Contentment, Belonging, Love: From Personal Choice to Collective Liberation

 

It’s been quite a weekend!  I got to officiate weddings Friday and Saturday, and then this morning I had the opportunity to offer the sermon at the First Unitarian Society of Ithaca.  I share my words here with you.  May they give you food for thought, and action!  It was wonderful to hear the reactions and thinking of the congregation after the sermon, and I invite you to share your comments below.

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The other night we had a down pour.  Maybe you remember it, it was about ten days ago.  The clouds were thick and low, and rain was dumping down in sheets.  I was in a meeting and we could barely hear each other speak.  The storminess and grayness were in full effect.  But then, as quickly as it had come, the clouds moved on and what remained was the ever-present beautiful sky.  It was pink and a little bit yellow, warm and brilliant.  While the storm was raging that was all any of us were focused on.  But once it passed we were illuminated by the glorious sky.  And the thing I want to draw our attention to is that even when all we could see were clouds, above them, steady and true, were the clear sky and brilliant sun.  As Sakyong Mipham wrote, “Hesitating about who we really are or hanging out with the wrong friends – whether they are people or negativity in our mind – is like the clouds.  We see clouds and we take them to be real, but behind the clouds the sun is shining, illuminating our world.”

We all have our clouds, and they seem so real, don’t they?  We get caught up in clouds of discontentment, unsure if we belong, feeling unloving and unlovable.  But these stories we tell ourselves about the inevitability of dissatisfaction, loneliness, and lovelessness, are really just – clouds.  They’re not actually reality.  We spend a lot of mental energy trying to feel content, wondering if we belong, and judging on a case by case basis who to extend our love to. But what if we could make the decision to stop questioning our birthright to feel content, to belong, and to love? What if we made the choice to let go of the clouds of discontentment, fear, judgement and selfishness?  How would that decision free us up to work on creating the world we want to live in?

Religious, spiritual and wisdom traditions all around the world have taught the possibility and power of embracing contentment, belonging, and love.  It’s our misunderstanding about these things, thinking that we are to be the recipients of contentment, belonging, and love, rather than the agents of them, that holds us back from the clarity and fearlessness that we need to stand up for liberation.  To do our part to create the joyous, loving, and just world we want to live in, we must choose to be content, to belong, and to love; we must exert ourselves in the discipline of making that choice again and again; we must embrace the fearlessness that we develop as a result of these choices; and then we must use that clarity and fearlessness to each play our part in the liberation of all people.

So, let’s take a look at contentment.  Does it ever happen to you that you’re going along, minding your own business, and then whoa – you’re blindsided by a feeling that all is right in your world?  Like you actually feel satisfied with your situation.  And you’re like – what the hell?  Where did that come from?  There I was, going along in my usual way (we all have our usual ways, and usually they don’t involve contentment) and then wham – a fleeting, quivering moment of satisfaction.

It happened to me the other day, doing dishes of all things.  They had really piled up so it was quite a project.  I was up to my elbows in soapy water, washing yet another plate, when all of a sudden, out of the blue, I felt content.  I noticed a certain a sweetness in my heart, a twinkle in my eye, a groundedness in my feet.  And no sooner did I notice it, than I began to wonder, what did I do to “deserve it”?  How did this good luck happen?  Were the planets aligned?  Was it that green smoothie I had for breakfast?

Usually we go around wanting things to be better – if only my house were cleaner, if I didn’t have to go to work, if the sun were shining, then I’d be happy.  It feels beyond our control, that only by the grace of God or sheer luck would we be content.  The cloud of dissatisfaction hangs over our heads.

But what if we could see that there’s nothing we have to do to deserve contentment, and in fact we can access it any time we want to, and oh, by the way it’s free?  Contentment is like that beautiful sky.  It’s always there behind the clouds.  All we need to do is remember.  To quiet that running cloudy narrative in our minds and cultivate a spirit of contentment in our hearts.  Just like a plant can make food from the sun’s energy, we can make contentment.  We can open our hearts to its grace.  We can cultivate it and practice it.

