honored by the community, thus helping them step into their new position in society and feel supported in doing so. The loss of these initiatory experiences has taken away so much meaning and value from our lives and has left many of us feeling lost, and without a sense of worth or belonging. We are often unable to tap into the feeling that life is sacred, meaningful and valuable and that we have an important role to play within it. Because of this, depression, anxiety, loneliness and feelings of isolation run rampant as people struggle to understand why they are here. These initiations are what gave us not only a sense of a developing self, but also embedded us within the context of our community as valuable, contributing members. What if we were celebrated as we stepped into adulthood, rather than beat up or hazed or made to feel ashamed and embarrassed about the changes our body's were going through? What if we were honored for our wisdom and life experience as we stepped into elder-hood, instead of demeaned and devalued? If we were, this life would certainly feel different.
Ceremony also allows an opportunity for deep connection that we are rarely afforded in everyday life. In traditional cultures, ceremony was one of the main ways people affirmed their interconnectedness, with both each other and with nature, and allowed people the experience of feeling valued and fully validated for who they were. When we step into ceremony, we step out of the superficialities of the everyday and enter a container that allows people to safely share their deepest emotions and most personal experiences. This creates the unique feeling of having a strong bond with those present, whether they are personally familiar or not. This shared experience offers a very different kind of interaction than we normally get in our everyday lives, and can be so meaningful for both speaker and listener, sharer and holder of space. Through this practice, people are affirmed in their feelings of connection and value and can feel supported in a much deeper and more meaningful way.
By reigniting ceremonial experience in our lives, we invite in a deeper level of connection to life, self, community, meaning and spirit. This practice heals, on both the individual, community and societal level. The ceremonies we create can be simple or complex, short or more lengthy, and need not ascribe to any religion, dogma or established faith. In modern times, though we may be short on guidance, creating any sort of meaningful ritual around an intention is all it takes to tap into the power of ceremony. Whether practiced alone or done with outside guidance, this way of connecting more deeply with our emotional and spiritual lives holds the power to give us a more whole and healed experience of life.
For more information about designing meaningful ceremonies, check out these basic resources:
The Book of Ceremony by Sandra Ingerman
Living Passages for the Whole Family by Shea Darian