I had no Passover seders to go to this year, so I did what I usually do in that situation: I took care of bringing a mini-seder essence of Passover to whoever I was with. We were with a small group of friends who have become extended family over the many years we have gathered with them (since 1987 for some, 1992 for the others in the group). I made charoset (symbolizing the mortar used for building the pyramids when the Jews were slaves in Egypt) and brought something to cover the symbols on the seder plate and matzo (the unleavened bread, symbolic of leaving Egypt before the bread could rise). There was at least one person there who found my simple introduction to Passover educational, as she had not known any of this. A reminder to me that what I take for granted is not always common knowledge. It was a good day, with a walk through the Berkeley Rose Garden and Cordonices Park before our meal, then a shared potluck after my Passover introduction, then improvisational sounding and singing after. Not the traditional Passover, but I felt satisfied to be with community and share meaningful time together.
Rituals are transformative, while ceremonies are confirmative (Heinz, 2004), although there is certainly room for overlap. In my work I have tended to focus on rituals, planned sequences in sacred space that are designed to shift consciousness, both in the moment of the ritual, and in lives beyond that moment.
In my workshops teaching ritual I often provide an opportunity for the participants to think of a difficulty in their daily lives that might be supported by a brief ritual. Often this involves transitions that are a challenge, like coming home from work – what does it take to move gracefully out of work consciousness and into being home, either alone or with family? Sometimes this is the time of the day when people struggle with compulsive eating, which might be an unconscious way of nurturing their drained self at the end of a work day. This is a perfect opportunity to invent a ritual that can consciously provide that inner self with some acknowledgment of what is felt in that moment, and a way to move into a different state of consciousness.
Ceremonies, on the other hand, are a formal acknowledgment of a transformation that has already occurred. This brings an internal change into the community’s awareness and the shift is in the consciousness of the community, who can now see the individual in a different light, in a new role or status.
I have already done all the work to achieve this PhD; the ceremony on Sunday will not change anything internally for me. The graduation ceremony focuses on the larger perspective of how I am seen by my friends and family and the community at large. The ceremony is an acknowledgment of the ripples that expand outward from the work I have done, and the ability I have to expand my work beyond myself and beyond the scale of my past endeavors.
This ceremony is also an opportunity to express my gratitude to all of those who have contributed to my process along the way, starting with my parents and grandparents, whose support created a foundation for this possibility long ago (my mother said in an email to me yesterday, “Little miss ‘I want to do it myself’ indeed did it herself”). Every teacher who has ever recognized and supported my gifts and potential in a positive way is part of the path that brought me to this moment. I especially want to recognize a few teachers and mentors, some of whom have become friends, whose influence made a memorable difference in the development of my work: Phil Soinski, Anne Welsh, Sara Shelton Mann, Laura Dean, Stuart Schlegel, Noel King, Frank Barron, Philip Slater, Konrad Fischer, Stephen Gilligan, David Lukoff, Eugene Taylor, Stanley Krippner, and Allan Combs. For a long time I have been teaching and collaborating with a few friends and colleagues, primarily Anodea Judith and Kylea Taylor, and our work together has been an important part of my continued development as a teacher. In addition, the hundreds of students and clients I have worked with over the years have played a significant role in the evolution of my work and my thoughts about how we grow and transform and how we live to the fullest.
These folks are the tip of the iceberg – I am so aware of how I am touched and influenced by everyone I come in contact with. I continue to grow and learn and understand more deeply, and I thank all of you who are part of my life in any way, and those of you who I have yet to connect with. May we all grow and evolve together!
Heinze, Ruth-Inge. (2004). The nature and function of rituals.
I knew I would participate in my PhD ceremony, though I actually graduated in November 2009. But I forgot until the past few days how important these ceremonies can feel. Our culture doesn’t have many ceremonies, and sometimes doesn’t take the few we have seriously, but I am feeling touched by how many people are congratulating me and wishing me the best for my walk on Sunday. Not that these folks hadn’t received my original excited announcement last November that I was now Dr. Selene Vega – and most had congratulated me then. So I wasn’t expecting so much response from friends and families for what could be seen as just a formality. And I certainly wasn’t expecting myself to be so moved by their heartfelt good wishes.
It does feel like I’ve accomplished something. I remember hearing from teachers throughout my early years of education, usually in a roundabout way from my parents after parent-teacher conferences, that I wasn’t “working to capacity.” Some idea they had of what I seemed capable of that wasn’t showing up in my schoolwork. Not surprising, really. I had a lot going on in a troubled life outside school, and there was little in school that interested me – I was considerably more excited by what I found in books on my own in the library and my parents’ bookshelves. And then in my teens I was absorbed by dance and theatre, leaving early to take classes, go to rehearsals, apprentice in teaching kids’ dance classes. School just was not where my attention was focused.
Over the years, though, my interest in studying and the availability of coursework that interested me and teacher-mentors who could guide me on my path of learning came together in a satisfying way, leading to this doctorate. I’m stilll excited about the research I did for the dissertation – a multiple case study exploring the integration of transformative workshop experiences into daily life post-workshop. And I’m excited about future possibilities – there’s plenty more I want to learn and research. I’m excited also about finding ways to share what I’ve learned and my approach to assisting others in learning and transforming. I’ve been doing that for a long time now (it’s been over 40 years since I apprenticed as a dance teacher!), but the process continues to evolve.