What would happen to capitalism if we realized we have access to contentment 24/7, as a natural resource, a birth right, a human right?  So much of our consumerist society is built on making us feel bad so that we buy something to feel better.  A coffee.  A new outfit.  A vacation.  I’ve tried it.  You’ve tried it.  Does it ever really work?  Maybe for a moment, but it never lasts.  Wise teachers from across the ages tell us that the only way to access contentment is to open our hearts to its grace, to choose contentment and to practice it.  Decide to be satisfied with what’s actually happening, even and especially if all that’s happening is you standing at the sink, elbow-deep in dirty water.  Accept your experience.  Cultivate contentment.  And then with this frame of mind, use your best thinking to plan your next step, to change the world.

There’s another thing that clouds reality for a lot of us, and this is the concept of belonging.  We wonder, whether it be in the back of our minds or in the fore of our minds, if we really belong – with our group of friends, with our families, in our communities.

Humans are social creatures, our survival is based on our connections.  When we were children our survival absolutely depended on the grown ups accepting us and caring for us.  And we’ve carried that sort of desperate-y feeling with us even now.  So when we’re with a group, we often wonder – do I belong with these people?  Do I belong in this place?  Belonging seems like something we have to wonder about and question – it feels like we need to depend on other people to include us in order to belong.

Humans have spent a lot of energy saying who belongs and who doesn’t belong. Belonging has a long and frankly ugly history in this country.  My white ancestors came to these shores because they could no longer stay in their homes in Europe, due to religious persecution and economic hardship.  They came here because they could no longer belong there, and when they got here they found they didn’t really belong to this land either.  So what did they do?  Scarred and scared, they did their best to make sure no one else belonged here either.  They tore the Native people from their lands and families, through a policy of attempted genocide that continues to this day.  They ripped apart the families and lives of African heritage people through slavery, enacting a system of white supremacy that to this present day tries to brutally dictate exactly who can and who can’t belong.  So white people not being able to tell they belong has caused a lot of pain and grief and it’s no wonder that belonging is a tough thing for most of us to wrap our hearts around.

Our country is full of ugliness about who belongs and who doesn’t and who decides.  We must move beyond this and take the perspective that belonging to a place does not mean owning that place, that belonging does not imply entitlement.  We need to embrace belonging as an invitation to interdependence, we need to embrace with heartbreaking humility this gift of belonging to this earth and to each other.

How might things be if you could tell on a regular basis that you and everyone else belonged, belonged to this place and to each other?  Try assuming that this is possible and true and see what flows.  Notice, when you have an attitude of belonging, what do you see as your responsibilities towards this place, towards others?  We think we need other people to grant us belonging.  But it is actually we who need to decide that we belong.  We must view ourselves as the agents, not the recipients, of belonging.  To make and remake the choice to see that each and every one of us belongs is a step towards connectedness, and connectedness is an essential step towards collective liberation.

Building on this idea of looking beyond the clouds, and not waiting for the circumstances to be right to bring us contentment, and not waiting for other people to include us in order to feel like we belong, we come to the concept of love.  Over the course of our lives, through a gamut of hurts and happenings, most of us sadly learn to close our hearts.  We put ourselves under a heavy cloud and adopt the mistaken idea that closing our hearts will keep us safe.

I didn’t realize this had happened to me until recently when I was reflecting on a friendship I have.  We’ve known each other a long time, and I call her my friend, but she’s not the kind of person to give you a lot of reassurance.  I was feeling bad about this and pouting about it to my husband, and I started whining, “I just want a person who loves me back!”

And then I fell quiet.  Wait a minute.  Did I just say, “I want a person who loves me back”?  So, I’m withholding my love unless I can tell someone loves me back?  What a small, scared, lonely, and frankly exhausting way to live!

I realized in that moment that I can make the choice to open my heart and love the people in my life, and I don’t have to waste another minute wondering what they think of me or if they love me too or whatever.  To love is our birthright!  By choosing to love, there’s no figuring out to do, no decisions to make.  The friend who can’t seem to return my calls?  I choose to love her anyway.  That distant relative who I’m still worried I offended ten years ago?  I choose to love them anyway.  And the neighbor I continue to dance with as we navigate the choppy waters of language, race, and class?  I choose to love her anyway.

And there’s one other thing here that I’ll throw in for good measure.  Choosing to love anyway includes choosing to love yourself.  Yes you who I’m sure from time to time feels perhaps a bit unlovable.  Why withhold your heart from yourself?  Why wait for any particular circumstance to manifest in order to love you?

