5 ways to create a deeply meaningful transition ritual

There are just some times in life that call for a ritual.

I’m not talking about those regular practices, habits and routines that are so essential to daily living. Instead, I’m talking about a deeper offering to mark a significant life event or movement to another age, stage or role of life.

So my friends, what we have on the table today is one of my favorite topics: transition.

And how this tea box… photo-226 turned into a transition ritual that ended up looking like this… photo-227

Truth is, I’ve lost count of the number of transitions I’ve experienced.

A lot, probably just like you. Some welcomed. Some really hard.

But positive or negative, I find the cycle of transition truly fascinating.

What I’ve learned is that the most challenging part of transition is often maneuvering through the ending of one life role and the beginning of another life role. And even the most desired life role changes–single to married, working to retired, no kids to parent, unemployed to employed, renter to homeowner–can leave you smack in the middle of the discombobulating effects of transition.

So what we need is a better way to ritualize these life role endings and beginnings, no matter if it’s a sad or happy transition.

As you may know, I recently went from the role of candidate for the LPCC to actually being a LPCC and finally claiming the title psychotherapist.

Yes, this is a good thing. And yes, it’s left me feeling discombobulated at times.

I knew I needed some ritual to see me through this disorienting time, so I set out to create a shrine to honor the journey. I wanted it to include all the things I’ve discovered about transition.

Here they are: 5 ways to create a meaningful transition ritual.

1. Reveal the Symbol(s).

When I’m counseling or coaching clients in transition, I often ask if there’s a metaphor that reflects where they are. I’ve heard things like: I’ve just walked out of a revolving door, I’m looking through a window, I’m in a forest but can’t see the path.

These metaphors become powerful symbols when you include them in your ritual. I look at my shrine and feel strength in the symbol of the mountain I climbed and descended (made by cutting out the exam results from each test I passed). photo-228And I tear up a little when I touch the three interwoven threads that came together as a result of climbing this mountain. photo-229

2. Include Personal Artifacts.

Bring something tangible, that you can hold or touch, to your transition ritual. I glued this small pin from the American Counseling Association on my shrine. They sent it to me after I’d been a member for 10 years. It reminds me that I’ve been in the process of weaving together these threads for a long time, even before I consciously knew I was doing it. photo-230 In the past I’ve used other personal artifacts in transition rituals: my mother’s scarf, pages from favorite books, photos. Almost anything that’s personally meaningful will work.

3. Find the Humor.

Most transitions, even the welcome ones, are difficult in some way. And I’m awestruck by the capacity of human beings to find humor in the most challenging moments.

That’s why I couldn’t help but put my thumb print on this shrine. It reflects not only all the thumb prints I’ve given throughout this journey, but the stacks of applications I’ve filled out, checks I’ve written, and questionable photos that have been taken of me with bad cameras in glaring light. I laugh when I look at it, and rejoice in knowing that it’s all over now. photo-231

4. Release, Reinvent or Ruin Something.

When you’re in the midst of a transition ritual there’s almost nothing better than using your hands to cut/scrape/burn/shred/tear something. It’s all about getting the stuck and frozen energy out and transforming it, not to mention releasing the pent-up anger that can accompany transition.

As I was sorting through papers to get information to fill out the final LPCC application, I came across a list I’d made at one point along the way about why I was doing this (because for at least the first half of the journey I was pretty ambivalent).

I’d written things like: It’s time to step up, It’s the right thing to do, I need to finish something, I’m ready.

As I held the list in my hands I knew immediately I needed to transform it–cut it up, paste it on my shrine, fill it in with color. This simple act not only released my ambivalence for good but also helped me acknowledge that I’d crossed over from striving to being. (Deep exhalation of breath.) photo-232

5. Revisit Often.

Coming back to whatever results from your transition ritual anchors you into its deeper meaning and helps you process and move through it. You realize that not only have you survived it, but there’s much more to come as you move through the cycle of transition, into renewal, blooming, and thriving.

It can also be a way to soothe yourself if the stress of the transition gets to be too much. I find it very calming to hold my shrine, turn it over, trace the outlines of threads and letters with my fingers. photo-223

But you don’t need to hold onto a shrine to experience the benefits of a transition ritual.

Your ritual could be as simple as writing about, collaging, drawing, photographing or painting the metaphorical meaning of the transition (Reveal the Symbol); taking out a special object that reflects the journey you’re on (Include Personal Artifacts); allowing yourself to laugh a little at the challenges in this chapter of your life (Find the Humor); lighting and blowing out a candle (Release Something); and finally, reflecting on your insights while you hold your personal artifact (Revisit Often).

The beauty of a transition ritual is that you can make it whatever you need it to be.

So tell me, what would your transition ritual look like?

* * * * *

Want to take the transition quiz? My newsletter subscribers will get it in two weeks. I send out interesting stuff like that about once a month. In fact, a subscriber recently remarked: “Your newsletters are absolutely wonderful and thoughtful…just a feast.” Pull up a chair for your very own feast right here, delivered straight to your inbox.

4 thoughts on “5 ways to create a deeply meaningful transition ritual

  1. Do you know that I find uncluttering/re-organizing a powerful transition ritual? It helps honor what was and make space for what is to come. It grounds me into appreciation and hope, I guess. I’ve recently taken up photography so it may be part of a ritual at a later stage too. We shall see… :)

    • I love that, Maryse. I’ve experienced the ritual of shedding, releasing, letting go, making space but never named it before as a transition ritual. But now that I think of it, I do exactly that at the beginning and end of transitions. I’ve been doing a version of it for the past few days, in fact!

  2. It’s funny what wifsie said is true of me, as well. I recently cleaned out boxes of stuff I’ve had for years. Some of it I kept and most got tossed, but it was in the review of it, that I had the sense of my transitions in life…some of it dated back to when my kids were tiny and now they are grown women. It’s definitely not a ritual, but it’s the closest I come recently.

    BTW I loved what you did. I like that you make things to keep something present for you, even as you are moving forward.

    • Yes, that review of what we’re letting go is a deep experience Sara. So wise you are. But I do like having the shrine to keep as a reminder after I’ve cleared out all the other stuff.

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