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Ellen Bower

Ceremonies


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Creating Life's Ceremonies


 “When you start doubting yourself,
remember how far you have come.  
Remember everything that you have faced,
all the battles you have won,
and all the fears you have overcome.”
Unknown


Along with the evolution of our culture, comes the evolution of how ... and when ... we celebrate. And whether or not it is considered 'appropriate' to celebrate.

Every day I hear phrases spoken that suggest to me that someone has reached a time in their lives where celebration is very appropriate.  So many milestones reached, achievements met, life improvements accomplished go without acknowledgement.


"It was such a life-changing moment." 
"This is the most cherished time of my life." 
"I couldn't have achieved this without their help."
"I needed a way to say 'good-bye'."
"My life is changing so much; nothing feels the same."
"My life goals are different now;
but how do I start reaching them?"
"Who would have thought we'd be together this long?"


In our 'modern' culture, we tend to think that time-honoured celebrations are the only occasions when we should celebrate - events such as birthdays, weddings, anniversaries seem to be the only occasions worthy of a 'fuss'. Yet, there cultures around the globe that may seem less sophisticated in some ways to our 'western' perceptions (though they are often more spiritual and wiser) where celebrations happen for many reasons that are not obvious achievements --- often related to the quality of how people live their values and learn life lessons.

Many years ago I read about a tribe in Australia that had made the decision to soon end its existence by no longer procreating - not uncommon amongst indigenous people who believe their time on earth has completed. The chief of that tribe explained that they do not celebrate annual birthdays, which they saw as insignificant and couldn't understand why we, in the West, celebrate simply getting older, something that we have absolutely no control over in any way. Instead they celebrated a person in the tribe whenever they had 'grown spiritually' or 'achieved a special awareness/knowledge', or 'improved a negative behaviour'. The quote at the top of this blog post reminds me of that philosophy ... that when we celebrate our lessons and growth in life, we remember them and we remain inspired to keep going on the right path. Simple. Lovely. Worthy of a fuss.

Births, Marriages and Deaths are such significant events in any family or culture. With the sense of community more of an exception rather than the norm in many western cultures today, ceremony and celebration become even more essential in marking history.

For me, creating ritual, celebrating 'getting better' at life, and telling our life stories has grown to become one of the most essential acts we can contribute to the future. Our individual chapters of life may not be preserved in the same pristine chambers as major historical documents, but they are equally as essential to the future, because once our individual stories die out with no evidence left behind --- that is when we are forgotten. And that is when those who come after us miss the gift of our place in time.

I sometimes wonder if many of us believe that anything we celebrate must be done so with, and through, tradition. Actually, we are completely free to create any ritual or celebration that brings meaning to us. We are free to create any celebration that empowers us to journey through life's experiences ... that speaks to our hearts not through a religion or a custom or through the expectation of our friends and families.

Too many times I have had people tell me that they wish they had celebrated a particular life achievement in a meaningful way, but that they thought their friends or family might think it was silly or ridiculous to do so (translate that as 'it isn't how WE do things'). What a shame to be governed so acutely by the limited courage of others.

More often than not when people learn I am a Celebrant, I am taken aside and quietly asked if I might help them create a ceremony for what they perceive to be 'unusual' reasons ... a ceremony to celebrate their remission from a life-threatening illness, an end-of-life ceremony for their elderly or dying pet, a ceremony to honour a finished relationship or a divorce, a ceremony to help them manifest one of their hopes in life, a ceremony to officially acknowledge their growing children (where a baptism or baby naming did not meet their needs), a ceremony to welcome their adopted children to their family, a ceremony to mark their teenage child's rite of passage, a ceremony to mark successful freedom from an addiction ...

Celebration is simply the intention to honour our life experiences. It is an act of acknowledging our commitment to another person.

It is permission to grieve the illness or the death of a loved one.

It is honouring the time when we pass through a particularly challenging or arduous life experience, and come out the other side better, wiser.

Celebration is simply recognising the wonderful rite of passage when a young person moves into puberty or acknowledging our gratitude for the birth of a child.

It is creating a safe platform for acknowledging the need for forgiveness in a relationship that is or was.

It is the release of harboured resentment or anger, fear or low confidence that is no longer wanted.

Celebration is welcoming a new era in life, a new decade of wisdom. It is honouring how a particular life experience served us, but is no longer needed, so it must be released.

Celebration is simply giving 'wings' to our life stories, so they can serve us when necessary, and so we can let them go, when no longer needed.