There’s a certain freedom to loving people no matter what, to belonging no matter what, to being content, no matter what, to making love one’s default position.  It’s an ongoing practice, and one that takes discipline – to be generous with your heart and to open it to the grace of contentment, the warmth of belonging, the tenderness of love.

 To be content, to belong, to love.  We experience these by choice, not by chance.  These are choices we can and must return to day in and day out, time and again.  And I’m sure you realize, this is not easy.  We will slip, we will fall, we will hold on tight to our clouds.  To make a commitment to see the sun, to see the reality of contentment, belonging and love, takes exertion, it takes faith, and it takes relying on one another to remind each other when we forget and lose our way.

Over the course of our lives we’ve grown addicted to the stories of the clouds.  So we need to make a decision, to break with those old habits of mind.  To just to be done.  Again and again to choose contentment, to choose to belong, to choose to love.

We can start by developing a daily practice.  Start training yourself to commit to something and do it whether you “want to” or not.  A lot of us do this already.  Some of us have daily spiritual practices of meditation, prayer, or contemplation.  Some of us have relationship practices of marriage or committed partnership.  Some of us have practices of work – regular chores, like tending to animals, or my favorite – doing dishes, or physical practices like running or crossfit.  These practices train our minds, hearts and bodies to follow through with our best intentions and vows even when we can’t remember that they make sense.  They teach us that there is a certain freedom generated by discipline.

So let us make it a practice to not consume ourselves any longer with the questions of do we deserve to be content, do we really belong, can we just give love away freely.  Let us decide to settle the matter once and for all, with the answer of YES.  We need discipline and practice to make this decision over and over and to train our minds away from the well-worn paths of questioning our birthrights.  We must chart a new course because letting ourselves stay wrapped up in these questions keeps us spinning our wheels with distracting ruminations rather than using our brilliant minds and fierce hearts to work towards the liberation of our human family.

You and I all know what’s going on in the world – even those of us who once had the privilege to be oblivious can’t help but see the searing effects of racism, sexism, and global capitalism on our human family and on our earth.  Once you make the decision to choose contentment, belonging and love, you generate fearlessness and that fearlessness frees up your brain, allowing you to act.  If we weren’t afraid, would we still uphold the system?  If we knew that nothing was stopping us from feeling content with the moment, from belonging to this world, and from loving ourselves and each other, would we tolerate the state of the world for a second longer?

 I’d like to close with a story from one of my best teachers – my five year old son.  The other day he and I were talking.  He was telling me about how a kid in his class, we’ll call him Ollie, had just moved to a new house and that my son wanted to visit him.  I was a little surprised because this isn’t a kid he’s ever shown much interest in before.  I asked him about it and he said, “Oh, Ollie used to be my enemy but now he’s my friend.”  Well, that sounded like a good story so I asked him what happened.  And my son said, “Well, we learned about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and he said that you can’t fight hate with hate, you can only fight hate with love. So I decided to start loving him, and he loved me back.”

And it’s as simple and momentous and liberating as that.  Choose contentment.  Decide to belong.  Just start loving.

Go forth with an open heart, my friends, with discipline and joy, and with an eye towards the clear sky of truth and collective liberation.

May it be so.

A Ceremony for Moving to a New Home

Most of my work is around creating ceremonies to mark those really big human milestones  – the big three: birth, marriage, death.  But lately I’ve been thinking about those lesser life transitions, which may not be quite as momentous, but still have the ability to re-orient the soul.

Today I helped a good friend do the final cleaning of her apartment as she completes her move to a new home.  As we swept and mopped, I found myself tearing up with the re-realization that things just don’t ever stay the same!  We spent so many sweet afternoons together in that house, watching our kids grow from infants to the independent four year olds they are today.  We ate good food, laughed really hard, and supported each other through so many things.  It’s not even my apartment, and I’m getting sad here missing it already!

empty_apartment_living_room

Photo from Wikimedia Commons, by Downtowngal

I remember the day about ten years ago that I moved out of a dear apartment and into the house I share with my now husband.  I loved that apartment.  It was there that I nursed an achingly broken heart, that I reconnected with myself, that I charted the course that I’m following to this day.  I remember my boyfriend and I had loaded the last boxes into his truck, and we came back in to do one last check.  I leaned back against the living room wall and sank down the floor.  Unexpected sobs surged out of me.  He sat with me and lent his steady support as I cried it out, as I cried for all I had gone through living there.  Moving is a big deal!

