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Rituals of Transformation

There are two kinds of ritual. There are rituals of
stability (e.g., saying hello, eating together, kissing or shaking
hands when we greet) and there are rituals of transformation (e.g.,
theatrical events, weddings, bar mitzvahs, initiations, vision quests).
Rituals of stability reinforce our relationships.  Rituals of
transformation change them.

Anytime you meet to create the future, to dream a dream that you hope
will come to pass, you are engaging in a ritual of transformation. It
could be as formal as a strategy retreat, or as informal as scheming
with a friend over a cup of coffee.

Rituals of transformation require rituals of stability, the same way a
diving board requires an immovable anchor.  With the foundation
anchored properly, you can get quite a bit of bounce to launch yourself
safely into the air with a great amount of control. With a weak or
wobbly anchor, you have an unsafe device any educated diver would stay
away from. This is why we eat after a bar mitzvah or a wedding. It
reinforces the transformation with stability.

Anytime you plan to be creative, to author your own destiny, the
framework for a ritual of transformation can assist you. The framework
I like to use includes these four stages:
1. The calling
2 The threshold
3. Liminal experience
4. Reincorporation

The first stage, the calling, is literally an invitation or event that
thrusts the participant into a ritual of transformation. It can be
intentional, like responding to an invitation to attend. Or it can be
circumstantial, like realizing that 80% of your revenue depends upon an
outdated business model.

The second stage, the threshold, is where participants cross over from
ordinary reality into liminal experience, the space where creativity
reigns. When you go into a theater, you cross the threshold when you
enter the building, turn off your cell phone, sit down in a chair
facing the stage, and experience the lights dimming. All of these cues
say to the participants, “You are entering another world. You can
suspend the beliefs you live day-to-day in order to experience
something extraordinary.”

The third stage, liminal experience, is the place where dreaming comes
to life, where symbols are activated and take on greater meaning than
they would carry in the every day world. Two people speak softly to
each other while looking into each other’s eyes and become a couple in
the eyes of all that witness their marriage, or a young man reads
Hebrew from a scroll and enters manhood. The acts are ordinary enough,
but because they are conducted in liminal space they take on larger
meaning and change forever the relationship of the subjects.

The fourth stage, reincorporation, is about re-entering the ordinary
world. This is when the sacred acts of liminal space are validated and
woven into the mundane fabric of existence. At the end of a successful
retreat this is when we ask, “So what?” If we have dreamed up a vision
of the future, it is now time to turn it into actions. That is why
accountabilities are so important. We want dates. We want people
identified to take responsibility. We want milestones. This is a great
example of reincorporation.  

All of this may sound a bit noonoo-nana, and it is…  it is also
remarkably effective. Consider using this structure for your next event.

We must let go of
the life we have planned so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.

– Joseph Campbell