A big part of why I do this work as a Life-Cycle Celebrant is that I love hearing people’s stories. I remember many years ago trying to figure out what I would actually like to do for a living, if I could do anything at all. And what I came up with is that I wanted to listen to people’s stories. But how would that work, exactly? Is that even a job? Could I make any kind of living listening to people? Happily, I think I’ve found a way. In fact, I am often told that the initial story-telling, where my clients tell me the story that surrounds whatever transition in their lives they are marking with a ceremony, is often one of the most meaningful elements of the whole ceremony experience.
How does ceremony allow us to re-connect with ourselves? I like to say that ceremony “tends the inner landscape”. It does this by giving weight to our own stories, making meaning of our transitions, and reminding us that we are not alone.
Let’s talk first about this idea of ceremony giving weight to our own stories. It can be easy, as we go through life, to dismiss the importance and captivation of our own life story. Other people’s lives seem more meaningful, important, engaging. But the truth is, we each have a story to tell. During a ceremony for an expectant mother, we tell the story of her own personal journey to motherhood. At a wedding, we tell the couple’s unique love story – how they met, how they fell in love. And at a funeral we tell the whole story, the story of a life lived to completion.
By gathering our loved ones and setting a sacred space we get a chance to give weight to our own stories and see the themes that describe our lives.
Ceremony re-connects us to ourselves by making meaning of our transitions. Through the reflection process of preparing for a ceremony, an individual comes to see what this transition really means to them. I recently married a couple who felt this keenly, who understood deeply that this rite of passage was changing their identities, in their own eyes and in the eyes of their community, from single individuals to a married couple. A ceremony for an expectant mother can be a powerful way for a woman to begin to feel deep down what this transition to motherhood means for her. By sharing her story and gaining support from other women, she infuses depth and meaning into her motherhood narrative.
And, ceremony re-connects us to ourselves by reminding us that we are not alone. When we honor our own story in a community ritual, we place our personal story into a familiar narrative. We frame it in the traditional structure of a coming-of-age ceremony, a vow renewal, or a memorial.
We see how our own experience is part of the human condition. That many have walked this path before and many will walk it after.
While the details of each person’s story are unique, the pattern is the same – the pattern of a human life. And so we see that no matter how intense, scary, thrilling, or emotional this life transition may be – we begin to realize that others are waiting on the other side to receive us; and by adding readings, music, and poetry from across the ages, we bring in a world of wisdom to guide us on our path.
I invite each of us to reflect on our own lives, and ceremonies we have been a part of. How have you found that ceremony re-connects you to your self?