Now, ten years later, my family is preparing to move.  It’s a big one – back to my hometown of Ithaca, NY.  I have all the feelings, sometimes all at once.  And I know that a ceremony is going to be in order to help us with the transition.  I need to thank this place, say good bye to this place.  I need a ceremonial space to grieve what we’re leaving and to let it go, so that we can enter this next phase of our lives with open hearts.

For really, what is life but a series of events that crack our hearts open?  I don’t want to miss a single one of those moments.  So I’ll be turning to a house-leaving ceremony to guide me through and help me feel it all.  And then a house-welcoming ceremony on the other end.  And then…, and then…, and so it goes, our lives ever turning.  And we, if we’re brave, get to keep our eyes open, our hearts soft, and live it all.

Engagement Stories

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Engagement stories.  Everybody who’s engaged or married has one of some sort.  And they run the gamut from the streetlights-twinkling-snow-sparkling-down-on-one-knee-said-yes-through-my-tears-of-joy classic, to the totally-wrong-moment-I-wasn’t-sure-took-me-a-week-to-answer reality check and everything in between.

I love hearing people’s stories and it’s what I love best about my work as a celebrant.  The gem of any custom wedding ceremony I create is when I tell the couple’s story.  Some couples don’t think they have a story, or that it’s not interesting enough.  But it always is.  Each is as unique as a snowflake.

While how you got engaged is just one small part of your story together, it’s an experience that people want to hear about.  So I include it in the wedding ceremony, and family and friends love being taken back to that moment with you, to have a window into that intimate experience that changed your life trajectory.

Wondering how your engagement story can fit into your wedding ceremony?  Here’s the twinkling snow story from a fun, sweet couple I worked with this year:

And so the winter before last, in the midst of all those blizzards, T and J took a trip to Boston on a cold and snowy weekend. They stayed in their favorite hotel, the Charlesmark, and J knew this would be his moment to propose. He had the ring with him, and while T got ready for their evening out, J was fidgeting nervously – taking the ring out of the box and then putting it back in the box, taking it out then putting it back again. He practiced getting down on one knee. Up and down he went. He checked yet again to make sure the ring was still there.

They went out to walk around Quincy Market before dinner and J waited for the perfect moment. He found it when they left the market and found themselves in an empty square, the snow fluttering down and twinkling in the light of the street lamps. J knew this was the time and he got down on one knee and asked T to marry him. First she yelled “Shut up, no way!” and then, of course, she said yes. Remembers T, “It was the best moment of my life.”

As the winter holidays approach, engagement season is upon us.  What will your story be?

 

Making Connections, Sharing Our Selves

© Sandra Costello 2016

photo by Sandra Costello Photography | www.sandralovesyou.com

Last month I had the sweet opportunity to participate in Valley Wed, a curated local wedding show.  Besides it being a beautiful fall day at a quintessential New England apple orchard, the highlight for me was all the open hearted couples I got to meet.  I love hearing about how people are thinking about their weddings and about marriage, about bringing their families together and stepping over a threshold into a new stage of life.  I was grateful to meet so many good souls!

As part of the wedding show, I got to share this interview about me and my work.  I invite you to check it out here.  Here’s an excerpt:

After the wedding, what’s the best compliment you could hear about your work?  There are two compliments I love to hear.  One is when guests ask me how I know the couple.  I usually don’t know the couple outside of being their officiant, but my ceremonies are so personal and real that people often assume I am a dear friend.

Megan Barber Ceremonies

Seth Kaye Photography
The other compliment is when the ceremony brings out laughter and tears.  When I look out at the guests, the wedding party, the couple, and I see people getting choked up, or something in the ceremony gets people laughing hard, that’s when I know that people are fully present in the moment, and that their hearts are open, and that they’re connecting with each other – and that’s what it’s all about.
You can finish reading the interview here!
+ whole life design system

5 Steps to a Purpose-Full, Regenerative Marriage

 

 

Confession: there’s something about weddings that bugs me.

