Our Society is Starving for Ritual.
“Just as some Westerners can’t conceive of life without running water, electricity, and commodities, indigenous people in tribal Africa can’t conceive life without ritual.” - Malidome Soma
For some reason, all of our rites of passage occur early in life or at our death. Where’s the menopause ritual, the Empty Nest celebration, or the Life Begins at 50 party (MEA’s “Life Begins at 50” essay contest)? If rites of passage are meant to guide us through liminal times with a unique state of community connection and support, we all could use a little bit of this initiation in midlife as a powerful marker of change. Unfortunately, western society’s communal ritual is limited to such spectacles as the Super Bowl or Eurovision competition.
Kelvis Quaynor signed up for an MEA workshop, not knowing that his mother in Ghana would pass away a few weeks before he came to Baja. He had a profound experience of midlife ritual that he wanted to share:
“I arrived at MEA angry, frustrated at the sudden passing of my beloved mother who had sacrificed so much of her life to care for her 5 children. Her sudden departure impacted everyone in the family. My mom was never part of my plan on why I attended the workshop at MEA, but my goodness, I had a transformational experience with the guidance of Day Schildkret and a few members of my MEA cohort.
I had described my mother passing as the second cutting of my umbilical cord, and the difference this time being that I have acquired knowledge of pain, and the knowing that I will not see her again in this lifetime was the source of my pain. And it hurts deeply beyond anything I have ever experienced.
My cohort was tasked with creating a ritual to aid in my transition with my mom’s passing. These beautiful people, whom I’d just met over the past few days, created a ritual that gave me an opportunity to look at the values my mother instilled in us. I was asked to hold those values and keep them safe. With a string tied around my waist and five strings representing the values I had mentioned strung on my waistband, I was handed a pair of scissors.
At this point, I was having vivid memories of moments with my mom, and the following words echoed, “With this pair of scissors, you have the opportunity to cut the umbilical cord yourself, and you also have the choice to not cut it.” This was a defining moment in the ritual, the experience was surreal, like in a trance. I was actually scared to cut the strings connecting me and the values and what represented my dear mother.
In that trance state, I went from being the boy she nurtured, scared of the unknown, to the young man she trusted, knowing that she’s always got my back, to the man I am today, standing alone and afraid of what’s next without her. I mastered the courage, took a deep breath, and one string after the other, I began to cut each cord painfully and carefully. The sound of each cut was so piercing that I believed the sound could be heard from afar. My trancelike state was more intensified after the last cut; it took close to an hour after this experience to fully return to my body. I was handed a blue flower picked on the premises by one of my compadres who represented my mother in the ritual.
This experience has truly transformed me as I have a different perspective of her death and my beginning. What a gift, as I’m in a new space where I can continue this journey. I can truly see the essence of her life, which brings clarity to my own existence and purpose here, this time around.”
We got such a positive response to Day Schildkrit’s “Renewing Purpose: Modern Rituals to Navigate Life Transitions” workshop this fall that we’ve put him on the calendar for another Baja workshop July 1-6 and a Santa Fe workshop Dec 2-7. I highly recommend this experience.