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The Power of Ceremonies and Rituals in the Transformation Process

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Laura Martinez, LCDC-I,  Director of PsychoNeuroPlasticity

When a client enters treatment at Origins, their challenges are not uniform, yet all of these individuals create stress at their core which often yields personal existential questions. A client enters treatment to do more than just attain sobriety – they come to find a deeper life meaning and purpose.

For many generations, humans have been doing rituals to make meaning out of their lives. Underneath the practices of these rituals are beliefs that the universe has order and that each life serves some purpose that is important for both the spiritual evolution of the individual and for their relevance to the rest of the community. Looking for this relevance has been the challenge of the ritual masters who applied a wide variety of methods including insight, altered states of consciousness, and seeking answers through nature.

Ritual Factors

The ritual process gives clients identity and order, clarifies values, and offers opportunities to face their personal challenges with community support. Beyond finding a space between ordinary reality and altered states of awareness, the transpersonal space in rituals offers an opportunity for transformation.

A common set of questions presented to clients that come to treatment are: “What do you want to let go of?” “What do you want for yourself in this life?” “Can you identify what is toxic in your life?” “What barriers can you recognize in your life?” With the answers to these questions, the ceremonial process begins. The client is asked to reflect on these questions and to journal on the introspective process. The client is asked to take these reflections into meditation and to connect with their higher power for insights. From this point forward, there is deeper connection and involvement and the progression tends to unfold steadily.
A common use of ritual has been to celebrate stages of life and maturity, such as birthdays, promotions, achievements, and meaningful events. Births and deaths have been ritualized. States of transition fall into this, such as weddings, engagements, and induction into societies and fraternities.

It is rare that we celebrate other important milestones in our life- such as making a commitment to live a different way, honoring a characteristic of who we are, letting go of a toxic relationship, or letting go of barriers that no longer serve us.

The Nature of Rituals

There is a structure to most rituals, a process which can be categorized into five stages:

The first is the statement of understanding the intention of the ritual. The whole structure is based on the agreed-upon purpose and participation in the progression. There is a transpersonal energy in group intentions and expectations of outcome. For example, an intention of a client may be to let go of a toxic person’s negative messages that have been occupying their mind.
The second stage could be best described as “entry” into the structure of events. This might include a stated commitment or change of clothing before engaging in the events. Most often there is a relaxation phase, a change into meditation consciousness with silence. Very often there is a verbal announcement that describes the purpose, instructions to be followed during events, and participation rules. The facilitator of the ceremony will ensure this stage takes place.
The third stage is the “severance” phase, in which individuals separate from their previous state, such as leaving childhood thinking patterns by letting go a symbol that represents this such as a stuffed animal. In military rites, this phase is giving up civilian clothing and stating commitments. This could also be letting go of a toxic relationship by departing with a symbol that represents the type of relationship. For instance, I once had a client relate to a piece of coal that represented the torment she experienced during the particular relationship.
The fourth phase is quickly moved to the “transitions” stage when individuals enter their new status or intention. This can include recovery from the past or celebration of a new phase in life. This phase can be represented by a poem, a commitment letter, or piece of music. The client is asked to pick a symbol that represents what they want to attract into their lives. The client usually keeps this symbol as a reminder of their ritual 08vch9s.
The fifth stage returns the individuals to ordinary life, perhaps with new faith, hope, and status. This is often a celebration with the community and family as each individual is accepted in a new light and with renewed hope.

The Imagery of Ceremony and Ritual

The intention of ceremonies and rituals are to enrich a person’s life and serve as sources of guidance for reaching goals and life milestones. Ceremonies and rituals provide a safe space for powerful transformation to occur. On the level of the brain, ceremonies and rituals provide a sacred platform for neuroplasticity to occur. With a clear and concise commitment that there needs to be a neuropathway in the brain that needs to change, ceremonies allow new neuropathways to form in the brain that are healthier and serve as motivational forces. These practices are not intended to substitute for any innate life path or belief; they aim to nurture the joy and fulfillment found in each person’s authentic self.

When a client leaves treatment at Origins, it is our hope that they have a fresh start and leave the baggage behind that has been acting as a barrier to recovery.