There, I said it.  I know, I know, marrying people is part of how I make my living.  So it’s kind of scary to put this confession out there.  But I am realizing it’s extremely important to put it out there.  And here’s why:

Weddings are amazing occasions – wonder-full occasions.  We pour our hearts and souls into them.  We spend hours planning and preparing for them.  We invest a chunk of change into them.  And that is all well and good.  But what bugs me is when we are encouraged by mainstream society and the “wedding industrial complex” to throw all our energies into planning our weddings, without throwing at least equal energies into planning our marriages.

Weddings are not the end result in and of themselves (though doesn’t it feel like it, at the end of the day, when the last guest has gone home and you get to put your feet up and take your hair down?)  Your wedding, at its best, is a symbol of your union.  It symbolizes the joining of two lives, the purposeful converging of two paths, the agreement to chart your course together.  And once the wedding is over, it’s the marriage part where things can get really interesting.

Imagine a marriage full of purpose, a regenerative marriage, a marriage in service to the world.  How can you use this partnership that you’ve created and nurtured to restore the world to “a better, higher, or more worthy state”?

Continue reading “5 Steps to a Purpose-Full, Regenerative Marriage”

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A Celebrant Funeral for Grandpa Bob

This Fall my dear grandfather passed away.  We knew it was coming – his health had been failing gradually for a number of years, then quickly over a couple of weeks.  I brought my family out to see him one more time and we spent the weekend with him.  He wasn’t talking, but I could tell he knew we were there, and his wink and smile let me know he was glad we had come.  Still, when at last I got the news a few days later that he had died, I was shaken, sad, grateful all at once.  So it is when an elder passes on.

My uncle took to making the arrangements.  There were a lot of family travel schedules to accommodate and decisions to make.  It was decided to hold calling hours right away, and my uncle asked if I wanted to come out for them, making another 9 hour round trip in the space of a week.  I didn’t have to think twice.

This may sound weird, but I love calling hours.  I love the chance to have waves of people pass in front of me and share stories about my grandpa.  And what stories they shared!  As the funeral home filled up and the line began to snake out the door, the place started to seem less like a wake and more like, well, a giant party!  My grandfather was a true character, and it seemed like everyone who came to pay their respects had a story to tell.  At one point I was belly laughing and just about peed my pants.  What a perfect parting gift!

grandpas altar

In addition to the calling hours, there was also the question of the funeral itself.  My grandfather was a secular man through and through so there was no thought of wrangling a person of the cloth.  But still, we wanted something, something heartfelt and unmistakably “grandpa” – some sort of ceremony as we laid his ashes to rest.  I immediately knew we needed to find a Celebrant.

It crossed my mind to create and present the ceremony myself, but I wasn’t sure I could (or even wanted to) hold the space in the way it needed to be held.  Rather than having a formal role, I wanted to be enfolded in the arms of my family – just a regular griever.  So I declined the opportunity and instead set to finding the perfect Celebrant for my family.

And perfect she was.  I knew just by her website and our brief phone call that Rebecca Schillenback of Full Circle Ceremonies would do right by my family and my grandfather’s memory.  What she did for us was brilliant and cathartic and amazing.  It was my first time at a Celebrant-led funeral!

A few days before the service, my mom and stepdad, uncles and aunts, and many of my cousins gathered together to share stories with Rebecca and look at old photographs and articles.  She asked intriguing questions and in her warm and openhearted way gathered the stories and began to put together the story of his life.

The day for the funeral arrived.  We gathered together on a cold, rainy morning, forgoing the cemetery for my uncle’s warm and familiar living room.  We pulled chairs and couches into a circle and listened to Rebecca share the story of Grandpa’s life.  Our tears flowed.  We ate grandpa’s favorite candy (M&Ms) and sang his favorite song (“You Are My Sunshine”).  We laughed at his hijinks and cried as we remembered the amazing love he and my grandmother shared.  The entire ceremony was perfectly true to my grandfather and his stories, his values, his way of being in the world.  It was truly a gift.

And as for me, Celebrant Megan, I am awaiting my first opportunity to perform a Celebrant funeral.  I look forward to it with a full heart.  I can’t wait to sit with a family at a most poignant time, listen as the stories wash over me, and weave together a moving, cathartic, hopeful, and above all true and personal celebration of a life.