Ceremony is the catalyst to unite people, to bring people together for a common celebration, a celebration that most often inspires the right change at the right time. Ceremony is that simple structure, that beautiful 'order' that brings a sense of fulfilment, a taste of knowing that an important passage has been reached and must be honoured before you move on in life.

There are no 'wrong ways' to create Celebration and Ceremony. But there is a 'right way' - and that is what is dictated by your heart and your intuition. Your mind is welcome to come along for the celebration, but it is your heart that is the guest of honour.

However you refer to it - ritual, commemoration, rite, formality, dedication, communion, initiation, blessing, consecration ... it is my hope that you give yourself permission to celebrate the complexities and the beautiful outcomes of life's experiences.








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Celebrating Arrivals!


One gets only a day or two in an entire lifetime
as incredible as the day we first saw your face. 
Nancy McGuire Roche

*************************



I well remember how much I loved this quote. It was in June 2006 and my husband and I were making our final plans to fly to China to meet our new daughter who was waiting in an Orphanage in Hunan - just 10 1/2 months old. In the form of a website, I kept an online journal for her, and about our travels in China.

Today, nearly 10 years later, it seems surreal reflecting back on that journal, reading our sentiments as we waited to become parents, reliving that incredibly wonderful moment we met her for the first time. There really aren't the words to describe that. We watched in amazement over the next week with her as she transformed from a rather weak, very undernourished, nearly immobile 10 month old baby, into a beautiful, robust blossom of a baby - strong, happy, eager, thoroughly excited about this new world that had opened up to her. The change in her in just one week was phenomenal - proof about how just a little bit of nurturing and nourishment can heal even the most dire of situations.

At the time, I felt instantly as protective of her as I felt proud that we were so blessed to have this child as our daughter. So honoured to be living the miracle of becoming her parents. I was balancing the knowledge that we needed to bond with her, and how much she needed to attach to us - the first consistent adults in her life. And even though I knew that was the very best thing to do at the time ...  my deepest desire was to take her out to Pride Rock, just as Rafiki did after the birth of lion cub Simba (The Lion King), and raise her to the world and shout "Look! This incredibly beautiful child and this amazing soul is our daughter and she is here as a precious gift to all of us, adding deeper meaning to our existence and our world!"

But I didn't. We were sensible because we wanted to follow the advice of experts and spend at least the first six months just 'being a family' while we all developed that bond that we all had missed during those first, critical 10 months of her life. Celebrating our daughter's arrival would have to wait for a while.

So, why am I writing about such personal insight into our family?

Because celebration is at the heart of what I do. Celebration is what I bring to this world. Celebration is what I hold the greatest passion for and it is the ritual that is often missing from our culture, especially when a child comes into the world. Baby Naming. Adoption Welcomes. Rites of Passage - there are so many reasons, and so many ways to celebrate the presence of children in our lives.

We devoted those first six months quietly as a family, bonding and attaching with our daughter, and providing her with the space and the safety to bond and attach with us. And then it was drawing closer to the time when we felt ready to introduce her to our world.

So, nearly a year after our daughter came home, we designed and organised a Naming Ceremony for her, and invited everyone who would cross paths with her in some way. I wanted other people in our daughter's life to experience their own worlds becoming more beautiful because she was now in their lives as well.

We asked our friend, Pauline, who is an Interfaith Minister, to preside over the 'blessing' and the formal 'naming' of our daughter. She is named 'Annaliesa Grace Xiaohong'and her name is deeply meainingful. We wanted her to have a family name, so 'Annaliesa' is a blend of my grandmother's name and her sister's name - two of the women I most admired and loved in life. 'Xiaohong' is her Chinese name.


We designed the ceremony around one of my favourite books called 'The Twelve Gifts of Birth' by Charlene Costanzo. (I highly recommend the book; in fact I give this as a gift to a baby/young child at every opportunity - birthdays, naming ceremonies, baptisms, adoption welcomes ... )

It tells the long ago story, in faraway kingdoms, when wise women travelled swiftly to the castle whenever a new prince or princess was born. Each wise woman (faerie godmother) presented a noble gift to the baby. The wise women understood that the 'twelve royal gifts of birth' belong to every child, born anywhere, at anytime. Unfortunately, the custom of the land prohibited the women from proclaiming the gifts to all children. But the wise women gathered one day and made the prophecy that some day all children of the world will learn the truth about their noble inheritance and when that happened, a miracle would unfold on the kingdom of earth.

