Most people have been to a wedding at some point in their lives. From the traditional Western white dress affair to the colourful extravaganzas of South Asia, the wedding is the epitome of a contemporary rite of passage.
And like any rite of passage, an ‘Honouring’ is an integral part of weddings. In Western culture, this is undertaken during the traditional after-meal speeches from the bridal party. We shed tears at the tender words of the bride’s father and we laugh at the lighthearted humiliation during the best man’s speech. Yet, these mainstream acts of honouring, although fun and warming, are a far cry from what can be a profound and powerful art.
Still alive in many indigenous cultures today an honouring (or acknowledgement) ceremony is a crucial element of any rite of passage journey. This powerful practice is a fundamental recognition of our innermost selves, looking beyond the mask and acknowledging the innate spirit within.
While researching this topic, I reached out to Dr Arne Rubinstein of the Rites of Passage Institute for a deeper insight. Dr Arne explains, “The goal of honouring is to highlight the unique gifts, strengths, talents and spirit of the participants undertaking the rite of passage. If done well, the participants receive a sense of self-worth from the validation, feeling acknowledged and empowered by their community.”.
A trained medical doctor, Dr Arne left his career behind to focus on his passion for rites of passage. A globally-renowned expert, Arne has led thousands of young people through rites of passage journeys and has experienced first-hand the impact of an honouring ceremony. “The funny thing is that so often people either don’t recognise or don’t value their own gifts. The honouring can be very empowering, boosting the confidence of the participants and supporting them to persist in the fulfilment of their visions (for their future)”.
A Practice for the Everyday
An honouring is not only part of a rite of passage, it can also be a powerful practice in its own right. I have participated in numerous circles and situations which have included an honouring ceremony. Arne offered some great examples of where honouring can be incorporated into your life “honouring can be used at the end of a workshop, on someone’s birthday, for kids on Christmas Day, at the end of a season for a sporting team or just with a friend that you love”
Done well the honouring can leave all participants feeling deeply nourished and connected. In my experience, it’s a fundamental necessity to treat any honouring as a sacred practice. Everyone involved should feel a sense of safety, both within their physical space and with others present.
I asked Arne for some guidance on how to practice honouring with our family and friends:-
“First, find a chair or a couch and decorate it to look really special and super comfortable.
Next, let everyone know that you will be practising an Honouring process, where we honour what we see in each other.
One at a time, starting with the youngest and moving in order of age up to the oldest, everyone will have a turn sitting in the chair. And whilst in the chair, you are not allowed to say a word or do anything; you just have to sit there and listen.
When each person sits in the chair, the rest of the group have an opportunity to tell you what gifts they see that you have, what are the things they love most about you and are most proud of in you.”
Refining the Art of Honouring
Honouring well is genuinely an art and you may find that your ability to see beyond the mask deepens with practice. Here are a few practical tips to help make the practice a unique and fulfilling experience:
Be respectful: Although the practice is not meant to be deadly serious, the person being honoured can often feel vulnerable, so respect this by holding the space with respect, for example by avoiding jokes and small talk.
Share 2 or 3 things you see in this person: Name them one at a time and give an example, “Mary you are kind, you always think of others and share whatever you have, and I am very proud of you for that”.
Offer only what you see in the present moment: Don’t tell the person who you think they will be in the future or what they might do. Also, try not to refer to the way that person was or has acted in the past.
Focus on the person being honoured: It is not a time to talk about yourself or start bantering or joking with other people in the group. When you are doing the honouring focus on the person sitting on the chair.
Be present throughout the process: When someone else is doing the honouring, try to be fully present as you listen, look at the person being honoured and feel what is being said about them.
Only take what resonates: If you are the one being honoured, not everything shared might resonate with you, this is ok and it’s your call to take what serves you, leave everything else behind.
Take your time: Give short periods of silence for the recipient to receive what’s been shared.
Letting Our Spirits Shine
Through the recognition of spirit, the honouring process helps people to feel heard and acknowledged for who they are. Arne explains, “The theory we work with is that people are at their best when we can find a way to allow their gifts and talents to come out; when we work to their strengths; when their spirits can shine; when we help them find what they are passionate about and what is most important to them.”
Give it a go and let us know how you get on!
Dr Arne Rubinstein and the Rites of Passage Institute team deliver transformative Rites of Passage camps, leadership training and school programs. They have operated in more than 15 countries and have touched over 200,000 people.
In addition to their in-person programs, the Rites of Passage Institute offers several e-courses. Arne Rubenstein is the author of The Making of Men, a practical handbook for parents and teachers of boys.
Find out more ritesofpassageinstitute.org