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All About the Love

hot chocolate wedding

We did it!  The Hot Chocolate Run Wedding was a blast.  Jennifer and Shawn raised over $5,000 for Safe Passage, and they looked simply smashing in their running/wedding outfits.  Plus, there were hot chocolate and cookies for everyone!

The wedding was both tiny (no attendants, no music, no walking down the aisle), and huge (broadcast over giant speakers to reach 7,000 cheering runners and supporters).  And we were both freezing (cause it’s December after all), and warm (cause how can you not have a warm fuzzy heart with all the love and community and excitement going on?)

And I loved that Shawn and Jennifer took a stand against the wedding industrial complex – rather than registering for gifts, they asked their friends and family to make donations to Safe Passage, the organization near and dear to their hearts.  There was no worry about a fancy dress, makeup artists, or party favors.  It was, truly and completely, all about the love!

hc wedding 2

The ceremony itself was the epitome of “short and sweet”.  Due to the precision timing involved with getting three waves of runners and walkers across the start line, we were limited to just three minutes for the ceremony!  But even in just three minutes, the ceremony was personal and unique, and included a bit of Jennifer and Shawn’s story, vows and ring exchange, and of course, the kiss!

I closed the ceremony with this wish for the couple:

Our wish for you is the same vision you hold out for all others: that your relationship be healthy, strong, and connected for all your days together.

And, actually, that’s what I wish for all of you, too.  May it be so.

To see a short, beautifully filmed video of the event, click here.

To read a write-up in our local paper, click here.

 

+ They're getting married at the Hot Chocolate Run

Ready, Set, Get Married! A Hot Chocolate Run Wedding

Last week I got a call from someone asking if I could possibly officiate her wedding, which is coming right up, on December 6.  She said it was kind of a crazy story, perhaps too complicated for a voicemail, and could I call her back.  Intrigued, I called right away, and was delighted by what I heard.  Jennifer is a friend of friends, and though we haven’t connected much in the past, I’m sure we’ve met before at parties and community events.  She and her fiance, Shawn, have this great idea to get married next month at a big fundraising event in our community: The Hot Chocolate Run for Safe Passage.

Hot Chocolate Run for Safe Passage

The Hot Chocolate Run is a community celebration of Safe Passage, the Hampshire County (MA) organization addressing domestic violence.  Since 1977, Safe Passage has helped thousands of families achieve safety, build justice, and rebuild their lives in the wake of domestic violence.  The Hot Chocolate Run has had an incredible impact on the lives of women and children affected by domestic violence and has helped Safe Passage respond to thousands of people in abusive relationships over the past ten years. The event has supported safe shelter, legal assistance, and critical counseling services for adults and kids who have lived with violence in their homes.

Jennifer explained that she and Shawn had met several years ago through the Hot Chocolate Run for Safe Passage.  Jennifer first participated in the run in 2004, and remembers that after the race she started complaining to a friend about how it had gone.  The friend proactively suggested, “Instead of complaining, why don’t you volunteer next time?”  So Jennifer did, and she became a critical volunteer and supporter every year since.  Three years ago she met her fiance when she was working on the race and, as she says, “I took notice of a guy on social media named Shawn Reynolds who was running the HCR as his first 5K but was somehow also a top fundraiser.  He was incredibly funny and hot as a baker.”  The two got together, and this fall Shawn asked her to marry him.  She said she would.

They're getting married at the Hot Chocolate Run

When Jennifer called last month and asked me to be her officiant, I was thrilled.  I love a good story, I love love, and I love hope and community and determination trouncing violence and isolation, which is exactly what the Hot Chocolate Run and this wedding are about.

So I’m very excited to be running in the Hot Chocolate Run for Safe Passage next month.  I’m running because I love to run, especially in cold weather; because I love marrying people (and how often do I get to go for a run with a couple I just married?  Uh, never!); and because I whole heartedly support Safe Passage and their crucial work in the community not just in the essential services they provide families, but also in their success in raising awareness across the board about domestic violence, which impacts all of us in one way or another.

If you’d like to learn more about Safe Passage, Jennifer and Shawn’s story, and to support the cause, visit their fundraising page.

