Life goes by in a blink. But maybe it doesn’t have to. Maybe we can slow it down, by infusing it with meaning and plunging into its depths.
When you look back at your life, you can see how much you’ve changed. Your goals are different, your friend circles have turned over, maybe your health status has changed. What’s harder to pin down is when and how it all happened. In our go-go-go culture, one day bleeds into a year and merges into a decade with little opportunity to pause, observe and honour the growth and changes along the way.
In ancient cultures, and many Indigenous cultures still today, people slow time down by marking the changes of their lives through ceremony and ritual. But in Western culture, such ceremonies—what remains of them—are typically reserved for the youth. Through toddlerhood, we mark the emergence and then loss of a first tooth, videotape first steps, write down first words and probably keep a little hair from a first haircut. Moving into adulthood, we mark bar and bat mitzvahs, milestone birthdays, high school graduations, weddings and a few special anniversaries.
In adulthood, we might take a moment to toast to a new job, home or promotion, or honour a pregnancy with a baby shower. We hold funerals for those who have passed, and perhaps a party for a retirement. We understand that these life changes will transform us.
The mantle of adulthood
Other, just as impactful life changes are not always given the same honour or consideration. Consider the movement into puberty, for example. Very seldom are young people truly initiated into what it means to change from a girl or boy into a woman or a man. Puberty is often something we laugh about, like when a young boy’s voice is changing, or keep silent about, like when a girl begins menstruating.
While these events might not need to be shouted from the rooftops, letting them go by without so much as a nod of recognition from a respected adult, parent or mentor is a lost opportunity to initiate the young person into adulthood. Is it possible that when young people have difficulty coming into full maturity, it’s because no elder or mentor has ever formally bestowed them with the mantle of adulthood?
Or consider for a moment these significant life changes: a first romantic breakup, the loss of a beloved pet, the loss of a job, a health diagnosis, a midlife crisis, menopause, miscarriages, abortions, the loss of a business, the rejection from our dream job and so on. Ceremonies and rituals are designed to mark that we were one thing, and now we are another.
Do the losses in our lives not cleave life in half just as definitively as positive milestones? Yesterday, we did not have a disease; today, we do. Yesterday, we were married; today, we are divorced. Something changes in us in these moments, and what we need is not silence, but recognition that we are being initiated into a new way or time of life.
Ceremonies of recognition
Ceremonies to honour life changes don’t have to be fancy, large or expensive. Performing a ceremony of recognition for any life change requires only four things:
An awareness of the life change
There is no need to deny that the life event is changing or has changed you. You do not need to explain, reason or justify it. If your cake placed third in the baking contest you really thought you would win, you don’t owe anyone an explanation for why this is so devastating.
There is no standard you need to meet in terms of pain or loss for it to be valid. You just need to state out loud what it is that you feel. Your words let the universe know that you know this moment matters, that you accept it and that you are ready to learn, grow, heal or whatever else might be in store.
A special or sacred place
No, you don’t have to travel anywhere. You can hold the ceremony in your bathroom, if you so choose, as long as you take some time to make the space sacred. Include in the space anything that represents the loss or change: pictures, printed-out emails, journal entries, sacred belongings and such. Enhance and enlarge this moment to its full visibility, so you can see everything that you can possibly see right now.
Words or actions of meaning and intention
Decide ahead of time the agenda for the ceremony. Will you light a candle, burn some incense, recite some mantras? Will you watch a special video, write a card or open a bottle of champagne? Plan it out from start to finish. It can be fun, silly, angry, sad or blissful. Ceremonies do not exclude our emotions. We come to them as whole people—even if we are broken at the moment.
Perhaps you say a few words around the kind of healing or growth you’re hoping for. Maybe you express your fears or hopes for the future. Maybe you simply sit in silence for a few moments and let the tears fall. There’s no right or wrong way to do a ceremony; your soul, not your head, leads it.
A closing gesture
Transition mindfully from the ceremony back into your day or evening. Say some final words, take a bow, give a hug, squeeze a hand. Consider all that you have learned and will continue to learn from this life change. Return things to where they came from, or perhaps consider creating a semi-permanent altar that you can return to each day to remember the power of your ceremony
Remember to pause and reflect
Too many potent life events pass us by without our validation or even our acknowledgment. This creates a life that passes by in a cloud of unawareness. Why does time seem to fly so fast? Often, because we’re not stopping to pause and reflect on who we’re becoming along the way. This lifestyle keeps us barrelling forward, doing the same things in the same way, year after year.
Ceremony slows down the passage of time, deepening and enriching it, and it doesn’t take much effort to bring more ceremony into our daily lives. It starts with the simple act of recognizing that a life event is more than just a brush against our skin. It’s something that sinks itself into us and starts to transform us into something and someone new.
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