Rites of Passage: Strengthening our Communities

I’m recently back from a 10-day course: Rites of Passage: Strengthening our Communities held at the Asha Centre, Forest of Dean.

I should have been in Nepal and Tibet. I was going to go on retreat and enjoy time with the Nepalese people. But with no longer being able to visit Tibet, I decided to lose the flight money and wait till another time.

I’d walked past the Asha Centre, was interested in their courses and underlying philosophy, so it was wonderful to get on this course. On our first full day we walked around the grounds and learnt more about the 4 pillars on which Asha is built.

  • Learning through head, heart and hands
  • Harnessing the power of nature to learn and heal
  • Nurturing creativity and innovation through the arts
  • Fostering a truly human global community

This course brought 32 people together from Europe – Britain, Croatia, Romania, Latvia, Spain, Greece, North Macedonia. 4 were due to come from Italy but due to the virus were unable to come, lucky for me I was able to get a last-minute place.  

I’m used to formal training with upfront sessions in front of PowerPoint slides and small discussions reporting back to the main group. This was more theatrical based with lots of movement, activity, games. We worked in a beautiful light room with as much activity outside as possible.

The grounds are beautiful, lots of quotes, spaces to sit and be and a Labyrinth.

I’m used to a lot of alone time, as a writer much of my work is done alone. On this course I was the eldest of the 32, and only 4 of us were over 35 so it was a lovely but exhausting experience spending time with them all.

Over the coming days we learned more about Rites of Passage and ritual.

Some of this was done via ‘World Café’ discussion, other times through developing rituals in small groups and sharing with others. 

Regularly we did activity to raise our energy levels and connect – from dance and massage to looking into each others’ eyes, and really connecting. A powerful experience was for the whole group to sing (Chanting, African song) with one person in the middle really feeling the love and being witnessed. Truly powerful.

Ritual

“Through ritual, people’s humanity is preserved’ Confucius

There are standard rituals such as weddings and funerals, and these bring people together. Ritual will often contain elements of fire, water, earth, air, nature and space and can involve special clothing.  In our different groups we interpreted it differently and had some wonderful experiences. Far better to learn through doing, rather than to just be talked to.

One evening we went to a pub to meet a group of Pagans. We learned that it is nature worship, inspired by mythology and about the 8 different festivals:

  1. Yule;
  2. Brigid, Imbolc, Candlemas;
  3. Eostar, Spring Equinox;
  4. Beltane, or May Day;
  5. Litha, Summer Solstice, or Midsummer;
  6. Lughnasad, or Lammas;
  7. Mabon, Harvest home;
  8. Samhain, All Hallow’s Eve.

We had regularly small rituals throughout our days.  Picking up the charge in the room to share energy (through shaking our fingers) and passing it on. We also gave blessings for the meal and the chefs and had opening and closing rituals first thing, before and after lunch and at the end of each day.

The community also started each day with sharing and a reading.

The work was intense, and throughout the course at times people were ill and needed time to recover. I could have gone on a day trip to Glastonbury but decided on a day to myself. This was perfect, enabled me to recharge and to come back fully energised for my work with the group.

Strengthening Communities

Our work was focused on this. We listed our communities – from interest groups, to family. We considered how we could strengthen them through ritual. There were elements to consider:

  1. Preparation/rehearsal
  2. Purpose/objective
  3. Symbolic actions
  4. Opening and closing
  5. Elements/invocation
  6. Symbolic ingredients/objects
  7. Space

We worked in small groups on what these meant to us. The next day we worked in small groups on a ritual. I worked with Kirsten as we could see how our shared knowledge and experience could be used. We aren’t ready to share this yet. But we will do.

The course ended with a lovely ritual; sat in our circle, we all had a leaf shaped piece of card. We wrote something on the card, walked into the centre, tied it on a tree (made up of a couple of dead branches) and were then blessed by Ellie.

We also picked up a Rune that Sven and others had brought back from Glastonbury. A stone was passed around and we could all speak about the course.

There was a great deal of honesty.

We had built a community.

It will now change, but I will stay connected to the wonderful people I met.

Reflections

  • I hadn’t realised that so much of the course would be based on theatre techniques. It’s opened me up to new ways of learning, and more ways of sharing with others.
  • I’ve loved working with so many young people – yes, it was exhausting, but I have loved their energy.  So good to meet people from different countries too.
  • Taking a day to myself was perfect and has helped me to come back refreshed and recharged. I would not have got this from a day in Glastonbury.
  • Meeting up with Kirsten and talking through an area of shared interest was wonderful – I am getting clearer on my focus for a new area of work.

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