By Valerie Brown, JD, MA, PCC
Recently, I was part of a webinar in a year-long online learning course on transformational leadership. We opened the session with a ritual practice For a moment, I was stunned. In my rushed and productive life, moving breathlessly from thing to thing of a never-ending list, I had forgotten, lost track of myself and the profound power of ritual in my life and leadership.
We began the webinar with a simple yet nearly forgotten ritual: Welcoming each other and recognizing who is present. This sounds so simple, and yet in a virtual world, this act of connecting human to human, feels exotic and essential.
Rightfully so, many of us are reluctant to engage in even the simplest ritual, perhaps partly out of a sensitivity to cultural appropriation. Our deep honor and respect for traditional Peoples’ may keep us from learning from their wise ways. And so, here again, the power and promise of ritual is lost on us. When this arises, this might be a time to step into a leadership moment by acknowledging the tension and expressing cultural humility.
Angeles Arrien, the late Basque cultural anthropologist, urged us as so-called modern people, to learn from these traditional cultures. Her ground-breaking work in the study of cultures around the globe offers tremendous insight into the wisdom of ritual for leaders today.
Arrien said that rituals function as a bridge between the ‘inner world’ of our aspirations, values, beliefs, intuition and the ‘outer world’ or action, performance, results, and outcomes. As leaders we are continuously negotiating this boundary between our inner lives as leader and outer lives of actions. To ritualize an act is to hold it with sacred intention. Our intentions become visible. Ceremony and ritual help leaders get grounded, rediscover intention, and restore balance in our work and in life.
I suspect that most of us engage in ritual with little conscious awareness and intention. For example, how we prepare ourselves to start the day, how we prepare to sleep, how we prepare for an important exam or presentation, can be ritualized.
Consider becoming intentional about what is truly meaningful to you by creating a ritual to recognize, honor, and sustain it.
Create a Ritual Practice
- Consider an aspect of your life that you want to enhance. This could be an intention you have to lose weight or to be fully present. You choose.
- Reflect on why this intention is important to you.
- Consider a simple ritual that would support you in this intention.
- Practice this ritual, recalling your intention.
“All societies have rituals to acknowledge the major life transitions of birth, initiation, marriage, and death. Ritual is the conscious act of recognizing a life change, and doing something to honor and support the change through the presence of such elements as witnesses, gift-giving, ceremony, and sacred intention. In this way human beings support the changes they are experiencing and create a way ‘to fit things together.’ “
— The Four-Fold Way: Walking the Paths of the Warrior, Teacher, Healer, and Visionary