Rate this Article
CEREMONY: Deepening and Anchoring Healing
What She Said:
The only cure
is a good Ceremony
that’s what she said.
from Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko
……when sadness spreads its blanket and that is what I see,
I take my eyes to some high place until I find
A reflection of what lies deep inside of me.
from Many Winters by Nancy Wood
A ceremony is an extra-ordinary occasion. It happens in a time set aside. We create this space to give full attention and intention – the full presence of Self – to an activity. Thus, we imbue it with meaning, transforming the most simple act into something greater than itself.
Furthermore, to imbue this activity with a specific non-repetitive purpose sets it apart from every day events. This non repetitive aspect differentiates a ceremony from a ritual (which are also important and valuable.) We could say that a ceremony is like an exclamation point. Ceremonies punctuate events. They can be simple or elaborate, they can be performed alone, with participants or with witnesses, they can emerge spontaneously or be planned for a long time in advance.
In our times, many of our ceremonies often feel empty of meaning. We recite the proper words, perform the proper actions and cannot understand why nothing happens. Words and actions in and of themselves are meaningless to the SELF. Without the investment of our heart and of our intention, there is no magic – no deepening of the experience – no energetic shift.
Ceremonies move us from the purely mental/psychological to the mythic – the archetypal. By doing so, ceremony anchors an event or intention into Self. I think that the invitation that comes after the unburdening is a type of ceremony. It is imaginal and sensory and that is what makes it so powerful.
It has been my experience that including ceremonies, either within the context of the therapy session or as an adjunct (homework) has been quite useful in helping parts work through certain burdens and in deepening the healing of parts, bringing the client closer to Self.
For example one of my client’s best friend died and she could not bring closure to the event. She then got together with some other women who had been good friends of the person who died and they designed a ceremony to take place on what would have been her birthday. It took weeks to plan and another month before the deceased friend’s birthday. After the ceremony, my client reported that she finally felt closure, still sad, but more at peace and that the ceremony had also brought all the women closer to each other. It had also healed several of her parts that held unresolved issues of past deaths in her family
Ceremonies are a great asset in the integration of various parts into healthy relationship to each other and to Self. One of my favorite ceremonies for clients who have been abused is to invite them to take a bath with pink carnations and to rub themselves with the flower as a way to reclaim their body.
Many ceremonies occur spontaneously as part of the session. Those ceremonies are simple and quick. It is the intention, attention and attitude with which an action is taken that shifts it from being a routine act to being a ceremonial one. I often hand clients a small stone to imbue it with the gifting (from the invitation) that comes after a part has been unburdened, or if a part needs to be remembered between sessions, the stone can be a reminder to Self, or some other part, to check in with the part that needs to be remembered.
Typically, ceremonies mark one of three phases of life: Beginning ,Transition, Ending.
In addition to intention and attention, the following ingredients need to be considered to make a ceremony successful:
Clarity – what is this ceremony about
Planning – who/what/when/where
Performance – the actual doing of the ceremony.
In my experience, ceremonies are much more meaningful and powerful when the person does her/his own planning and performance. As therapist, I help the client clarify the reason for the ceremony and what would make it meaningful to them.
Some clients have a solid spiritual/religious practice and ceremonies can be framed around those practices. When that is the case, I encourage clients to consult with their spiritual advisor in the planning process. S/he might ask their spiritual advisor/mentor/clergy to frame and/or perform the ceremony.
For example, one of my clients’ who is a devoted Christian used the stations of the cross as a framework for his ceremony. Another who honors the Divine Feminine, went to places of power in the four directions to complete the unburdening of abuse. Letter writing which many of us already use, can be done in a ceremonial manner and then disposed of accordingly.
Periodically, I will be the one who suggests the type of ceremony a client might consider doing for this or that reason, as in the bathing ceremony for abuse survivors, but then we craft it together so the client makes it her/his own.
All this being said, I will repeat that the only ingredients that really matter are attention, intention and attitude.
I invite you to experiment with yourself and your clients in incorporating ceremony into your practice. There are many books on ceremonies, but mostly I invite to create your own, be creative, be spontaneous, and let Self lead.
About the author:
Monique Lang LCSW, a psychotherapist for the past twenty years, provides a safe space for each person to do individual work within the context of community support. She has been a presenter at such institutions as The New York Open Center, Omega Institute & Wainwright House. Monique’s gentle and experienced leadership integrates and synthesizes principles of Internal Family Systems, Reiki,Zen mindfulness practice, Native American Vision Questing and South American Shamanism.