Transitions can be hard. Those times where beginnings and endings exist simultaneously. It’s hard to know what to do with yourself. What to think. What to feel. I suppose that’s why humans developed ceremonies and why they persist today.
I have been thinking about the role of ceremonies and transition a lot this month. In the space of three days I attended my grandma’s funeral and completed the final yoga teacher training weekend before our assessments happen. These were two very different occasions but their transitional nature gave them something in common.
Just as there is a space between an inhale and an exhale, there is a space between an ending and a beginning.
Although ceremony is a very human thing to do, I also know that some people find ceremonies more useful than others. For me, ceremony is one of the ways I steer myself through change, allowing myself to be with those uncomfortable feelings of in-between-ness and providing an opportunity to say goodbye before moving forward. Those who know me well are familiar with my need to mark significant occasions like birthdays, anniversaries, and each new year. But the less frequent or unexpected transitions can be trickier to navigate. So when they arise I find myself putting ceremonies in place to ease the way, and I really appreciate the care that others take in creating ceremonies too.
My grandma’s funeral was beautiful. My mum and aunt had done an amazing job in preparing for the day, making thoughtful decisions about how to make the ceremony personal and poignant. The ceremony was delivered by us as a family, and it felt intimate and supportive. We were saying goodbye to grandma but also helping each other through this transition to life without her. I read a poem (albeit delivered in tearful sentences) because I knew I needed to play an active part in the ceremony and I wanted to support others like my grandad who, understandably, found it too hard to do so himself. I noticed that the funeral director and pallbearers took their roles very seriously, with a lot of respect for the process despite having done the same thing perhaps hundreds of times before. Their sense of ceremony contributed to the feeling that we were saying goodbye properly, in a way that acknowledged the value of grandma’s life.
The next day, I went into my yoga teacher training weekend feeling tired and emotional. The weekend was a significant one, being the last before our final assessments. But happily, it was also a wonderful one, filled with opportunities to learn from each other. To mark the end of this part of our yoga journey, I brought along some coloured envelopes and paper and invited everyone to write a note to each person on the course, telling them the qualities they love most about them as people and as emerging teachers. I couldn’t let the end of the course pass without some ceremony and this seemed like a great way to mark the transition by articulating what I value about everyone who has been part of this incredible year-long experience. My fellow trainees loved the idea, probably for all sorts of reasons, but a few specifically mentioned that they too value the role of ceremony in times of transition.
Yoga helps me to know and understand myself better. And knowing myself better helps me make choices that are healthy and constructive, instead of falling into destructive patterns when things get hard.
Could ceremony be a helpful way for you to navigate transitions? We’re all different so there are no right or wrong answers. But asking yourself the question might help you know yourself better, and I’d love to hear your thoughts.
*The title of this post is a quote from Nancy Levin