As humans we’re always changing, growing, and adapting. Some of the most recognizable changes come in adolescence when we transition from child into adult. In many cultures, this transition from one stage of life into another is often celebrated and memorialized with a sacred ritual—from the quinceanera in the Latinx traditions, to receiving the Holy Communion in Christianity, to the bat mitzvah in the Jewish tradition. These celebrations mark the shedding of one’s old, less evolved self and the taking on of responsibility as a new self with a new story. But what about the changes and transitions we experience later in life, like graduating college, starting a new job, or moving to a new place?
For the past few months I have been living in Hawaii and working at a therapy program that guides participants from one phase of life into another, regardless of age. Our students matriculate in order to better find themselves in a world of endless distraction and misplaced priorities; many of our students have documented behavioral or mental health issues or are recovering from a health crisis. They come to our program to begin healing and be introduced to new ways of thinking. The pinnacle of the program is a week of sacridicity called Rites of Passage where the student is guided through ceremonies of severance, reflection, and incorporation into her new, transitioned self. This week is powerful and leaves a lasting impact on the student—I’ve read letters from students who attended the program years ago and still carry the experience with them.
As I witness these students transition from one phase of life into another, I can’t help but incorporate some of these healing practices into my own—ones that give significance to my process. Is there a transition you are going through or preparing for in life? If you’re looking to honor your past, present, and/or prepare yourself for the future, or if you’d simply like to mark this time in your life with a special something, try one of these rituals:
- Fast from eating and talking. Of course, this can be done in a modified way according to your dietary needs. In various religions and cultures, fasting is used as a way to elevate the spirit as you renounce all earthly consumption. Fasting is also seen as a death—leaving the body as is and allowing the soul to flourish. (Hint: only some of our students do a full fast where they do not eat anything for two full days. Most of our students simply restrict themselves—i.e. eating tofu soup twice a day.)
- Write your life story and share it with a trusted group. The process of writing your life story forces you to reflect on where you’ve been, which will help you determine where you’re going. The process of writing and reflecting may bring up major themes and important influences in your life that you may not have realized before (think themes like having an interest in art that started in childhood and continues as an interest in art history in adulthood). Sharing your story enhances the experience by giving you the platform to define yourself to others; it also gives you the opportunity to have your story heard and reflected back to you.
- Write a eulogy for yourself. Maybe your transition is letting go of a toxic relationship or giving up a bad habit. Writing a eulogy for that previous self allows you to honor her as she was and to put her to rest, burying the old and making space for the new. After our students write their eulogies, we read their words back to them as they lie in a hammock representing a grave (it sounds dark, but it is very beautiful!). We also encourage our students not to think of their old selves as ‘bad’ or ‘good’ but as the people who they needed to be in at that particular moment in time. Since that person no longer serves the present self, she is put to rest.
- Go on a nature walk. Spend as much time in nature as you can! The entirety of our program is based outside (except for sleeping) with the idea that the wilderness, Mother Nature, is an all encompassing healer. Reflecting on your story and/or your future self while in nature can be a very healing experience. We also encourage our more mature students to initiate a land project such as planting a seed or starting a garden in order to leave a positive legacy.
- Write an intent statement and share with others who have also written their own statements. This is one of the most important aspects of the program because it is the biggest, yet most simple, thing that students take with them when they depart. An intent statement is typically a one line declaration of self and is drafted after the student has already gone through some of the transitional rituals mentioned above (i.e. written her life story and decided what she needs to work on). Some examples include: I am a child of the stars who is worthy of self-love and protection; I am an empowered woman who loves deeply and fosters growth in others; I am a man born to lead and born of creativity. After students draft their statements, they share them with others and explain in detail why they chose such statement, reflecting on the intent and words. Facilitators then reflect the statement and challenge the students to go further with their statement, if needed. Students often share their statements around a homemade altar with candles, sage, and leaves.
Rites of Passage is a powerful ceremony or series of ceremonies characterized by severance with an old self, reflection on the past, present, and future; and incorporation with a new persona. While this ritual has some spiritual components to it, it isn’t reserved for those of a specific religion, tradition, or faith. I like to think of Rites of Passage as an important marker in life that forces you to take a step back from a culture of chaos and determine how you’ll navigate through life in your own unique way. Plus, who doesn’t love to burn a candle?!
P.s. Invite your friends and loved ones to participate by asking them to light a candle for you on the day of your ceremony.
Have you ever done a Rite of Passage for yourself?
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Photo: Margo Schmiederer