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Embracing Reset

Transitions can be hard. I have felt my attachments ripping me apart when change occurs. I love strongly. When that love has changed, no matter the circumstance, it has felt devastating.

Expanding into the love I’ve felt for what I’m losing and anticipation of what I’m gaining has helped turn my grief into an ally. That feeling of being “ripped apart” is a true one – I was indeed being torn apart inside my own chrysalis and are being put back together as an entirely different entity. I saw that there are ways to face this process with courage and clear eyes instead of fear. This is the power Rites of Passage has provided in my life. It set up containers through which I could: shed tears for what is being broken apart; transform grief into a foundation to appreciate what I loved; invite community into my private journey and remember that I am not alone.

This community aspect of Rites of Passage has been very important to me over the years. When I was struggling with reproductive fertility issues, finding other couples who had faced the same struggles was vitally important to my sanity and my healing. I would have loved a  community ritual that would have allowed me to release the previous version of how I imagined I would have children. I would have grieved for the story I’ve carried since I was a child of how I would conceive life, and I would have invited a new story of how our family would be created. I managed to piece together a process like this on my own, but having more discrete community ritual would have given some of the more anxiety-filled moments more flow.

And flow, in some ways, is one of my favorite things Rites of Passage creates. There’s a finite beginning, middle, and end to such a container that is witnessed by loved ones and affirmed by the divine. You know what I mean by flow? I experience it as a rhythm in opportunities, thoughts, relationships, and actions that seem to seep out of everything I touch when it’s grooving right. I’ve felt that this type of flow requires space so it can breathe and show up fully. If I’m holding on to a previous phase, or resisting the entrance of a new era, flow gets constricted and things don’t seem to work. Rites of Passage have helped me to create the space for flow. However, I’ve learned to be careful what I ask for because sometimes rituals tend to be larger than expected!

When Galen (my husband) and I were planning our wedding, we went all out. We sat down and listed everything we wanted: something that my 90-year-old grandmother would recognize as a “real wedding”; something with our spiritual community that reflected the many paths we practice, from Buddhism to Christianity to Yoga to The Red Road; an “everyone’s invited” super chill backyard BBQ style party with all of our friends; a classy event with an open bar and fancy decorations; a potluck; a catered affair; something small; something large.

Needless to say, this was NOT one wedding we were planning. After many tense discussions and lots of tears, we realized that nothing on this list was negotiable. Everything on it had a purpose, had a place in the ritual that would take us from two single people into one unified couple. So what should we do?

We decided to hold three ceremonies and three receptions within the space of a week, from May 5th – May 12th. May 5th, 2012 was a potluck wedding at a sustainable living center in the heart of the city. We attempted to be zero waste, and the whole affair cost around $1,000. We invited everyone we loved, without a worry that there wouldn’t be enough food or space – there was more than enough love, and that created space for everyone.

May 10th, 2012 was a Sweat Lodge ceremony with our teacher with the wedding party and his mother. There were only about 12 people in attendance, and our teacher walked us through the spiritual dimension of union. We were able to sit in silence, sing prayers, sweat the old era into vapor and breathe in our new lives together. We emerged from the metaphorical womb together as a new being, witnessed by our closest friends and loved ones.

May 12th, 2012 was a more traditional wedding in a bayside park overlooking boats, the morning sun, and glimmering water. Our extended families were present, I dressed in white (my nana was satisfied), and we had flower girls and a ring bearer. At the reception, we did indeed have an open bar (my family still talks about it), I tossed the bouquet, and my dad did a “father/daughter” dance with me to Sergio Mendes.

To complete this whirlwind of a process, Galen and I spent two weeks in Belize right afterward. We swam in the beaches of La Isla Bonita, we braved the howler monkeys in the jungle, and we heard stories of escaped Africans reaching the shores of South America without being enslaved by the Garifuna people in Hopkins.

Thus far, this wedding has been the most important Rite of Passage in my life. It taught me that if I tune into my inner voice and ask for guidance, what I receive might be more difficult or consuming than I anticipated. It taught me that challenging rituals that require me to get out of my comfort zone give me more teachings and wisdom than the ones that keep me comfortable. It taught me that when I feel like quitting, I can pull strength from the reservoir of love laying the groundwork for the ritual.

