Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Year End Transition and Rituals

clock_towerNew Year’s is a time of transition. The act of changing the calendar from one month to the next as well as from one year to another is typically marked by social rituals. New Year’s Resolutions, New Year’s Eve Parties, New Year’s Day parades and bowl games all serve to mark the end of the old and the beginning of the new.

Rituals have been an important part of my life this year. I first read in Pat Hudson’s You Can Get Over Divorce (Prima Lifestyles, 1998) about using rituals as a way to keep moving through the progressive steps of the divorce process. Hudson explained that her personal experience with rituals helped her to walk through the new doors and to close appropriate old ones.

In a sense rituals help to bookend parts of life that are unavoidably adjacent to one another but should not be allowed to blur together. Many parts of life have culturally established rituals such as graduations, weddings, christenings, funerals and wakes. Some of these are simple while others are more complex with multiple mini-rituals.

But as Hudson points out, other than the formalities related to the court system, there are few rituals that bookmark the changes that take place when a marriage ends that help the parties, their families, or their acquaintances come to terms with the change in roles, identity, status, and relationship in positive or practical ways.

Establishing beneficial rituals is not going to make every divorce a positive or happy outcome, nor does Hudson suggest it as some overarching cultural goal. But she does suggest, based on her own and others’ experiences, that an individual who is feeling lost, stuck, or uncertain might consider creating his or her own rituals to facilitate the move to the new reality or close an old reality that is interfering with the transition.

Recently I found an even stronger connection to the idea of transitional rituals in reading Temple Grandin’s Thinking in Pictures (Vintage, 1996) where she describes how using a door ritual and imagery enabled her to move to new phases of her life by helping her to let go of the familiar past and “walk through a door” to the unfamiliar future.

Over this past year so far I have carried out several rituals. These were occasions where I found, or perceived I might find, myself stuck on the fence between the past and the future, sort of like Janus, and able to see both. But life cannot be lived on a fence as an observer. The coming year of 2010 will be my first full year on my own and it promises to be more engaged in building the second half of my life.

The past several years saw the crumbling of the foundation upon which my faith and belief about life, my life, and my place in the world were grounded; shoring it up wasn’t really possible. Without the foundation the life that had been built upon it could no longer stand and it too has undergone a dismantling. The time for dismantling is drawing to a close and the time to begin building in earnest is near to hand.

While there will be degrees of overlapping between the dismantling and the rebuilding I see the turning from 2009 to 2010 as a point to mark with yet another ritual. I have not settled on the exact theme for this ritual but it will include elements about ceasing to dismantle and beginning to build anew. It will not be about regrets; rather it will be about hope. It will hold dear the best while letting go of the rest.

Series:

End of the year and time to review

Year End Review pt1: word of the year

Year End Review pt2: accomplishment

Year End Transition and Rituals

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