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10 Ways Rituals Help Us Celebrate Our Lives

by Abigail Brenner, MD


Ritual has its roots in religion, and life’s fundamental passages are often traditionally accompanied by religious ritual. But life’s great passages are by nature spiritual. They affirm human mystery and mutability, our connection with the universal. Rituals serve as a bridge between our outer and inner worlds, between the profane and the sacred, and between the ordinary and the extraordinary.

Rituals afford us a sense of belonging. When we engage in the ritual process we are, in essence, connected to “original time.” Rituals awaken that which is eternal within us and show us how our individual lives are part of a much grander design.

Rituals connect us with nature and the seasons. The ongoing transitions that occur in nature provide the prototype for change. By watching the constant shifts and turns in nature we recognize our own cycles of life, our own rhythms as humans. Rituals remind us of the interconnectedness of all of life.

Rituals provide us with a sense of renewal. They offer us a time-out from our every day routine, habitual existence. Metaphorically, rituals are oases, a time to rest, replenish, and restore our selves on our long and winding path through life. Rituals help us to reevaluate our journey thus far and to reaffirm that the path we are traveling is the right one for us.

Rituals provide an ongoing way to structure our lives. The ritual process provides a sense of stability and continuity amidst the ever-changing, hectic and often chaotic world in which we live. Rituals engender a sense of healing calm and a feeling of trust in life’s flow and forward movement.

Rituals give us a way to connect to family, past and present. Rituals tie us to our ancestors and to our heritage. Their creation and performance helps us to understand where we came from. As a bridge between past and future, they enable us to access, honor, and strengthen our own identity.

Rituals remove us from the ordinary flow of life and place us in sacred space. It is out of the realm of ordinary space and time that rituals create their magic through the mysterious and mystical language of symbolic reenactment.

Rituals help us access our authentic selves through their ability to carry us into deeper levels of consciousness. By engaging all of our senses through the use of ritual elements inherent in the ritual process, we are able to bypass the intellect in favor of our intuitive, instinctive knowing. Rituals help us balance the work of our outer and inner lives and allow for the full expression of our soul and spirit.

Rituals provide the essential tools for co-creating our own lives. Creating and performing rituals that are personally meaningful to us helps us as evolving creations to set the exact intention that will ultimately enable us to manifest and reach desired goals and aspirations.

Rituals give meaning to our journeys and a sense of purpose to our lives. While the ongoing creation and performance of rituals prepares us for the next stages of life, the successive and cumulative practice of rituals over time has the power to ultimately transform us.

Rituals that mark “rites of passage”--- major transitional turning points--- help us ‘connect the dots.’ They help us find and define the patterns and cycles in our individual lives that might otherwise seem to be random happenings if viewed separately.

By creating and performing personally expressive rituals for our selves we move freely into our own spiritual lives, taking charge of marking and honoring the transitions, the special moments in our lives that we find significant, in the ways we deem meaningful. Rituals are tools that give us the freedom to take responsibility for the direction and purpose of our lives. Our task is to seize and shape this freedom---consciously, deliberately, and joyfully.

Abigail Brenner, M.D. is a board certified psychiatrist in private practice for more than 25 years and a Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association. Dr. Brenner has pursued her interest in clinical work, formerly as an attending physician at the Bellevue Hospital adult outpatient clinic and as a clinical assistant professor at New York University-Bellevue Medical Center. Her book Women’s Rites of Passage: How to Embrace Change and Celebrate Life was published by Rowman and Littlefield in Feb. 2007. Dr. Brenner lives in New York City with her husband and is a mother and grandmother. Be sure to visit her website: www.abigailbrenner.com


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