We wanted our daughter to know the secrets of the wise women, and the story continues to say that when a child is born, as they take their first breath, a great celebration is held in the heavens and twelve magnificent gifts are granted to them. Those gifts include:


The gifts of ...
Strength ... Beauty ... Courage ...
Compassion ... Hope ... Joy ... Talent ... 
Imagination ... Reverence ... Wisdom ... Love ... Faith 

(In fact, I made colourful boards with each of these words being displayed all across the top of her bedroom walls. Even at age 10, she loves those words decorating her room. We have had so many lovely chats about what those words mean to her and to us as a family.)

Using this book as the background for our ceremony, we made promises to our daughter to love her without smothering her independence. To shelter her without stifling her spirit. To give to her generously without expectation. To encourage her to explore this world, hand over hand, pushing limits far beyond the security of her room, her home, her garden. We promised that we would inspire her to jump feet first into life as though it were a huge puddle; we knew that she would delight in the joys and the messes of the splash!

We know that there will be people in her life who may tell her “Be Cautious, Don’t Trust, Stay Safe” … those who might make her doubt the strength she feels in her own legs. There are those who may try to silence her, who might stand in the way when she expresses her spirit. There are those who may challenge her values because of their own limitations, and perhaps try to impose a sense of wrong onto her.


But this 'theme' to her 'Welcome and Naming Ceremony' encourages her to remember her twelve gifts of birth, especially her gift of courage and the sense of wonder that she will hold in her heart.

Participating in such a meaningful 'Welcome and Naming Ceremony' symbolised our hope that she would never feel that she has to compromise herself. That the world is an awe-inspiring place if she allows it to be so. And that it is our deepest hope, as her parents, that she will always fly with the freedom of joy and adventure. Most important, we wanted the day to symbolise that she is always surrounded by love - in that moment, in this moment, in every moment during the rest of her life.

The celebration continued by honouring grandparents, acknowledging the role of Godparents, marking the significance of our daughter's full name (telling the stories behind our choices), and presenting our daughter with the gift of some 'life gifts' in the form of little charms in a silver box:

A tiny silver key - the gift of Empowerment
A tiny silver flower - the gift of Inspiration
A little clover - the gift of Luck
A little silver angel - the gift of Protection
A tiny silver heart - the gift of Love and Friendship

We continued the ceremony with a blessing for my husband and myself, as her parents, and an expression of our hopes for her and her future.

And we concluded with a blessing for my daughter's birth parents, declaring our immense gratitude to them for choosing to give our daughter life so that she could be united with her forever family.

We scattered poems, music, readings and a few stories throughout the ceremony, but this is the heart of how we chose to honour our daughter, and to raise her to our world with pride and deep gratitude.

This is just one way that a child can be welcomed into a family - this was our chosen way. I invite you to contact me if you are considering something similar, or even if you aren't sure what you'd like to do, but you know that you somehow want to acknowledge your child's presence in your family. It would be an absolute honour to chat with you about that - a conversation that is completely complimentary!

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Inspiration for a Vibrant New Beginning


As I write this, the new year 2016 is already purring away much like a very curious kitten eager to delve into life wondering behind which corner does the next surprise in life lurk, waiting to be found. 

I do love this time of year when our journey in life ventures onto a new path as the calendar year clicks onto a blank canvas, and a new chapter begins in our story of life. 

I am always inspired when New Year's Eve comes around, not because of the celebrations that fill the streets but rather because I enjoy a quiet welcome to the new year, with my family, anticipating what may await us in the days, weeks, months ahead.

This year, my husband, my daughter and I have made a 2016 paper bunting where we will each write what we are thankful for in our lives, what we hold with gratitude in our hearts, and what we personally wish to focus on for ourselves, helping to dictate how our year will unfold for us, individually and as a family.  But mostly, this bunting is meant as a reminder of the abundant ways we are blessed to feel thankful. In the week ahead, we will write our special sentiments and the bunting, when finished, will be draped on the wall overlooking our table, so we can reflect on what is meaningful to each other every time we sit as a family.

Since 1990, I have been creating an annual Vision Board, generally in January as that always feels like such a fresh, new place to begin. (I've called these many names over the years, such as Treasure Map, Guiding Board, Vision Map and so on.) It has been the most cathartic  process for me as each new year has taken it's turn with the promise of another 12 months.
Some of my annual Vision Boards have been collections of images and words on posters of various sizes stretching from small A6 (4" x 6") cards to giant posters, always with a particular focus on that one, two or three things that are calling to me that need my attention.


But I have been creative over the years, and my Vision Boards haven't always been poster collages. I've created several 'exploding boxes', filled with all of my hopes and dreams for the coming year.