Top 4 Limiting Beliefs That Get in the Way of Your Best, Most Heartfelt Wedding Ceremony

Your wedding is not the time to settle (well, is there ever a time to settle?  Topic for a different blog…)  Settling happens when we don’t believe we can have what we really want.  Most of us have, sadly, gotten used to settling.  When we were small children we eventually gave up fighting for what we wanted and figured it was easier just to, well, settle.  I am here to tell you, the time for that is over.  A wedding is a new beginning, so why not use this life transition to start going after what you really want, and set aside old fears and patterns that get in the way of living your biggest, boldest life?

As a Life-Cycle Celebrant and Wedding Officiant, I help couples make the most of their wedding ceremonies.  Over the years I’ve noticed some patterns, some ways of thinking, that a lot of us share, that really do get in the way of having the most moving, heartfelt, awesome weddings we really deserve!  So I decided to list four of these limiting beliefs below, and shed some light on how you can shake up old ways of thinking and create a wedding full of connection, presence, and love.

Limiting Belief #1: Thinking you have to do it a particular way
We’ve all been to plenty of weddings, and we’ve probably noticed a lot of patterns – the way people walk down the aisle; the placement of the couple, attendants, and officiant… We even hear some of the same words repeated so often we begin to think they must be required.  But really there is very little that a wedding must absolutely include.  Usually all that has to happen is you both have to agree to be married and your officiant pronounces you so.  That leaves a lot of room for personalization! 

flower circle wedding ceremony

You can process down one aisle, two aisles, with your family, on your own, not at all.  Honor your heritage with a handfasting, las arras, or breaking the glass.  Include your child.  Include your grandmother.  Stand in a circle of flowers, plant a tree, exchange love letters.  Listen to a poem, listen to a song, SING a song!  And remember – if you don’t want to do it then don’t!  You don’t have to be given away, you don’t have to say traditional vows, and you don’t even have to exchange rings!

Limiting Belief #2: Thinking that “short and sweet” is your only secular option
Lots of couples I talk with don’t belong to a faith community and that’s why they’re looking for someone to officiate their wedding. The secular model people tend to be most familiar with is a short civil ceremony performed by a justice of the peace.  This is a great option for lots of people.  But it’s not the only choice!  Celebrants like myself create original, one-of-a-kind ceremonies that are super-meaningful to you and totally engaging to your guests, just as full and rich as any wedding you’ve seen, and perhaps even more juicy because it celebrates exactly who the two of you are.

Limiting Belief #3: Rushing through the ceremony
Sometimes during the initial consult, one or both members of the couple will say to me something along the lines of “we want it as short as possible, let’s just get it done.”  While I appreciate the drive to cut through the ceremony “rigamarole” and get on to the business of being married, I really do recommend taking a slower approach.  After all, you hopefully will only do this once.  Include words and rituals that tell your story.  Savor some moments of silence.  Take time to look out at your guests.  Say your vows slowly and really feel the promises you’re making.  Take the time to notice what you are doing – yes, it is this ceremony that is actually making you married.  And that’s pretty cool!

Limiting Belief #4: Letting your fears hijack the process
Plenty of people have some fears about their wedding and I get it.  It can be scary to be the center of attention.  And it can be even scarier to be the center of attention WHILE expressing your innermost feelings. 

wedding fearsBut you know what?  Performance anxiety need not apply here.  Because your wedding is not a performance.  Yes, there is a rehearsal, which will help you feel more comfortable with how things will all flow.  But the ceremony itself is not a performance and your guests are not an audience.  Your wedding is the actual living of life, in all its messy glory!  Tears, laughter, mistakes are all welcome.  Be authentically you, and when there are no expectations of perfection, there need not be any fear of screwing up.

So, are you ready to dive in to the process, the ritual, the feelings?  Reflecting on your life, or your wedding-planning process in particular, what kind of thinking has gotten in your way?  What have you done or could you do to retire that old thinking and start anew?

A Sweet Summer Baby Welcoming Ceremony

The birth of a baby is one of the biggest-deal things that can happen in a family and in a community, and for much of history people all over the world have found ways to mark this momentous life event.   

