One of those goals was to become certified as a Life Cycle Celebrant. I'd found out about the Master's-level year-long course that was Jungian based and worked deeply with Joseph Campbell's work and was immediately intrigued.
In April of this year, I not only graduated from that course, but graduated with a double-certification in Weddings and Healing & Transition ceremonies. The last month was particularly difficult as the grandmother that'd raised me was in hospice after a fall she'd taken in January took her further and further from health. We were studying Death, Dying, and Bereavement while all this was going on. I had an incredible time staying focused as all the work reminded me that I was not there with her.
Once I'd gotten the word that I'd passed, I was relieved beyond words. I'd felt really distracted and hadn't felt like I'd done my best. Thank goodness-- totally out of character-- I'd completed my final projects early in the semester! So when I got an email from the Celebrant Foundation Institute's administration that I'd been chosen as the Valedictorian, I was absolutely stunned.
They wanted a transcript, so I had to write the speech out in full and read it during the ceremony. I'm used to only having bullet points to allow me to respond more fully to the audience in front of me. I'd had ideas percolating and when they began to do a synchronized swim in my head, I sat down to get them to paper. The speech ended up going in a different direction than I'd originally thought, but I was pleased. The words had flowed through in that way they do if I can get myself out of the way.
I finished the file after reading through it again to check my time. As soon as I'd saved it and uploaded it in to an email to send to the school, I was ready to take a ritual bath and get ready for the ceremony. The minute I stood up and closed my laptop, the gremlins came. "This is crap. You can't give this speech in front of all those people! What trite crap- don't you think they've heard it all before? Good thing its virtual so you can't see them yawning and rolling their eyes!"
A shame attack was in full force. I paused, took a breath and said out loud:
"You know what? I've been writing all day. I took several breaks and read out what I wrote to see how it flowed. Since you did not say a word all that time or during those check points, I'm going to assume you're just a sabotaging meanie. Therefore, I'm not interested in your criticism. You're not welcome here, be on your way." Then I took my bath.
As soon as I was done with my speech, Jason suggested that I put it up on the blog.
"Really? Was it good?"
"Absolutely. Really good stuff in there. You need to get it out there."
It wasn't until finally listening to the file during the Creation Station project night that I fully realized just how many lies the gremlins had uttered during that shame attack. This was one of those moments I'd successfully gotten out of the way and just let the words flow from That Place Good Things Come From.
You can listen to the speech here. Charlotte introduces me at 23:42.
I am so grateful to be here tonight. How I have loved being in a space with other ceremony geeks over this past year! To be around those whose eyes light up at the point where most others’ eyes glaze over when story or ceremony is discussed—that’s some good stuff right there. That feeds my soul. Thank you.
I am honored and humbled by being chosen as your Valedictorian. It came as a complete surprise to me. This semester in particular has been very difficult, with working towards a double-certification, life doing what life does, and losing the grandmother that raised me. In addition to everything I learned in class, this appointment taught me that not just my all-time personal best, but my best right now, is more than good enough. Thank you.
As celebrants, we understand the Asaro proverb, “Knowledge is just rumor until it lives in the bones”. It is our job to take the feelings and processes that swirl around the big moments in our lives and translate them in to action- in to ceremony. To ground them. To em-body them. To bring the internal experience out to the world somehow, and with that, help make it more “real”, give something to hold on to, help to let go.
We use story to do that. Scientists and philosophers like Joseph Campbell, Clarrissa Pinkola-Estes, and Brene Brown have built careers around raising our awareness of the transformative power of stories. It is our job as celebrants to usher their knowledge from the realm of rumor into the reality of the bones.
Stories are real. They’re living, breathing creatures that change and grow. They travel around the world and through time and space. They ferry us back to the past, or fly us in to the future. They connect us with our tribe and those that have gone before us as well as those we’re now paving the way for that will come after. I know this- in my bones- because growing up, stories were my friends. Often, my only friends. Two alcoholic parents, kidney and bladder issues, and moving schools about every 3 months made making friends really difficult. In a world where I didn’t know who would still be nearby tomorrow, stories were there for me. Stories filled the gaps around the places where others – like Mama Jewell, the grandmother I just lost—stepped in to try to hold the broken pieces of my world together until I could do that for myself.
Stories talk to me—as they do for so many here-- as they will with everyone with ears to hear. They teach us about the world, about our Selves, about the Divine, and about our place in the world and what we can do from there. Stories want us to get to know them—to step in to each character and view the world through their eyes, understand their point of view. Feel what they felt. Ceremonies help us embody this and create space to process the insights we’re given
Stories challenge us to find their characters within ourselves and embrace them—“good” and “bad”. We learn how judgement and rejection of these pieces of ourselves drives behavior that moves against our integrity and values, robs us of our inner peace, and erodes our relationships. Ceremonies help us integrate- to marry- these bleeding and blessed parts of ourselves so we can heal. Ceremonies call together the community we need to move through the thorny and fragrant process of growth and healing with us.
And oh, how we need story, ceremony, and community to clear our hearts and minds of the emotional and mental clutter that clogs our connections. There are so many capitalizing on that clutter to drive us to distraction, distrust, discrimination, and disintegration.
My fellow celebrants, as Friends of Story, as Masters of Ceremony, as Builders of Community, it’s up to us to create the spaces where distraction gives way to mindfulness. Where distrust drops its armor. Where discrimination opens its eyes and sees the soul standing before it. Where disintegration picks up the pieces and brings them together.
It’s up to us to create the spaces where people reconnect to themselves and their purpose. Where they kindle the love for themselves, each other, and All That Is. Where they release that which has been weighing them down and holding them back. Where they say goodbye to that which is no more. Where they weave their strings into the fabric of our society.
So to all those that were called and have answered, know this is no small thing, though it may happen in small groups and for seemingly brief moments in time. We stitch and knot at the edges of the pattern and changes of color, and that keeps the fabric from unraveling.
I’m inspired by the Navajo Blessing Way when I think of the work we do and it is with this that I leave you:
With beauty before us may we walk.
With beauty behind us may we walk.
With beauty below us may we walk.
With beauty above us may we walk.
With beauty all around us may we walk.