Others have been expanding cards, with my intentions unfolding in concertina style. One year I made a woven pattern, some thin lengths of colourfully patterned paper representing something that I was grateful for, with other strips representing the areas I wanted to focus on in the coming year - it was fun to weave them together and see how they blended perfectly.

I have created banners, bunting, 3D hanging paper stars and hearts, a collaged bracelet, a life wand, small journaling books, artistic pages --- there are so many ways I have put my anticipated dreams to life, visually. Perhaps one of these days I will write more detail about the process here. 

For now in this year of 2016, I want to have a particular word or phrase to focus on. I am still, as I write this, 'listening' to what that will be. So many words have rushed into my head and heart and it has been quite the arduous task to find that 'one word' that is most significant for me this year. But I am getting closer. 

In the past I have had so many wishes on my Vision Boards and I have, over time, learned that 'less really is more' when it comes to focussing on how we want to nurture and inspire our lives. This in itself is a healthy challenge for the Piscean Idealist that I am; clutter and surrounding myself with 'stuff', both literally and figuratively, comes all to easy to me so this year I am simply focussing on a 'root' word. Perhaps my word will be something related to the idea of 'releasing' what I no longer need (on many levels in life) in order to make room to create what is waiting to join me in my life. Yes, 'releasing' is feeling like it has good potential this year.


I am incredibly blessed in my life, so it feels rather awkward to admit that I am also feeling a bit like I am 'nearly drowning' in all of the talents, skills, passions, and blessings that have graced my path over the decades. It is a very nice 'problem' to have, to feel as though I have so much to offer yet still unclear as to how it can all come together to be spent wisely. And while my life certainly hasn't been without it's dire challenges and life-changing experiences, there has been abundant reason for me to live thankfully and I know that focussing on gratitude means welcoming peace.

So that is why concentrating on one primary behaviour that will influence all aspects of my life is so important to me now. One Little Word to keep me focussed so that I can continue to fully serve others with my work and the talents I have been blessed to possess, rather than feeling overwhelmed and holding back more of what I am meant to share.

When I sit in my own quietness every 31st December, I have a recurring vision of how the stillness of the earth, which seems to be asleep at this time, is actually quite joyfully and eventfully busy with activity beneath the obvious surface of earth --- the activity of seeds germinating, bugs nesting, soil rejuvenating --- all in preparation for their 'rebirth' and explosion up through the earth in just a few months time.

In many parts of the Northern Hemisphere, we can be forgiven for looking at the surface of the ground and assuming all of nature has died. Most trees are without their glorious coat of many coloured leaves. The hedges are standing rigid in obedient rows of dried wood, motionless in the wind. The gorgeous, plentiful flowers that filled the countryside just a few months ago are now nowhere to be seen. The birds that defy migration linger, scouring the earth for the rare morsel of nourishment on the cold winter ground.

All seems quiet. There is a great sense of emptiness about. The 'life' seems to have dimmed in nature.

But for me, this onset of a new year is a most revered and, for many, a most spiritual season and it is a time when we must hold fast to our belief and our trust that what appears to be the 'sleepiness' of winter is, in fact, a necessary illusion ... a sort of magic trick performed flawlessly by nature, masking the 'birth' that is yet to come, of nature, of people, of animals. And when nature wakes up, she will be hungry and eager to get on with the miracle of 'rebirth', just as she has done every Spring since the beginning of time.

And that is much how it is with our own life. It ebbs and flows. There are times of vibrancy and lots of action - times when all just seems to
'fit and flow'. And there are times of dormancy and inward reflection - times when we question our intentions, impatient for the answers that have not yet revealed themselves.

So, these early days of 2016 mark a new beginning. It's a whole calendar year of celebrations ahead, some that we pass through every year such as birthdays, anniversaries and certain holidays. And there are celebrations that are so special , so unique that they happen perhaps only once --- and they are meant to be meticulously planned, thoughtfully shared and gratefully experienced with joy and love and often even with hope.

And this is why I cherish my vocation as a Celebrant - because Life's milestones need to be commemorated in special ways, not limited to standard, impersonal restrictions or worse, lost in the oversight that a busy world imposes. Life's milestones need to marked as memorable, amazing, distinctive, meaningful. (Visit me at ellenbowerceremonies.com)

So, bring something fresh and purposeful into your life this year.

What will capture your focus? What is calling for your attention? What is ready to come into your life with such eagerness that only your permission prevents its entry?

I wish you a thoroughly vibrant, happy and meaningful onset to this brand new year, this blank canvas ahead in 2016. May unexpected miracles fill your every day.


With gratitude,


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