by Penny Alper Boyd


You are preoccupied with a dilemma, a decision or a crossroad. It follows you everywhere through the days and makes nighttime long, restless and sweaty.

One day, you casually glance at a book lying before you and open it to a random page. Your eyes go straight to a sentence that speaks to you — yes, you — so directly that you furrow your brow, peek over your shoulder and believe at that very moment you have experienced  predestined serendipity.

That is the experience of reading psychiatrist Abigail Brenner‘s book, “Women’s Rites of Passage: How to Embrace Change and Celebrate Life.”

Turn to any one of its 236 pages, and you’ll find an elucidating, provocative discussion of and strategies for embracing both the inevitable and self-initiated turning points in our lives.

During her many years as a psychiatrist, Brenner was intrigued with why some people were able to cope with changes in their lives while others fell apart. She finds the answers in the conscious marking of those changes with rites and rituals. Deliberate acknowledgment, acceptance and celebration of transitions help reveal the paths our lives have taken and the intertwining themes.

Rites and rituals also offer clarity to direct where we are headed. These symbolic acts can help provide access to a life of greater understanding, meaning and fulfillment. “Every rite of passage is an act of becoming, an act of taking responsibility for the self we are choosing to become,” writes Brenner, who is also a Reiki Master and an ordained interfaith minister.

Weaving together the best scholarly work in the many areas of psychology, sociology, history and other disciplines, along with personal stories from her own research, Brenner describes the evolution of rites of passage, their prominence and neglect through the ages, and the pivotal role they play in the lives of contemporary women who take responsibility for the direction and meaningfulness of their own lives.

The stories of 50 women who participated in Brenner’s study reflect the life cycles and developmental milestones in all our lives. The women are deeply mindful and deeply individual, and they embrace the reader with their candor, vulnerability and courage. The range is wide: tiny steps for some, universe-baiting for others. But they all bring the reader into a familiar consciousness and we sigh (and smile) at this opportunity for inclusiveness and community.

The narrative is infused with Brenner’s keen analytic and therapeutic insight and experience. She shows a remarkable sensitivity in her writing and her hands-on, practical strategies for bringing conscious ritual into our lives.

In an increasingly global world, the need for self-knowledge and direction is epitomized in one of Brenner’s concluding statements: “Rites of passage help us awaken an essential wisdom within us, that when heeded, allows us to really live each moment of our lives.”

Penny Alper Boyd is an industrial psychologist with previous corporate and consulting practices. She lives in New York and is a parent of two teenagers.

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  • Penny Alper Boyd October 9, 2007 at 9:48 am

    Hi Herman. I see that Abigail Brenner herself has posted a wonderfully cogent response to your comment. Thank you so much Abigail!
    My perspective, Herman, is, of course, limited to the changes in my own life, whether they were inevitable, self-imposed or dropped like an undetected meteor. Like many of us, I often kept them neatly on the surface of consciousness (I knew they were happening, but wouldn’t acknowledge their deeper impact), or I prided myself on my ability to weather life’s changes with guts, stoicism, maybe even machismo. Then, one day, you find yourself flattened under their unacknowledged weight, pinned to the ground, wondering, how did I get here?
    Abigail Brenner’s view is that full frontal acknowledgement, acceptance and marking of these changes, whatever the source, are crucial to self understanding and direction. I can’t agree more. And, I agree also, that once you take this aerial view and see these signposts marking the predictable and unpredictable changes on the road of your life, you start to judge yourself less, and love yourself more. The reflection you see each morning as you brush your teeth becomes increasingly more familiar, supportive and mindful of where you’re going as you start the day.
    And thank you Ann B. for taking the time to write your generous comment. It brightened my day.

    Reply
  • Abigail Brenner,M.D. October 8, 2007 at 2:51 pm

    Hi Herman. Life is all about change and anything that changes us qualifies as a transition, from my perspective. Life cycle transitions and milestones are expected events and are usually welcomed. The ‘storms’ of our lives are often unanticipated, out of our control, and difficult to endure.
    Nevertheless,they are transitions, and by viewing them as such we have both the opportunity and the challenge to make a bad situation better, and to grow from the experience.

    Reply
  • Ann B. October 4, 2007 at 2:43 am

    The book must be wonderful if the review can be this transcendent. I embrace and celebrate both Ms. Brenner and Ms. Boyd.

    Reply
  • herman Najoli October 3, 2007 at 6:52 am

    Hi Penny. I’ve been thinking about this very topic. In my blog today my post was about “Navigating the Stormy Seasons of Life”. A couple of months ago, I posted about Transitions and the Skill of Moving On. I think that transitions can be distinguished from storms. Not all transitions are stormy but all storms are transitions. What’s your thinking on this?

    Reply