But today, in the United States, as affiliation with organized religion is on the decline, parents who want some meaningful way to “officially” welcome their child into the world are often at loose ends.  If you don’t have a strong connection to a particular religion – if you don’t want to do a baptism or other traditional religious rite – then how do you mark the birth of your child?  How do you ceremonially give them their name?  How do you officially welcome them into your family, your community, and the world?

Most of us non-religious folk have thought there was just no option for us.  Take me for example.   Having “missed out” on baptism as an infant, my stepfather rectified the situation by “baptizing” me, along with the family dog, from the dog dish during a visit home from college.

So what’s a regular, secular or spiritual-but-not-religious family to do?

Enter the Baby Welcoming (aka Baby Naming) Ceremony. 

I just had the great privilege and joy of presenting a baby welcoming ceremony for this beautiful child, my nephew Cole, and his parents, my sister and brother-in-law, Cara and Eric.

Baby Welcoming Naming Ceremony

Here are some highlights from this intimate family ceremony:

Continue reading “A Sweet Summer Baby Welcoming Ceremony”

5 Tips for Transformational Wedding Planning

If you’re like me, when you hear the phrase “wedding planning” your thoughts don’t immediately jump to the concept of “powerful personal transformation”.  When I hear “wedding planning” I think “ack!”.  For me, planning my wedding was a rocky road.  I did not relish the tasks of choosing the venue, making the guest list, finding a dress.  The whole process was a fertile ground for all kinds of murky issues to rear their heads: my feelings about femininity, my relationships with my parents, my cynicism about marriage as a child of divorce.

But looking back I realize what a unique opportunity the whole wedding time was.  So rich!  So bountiful with opportunities to explore my deepest fears and feelings.  Woo Hoo!

Your wedding and the period leading up to it are unique times in your life.  Your wedding is one of the few times in your life you get to focus on the heart, publicly.  If you want to milk this time for all it’s worth (and I recommend that you do – after all, we only pass this way once), here are some suggestions of delightfully murky places on which to place your attention – five steps to transformative wedding planning:

1) Deepen your relationships with your family of origin:  Let’s face it.  We all have feelings about our families of origin.  And surely they have feelings about us.  Planning a wedding is a process where you get to be really honest about things.  Take the time to reflect on where you’ve come from.  You and your partner are on the cusp of forming your own family, and now is the time to look back on where you’ve been.  What have you learned from your family?  How have they helped you grow?  Let them know what you discover.  Consider sharing some heartfelt words or rituals with them during your wedding ceremony.

2) Close the chapter on your single life: The mainstream wedding industry and media lead us to believe that we should be nothing but happy, no, ecstatic, about becoming married.  And sure, that is a big part of it.  But these days, when people are getting married later and later, the fact is that a lot of us have lived big, wonderful, thrilling lives as single people.  And it is totally valid to want to mourn the end of that.  Give yourself permission to grieve.  Spend some time letting your heart break a little about what you will miss.

3) Clarify your values: There’s nothing like spending a chunk of change in a really public way to get you thinking about your values.  The truth is, you get to have your wedding your way.  Spend some time with your partner thinking together about what you truly value.  Everything about your wedding – from your vows to the ceremony to how your photos look to where you source the food from – is an opportunity to live and communicate your values.  So go for it!  Know what you believe in, and show it.

4) Set your course: Remember that you and your partner actually have choices in how you live your life together as a married couple.  You are not beholden to follow the paths your family or friends followed – life invites you to blaze your own trail.  As you work with your officiant to design your ceremony, spend time really envisioning what you want your life to be like, and use that vision to inform your vows and your intentions.

5) Bring people together: Weddings are notorious for interesting and exciting interpersonal exchanges.  Got divorced parents?  Friends who’ve had fallings out?  Relatives who don’t talk to each other?  This is your opportunity to mash them up!  You get to think about who you want present with you and then invite them.  After that, let the chips fall where they may.  It’s always good to give people a little practice in being gracious and connected.  And you get to practice not taking care of other people’s feelings.  A win-win!

All life transitions are fertile ground for self-discovery and personal growth.  Embrace the muddy waters and messy feelings of wedding planning.  Roll around in them.  And know that you will come out on the other side, not just married to your beloved, but a little wiser and bolder too.

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Let the Current Carry It Forth: A New Year’s Ritual

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.

Continue reading “Let the Current Carry It Forth: A New Year’s Ritual”