I have no doubt that the time, presence and care Galen and I put into our wedding process were responsible for easing us through our more difficult times. That’s another boon of Rites of Passage – it creates a beautiful foundation for new journeys, and that beauty can be referenced time and time again when it’s most needed. It’s a living memory of our best selves, whispering in our ear when we enter life’s valleys.

These concepts of flow, courage-provoking challenges, and ongoing beauty apply both personally and in larger contexts. In my professional life, I’ve been an advocate for economic development in climate solutions, healthy food systems, and building fertile soil.

After a particularly nasty breakdown in the Autumn of 2014, I was forced to re-group. I looked at the way I was allowing the stories of others to become my story without question or hesitation. I looked at how I was abdicating my voice and my power. I saw how my constant feeling of depletion was, in large part, a result of my scarcity mentality and fear of being ego-challenged if I tried something more difficult than what I knew I could accomplish.

That breakdown was a forced re-set, a Rites of Passage ritual I did not choose but was absolutely necessary for my health and well-being. Had I listened to the signs beforehand, I might have been able to structure a ritual more conducive to maintaining relationships and gently transitioning outdated ways of being. Instead, I burned many bridges and lost almost everything, because I’d backed myself into a corner.

That lowest time in my life led to my most fulfilling, because I fully embraced the unexpected re-set. I laid low for months, going into a time of deep and painful reflection. I did not seek or accept opportunities that would have distracted me from confronting my leadership weaknesses. I went through counseling with my husband. I asked questions about my professional path that I hadn’t considered since I was in college.

Now, I have a successful business doing work I love with people I respect. I have created time for reflective practice, exercise, and self-care. I get to watch TV without worrying about my never-ending task list. I wake my husband up in the morning with songs, incense, and a loving hug. This is what’s possible by embracing Rites of Passage rituals when transitions are upon us. And it’s still possible even if we ignore the gentle signs and have to accept the louder ones. 🙂

I reflect on our current political and economic divisions, especially the election of 2016, and I get the same feeling in my gut as I had during my breakdown in 2014. The signs of our lack of connection to and respect for one another were there. Our struggle with engaging complexity to solve centuries-old cultural battles were there. Mainstream acceptance of hate-speech without the proper processes for transforming that pain into evolution was there.

I can feel the breakdown of old paradigms when I engage anyone, anywhere, in a conversation about politics. We didn’t listen to the initial warning signs, and now our long-standing divides have a mainstream audience, requiring us to address them. I have hope that we can create spaces to transform legacy pain into connection. It would require those of us who understand Rites of Passage to see these rituals as a part of our collective work. We can weave them into our everyday exchanges, our work life, our family life. We can hold this larger transition with grace and a prayer. Many, many organizations and advocates have been doing this for decades, and I feel honored to be taking steps to join them.

My personal Rites of Passage journeys have given me ways to keep an eye out for transitions, so I can meet them with courage when they occur. The dream of my heart is that those who have walked similar paths can also do so, for our larger society, for our families, and for ourselves.

About the Author: Nikki Silvestri

Over the last ten years, Nikki has been a thought leader in creating social equity for underrepresented populations in food systems, social services, public health, climate solutions, and economic development. She had the honor of being named one of The Root’s 100 Most Influential African Americans in 2014.

Nikki has driven change both locally and nationally. During her time as Executive Director at Green for All, Nikki led initiatives that placed vulnerable communities at the center of the climate fight. As the former Executive Director of People’s Grocery in Oakland, Nikki increased the organization’s profile as a national thought leader on food systems development for vulnerable communities. Nikki holds a master’s degree in African American Studies from UCLA, and is originally from Los Angeles. She currently lives in Oakland, with her husband. Check out Nikki and her co collaborators Amy Hartzler & Hosan Lee's latest writing piece, which can be found in our newest summer edition of Confluence Journal under the title: Resist.Insist.Love

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