Sunday, May 20, 2012

Rites of passage

Many traditional cultures have rites of passage. Although they vary greatly in intensity, specific form, and social meaning, rites of passage primarily serve the purpose of resolving life-crises; they provide a mechanism to deal with the tension experienced by both individuals and social groups during ambiguous occasions including, but not limited to, birth, puberty, marriage and death.
By facilitating these transitions, rites of passage hold considerable emotional importance for both the individual and society. To take on a new social identity, the individual must negotiate a status passage that is often difficult.

Although rites of passage are used to accomplish a wide variety of different social transitions, the European comparative sociologist Arnold van Gennep (1873–1957) delineated in "Les rites de passage" a structure for transformative ritual practices he considered universal and common to all cultures. Van Gennep found that they typically involve a tripartite structure involving three sequential stages. During rites of SEPARATION, initiates are removed physically from the social group. TRANSITION or liminality rites accentuate the often-profound changes an initiate undergoes. The debutant undertaking transition typically experiences a condition of liminality, a marginal status that is socially in-between the former status and an uncertain future. Often during the liminal stage, the human body is itself the object of ritual process. A young person, for example, may be required to undergo painful surgical procedures such as body piercing, scarification, tattoos, etc. The healed wounds permanently signify the status change. The third stage is that of INCORPORATION or reaggregation. This phase involves the reintegration of the transformed individual into the social group, albeit in a new capacity. Van Gennep underscored that this tripartite pattern of human transitions mimics the pattern of nature and the cosmos, a continuous sequence of BIRTH, BEING, REBIRTH.

Even in our secular society we still observe many rites of passage (birth, marriage, legal age, academic achievements, death) and those who belong to an organised religion may mark the moment boys and girls enter adulthood and thus become responsible for their actions (i can think of the Jewish Bar and Bat Mitzvah and the Catholic Confirmation).

And yet, unlike many traditional societies, we have no rite of passage to mark the moment a woman enters the menopause. Germaine Greer writes in her book The Change: "Women need to devise their own Rite of Passage, a celebration of what could be regarded as the restoration of a woman to herself". In a society which often regards ageing as useless, it is no wonder many women see Menopause as fearful and confusing. We need to be conscious of our own strengths, self worth and wisdom.

Menopause is not a disorder but, like puberty, is a period of physical and emotional metamorphosis which affects all women (menopause is often described as puberty in reverse). Recognizing its great importance in a woman's life and celebrating the beginning of a new creative and wise phase of our life rather than passing it under silence would be a good start.

Seeking the company of other women who are experiencing the same metamorphosis, finding positive role models (or becoming one), getting in touch with our Spiritual self, learning to trust our intuitions (our inner vision becomes stronger at this time of life) embarking on a life enriching journey back to our deeper self, metaphorically shedding old skin we don't need anymore are some of the paths that are available to us.

It is through letting go that we can finally give birth to new forms and move forward. Cutting through old binding patterns allows us to let go of the old and give birth to the new or unexpressed parts of ourselves.

During peri-menopause we start to confront the changes in our body and transformations in our lifestyle, many of us realize that our old identity is indeed dying. We discard all that is no longer necessary in our lives, our relationships, worldly possessions, and life structures that have fulfilled their purpose in our development as women but no longer serve our growth. Change is the process that allows us to continue living. To not change is to stagnate and die. It is important for us to listen to our body, mind and soul.

A regular yoga practice helped me dispel fear, mastering new poses restored trust in both my physical and mental strength. The gift of Yoga really took on a more profound meaning as i relied on it to cope with the tension of transformation. It provided an avenue for me to accept the necessary change that would be responsible for my future happiness in life.

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