Welcome New Year!
So, true confession time. Even though being a Celebrant is my profession, I very rarely take the time to create any rituals or ceremonies for my own self! It’s true. I talk the talk but I haven’t found it very easy to walk the walk. Lots of excuses – I’m mothering a toddler, we’re self-employed, too busy of course, who can find the time? I’ve actually felt a bit ashamed about this. I mean really, how can I go out in the world talking about the importance and value of ceremony and ritual and then not do much of it myself? Which brings me to the two elements of today’s post: shame and ritual.
I recently read Marie Kondo’s “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” and it is in fact changing my life. As I’ve let go of bags of unloved clothing, boxes of books I’m done with, bags of trash and buckets of recycling, I feel the weight lifting, I feel my load lighten, my bones rise up, the house begin to breathe. Kondo’s recommendation is to only hold on to the things that bring you joy. As I’ve begun this work with my material possessions, my thoughts naturally have turned to the other elements of my life – memories, old stories I tell myself, patterns of behavior. Which of them actually bring me joy? Which am I only holding on to out of fear of losing them or because they might come in handy some day?
This morning I was walking to a coffee shop to meet a friend and an old memory came back to me. A memory of a New Year’s Eve I spent downtown with some coworkers and friends watching the ball drop. I don’t remember anything much in particular about that event but something about it brought up a twinge of shame. And for the first time I thought to myself, “You know what? Enough is enough. I do not want to carry this shame through with me to the new year.” Because I’m done with it. It no longer serves me. At all.
When I got to the coffee shop I ordered my cup of tea and sat down at a table with my notebook. I opened to a fresh page and wrote a title: “Things I Release: Shames”. And then I started listing them, bullet point style. I started with the juiciest shames, the ones that were right at the tip of my tongue. You know the sorts, or maybe they’re different for everyone. For me the first page was taken up with hook-ups, drunken and otherwise, each memory carrying its own special twinge of shame. Then I moved on to a long-term relationship that didn’t work out and all the shameful elements there including the year I spent trying to get this person a visa to get into the US so we could be together only to find out once he got here that he had been enjoying another girlfriend the whole year I was busting my butt to get him here. Ouch.
After that came some shames about money and a story I tell myself that I’m selfish. And then there was this funny back-to-back entry from my late-blooming adolescence: “Not having my period” followed immediately by “Having my period”. Guess you can’t win on that one.
The interesting thing was that as I wrote each shame down I felt a little lighter and I also began to look at them with a sense of humor. I mean a lot of them are pretty funny. And while many of them still seem embarrassing, as I read them I realized that anyone could have written them, that we all do stuff like this, and it’s just evidence that I am a regular human living a full, vibrant life.
I finished the list and re-read it, with a smile actually playing on my lips and I began to look just a little bit fondly at these memories and I noticed – could it be? – that I was feeling some forgiveness towards myself. Interesting because forgiving others is something I want to work on this coming year and here I was this afternoon realizing that the first step in that process is actually to forgive myself.
Tomorrow morning I am bringing these notebook pages down to the river bank. I will stand by the edge and read each memory aloud. And then at the end I will say, “For all these things I forgive myself”. And then one by one I will drop each page into the river, letting the current carry it forth. Let my stories join the human story, just as each drop of water joins the river and then joins the sea. Let the water wash away the shame, so that all that is left is a life lived, a human being formed, a soul enwisened.
Happy New Year, Everyone.