I remember sitting in the classroom on the first day of my Change Management Certification course. We were going to get introduced to the secrets, art and science of helping people to change.
Our professor started out by saying: The natural response to change is… resistance! Resistance is not the exception – it’s the rule. No matter how excited you are about the change, no matter how much you say you want it or how long you’ve been waiting for it, a part of you will recoil and resist the change. Change always brings up fear, insecurity and loss of control. You don’t know what the future holds. And sometimes, it’s easier to stand still than to move forwards.
I once had a client who came to me pregnancy. While part of her was very excited about having a baby she was also very aware of the fact that her life was about to change forever. In a few weeks, she would be responsible not only for herself but for another human being for the next 20 years and beyond. Nothing feels as permanent to the human experience as life – and death.
What intrigued me about her case was that she felt there was no room in her family, in her relationship and in society in general for her sadness and fears. Her resistance was not allowed, so she struggled with it even more. Everybody expected her to be over the moon, only happy and excited.
We decided to do a death ritual for her – celebrating the death of her old life, her single years, her independence and freedom. Within the ritual we created a space where she was permitted to fully experience all her grief. We gave her fears a voice and the opportunity to express themselves. All the things she didn’t allow herself to feel, think or say were allowed to exist, were honored, seen and recognized. It was intense and very emotional for both of us. She told me afterwards that she felt the emotional and close to tears for a few more days. Then, she woke up and felt her entire being filled with a sense of relief, joyful expectation and excitement.
It doesn’t matter what you change – old habits, negative thinking patterns, relationships, houses, countries – it all calls forth resistance. It’s always challenging to let go. To trust and give up control. The desire and passion for the new has to outweigh what we surrender. And we need to be aware. We think we can get by with ignoring the transitions and just slide from one state into the next. However, every change, every transition is a Rite of Passage. We have to celebrate the ends consciously, feel the sadness and say our goodbyes to be able to step into the new beginnings fully. Therein lies the power of rituals.
And sometimes you just need someone to be by your side, take your hand and say: You can do this!