by Jennifer Asdorian, licensed DEI® Trainer
Earlier this year, a dear friend of mine became engaged. She and her fiancé wanted a do-it-yourself wedding in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. Their plan was to have guests backpack to the high camp and also give everyone invited a job to do. They asked me to be one of two officiants, and I took the opportunity to create a DEI inspired wedding ceremony.
I had just completed a week-long empathy course where we welcomed our emotions and created beautiful ritual space. With this model of good ritual fresh in my mind, I wrote the ceremony outline. In planning, I also considered the three stages of tribal initiations as explained by Michael Meade: being separated from known world, having an ordeal, and being recognized and welcomed back as an initiated person. I wanted to create a DEI wedding where we welcomed the emotions, held sacred space, honored Love, and assisted with the creation of a new family.
As I visualized the steps of the ceremony through the eyes of emotions, I could see their movements and wanted to honor them. I was particularly aware of sadness and joy. A marriage ceremony is a transition which involves creating something new – a family; and when something new is created, we need to first clear out the old so the new has space to grow. When entering marriage, couples have to let go of parts of themselves, their families, and their lives. I wanted to welcome the genius of sadness into the ceremony to help with this part of letting go.
A few months before the wedding, I asked the couple to consider what parts of themselves they would be leaving behind as they married. They were to write down these private thoughts and bring them to the ceremony. We didn’t need to make special arrangements to bring in joy and happiness as they would arrive naturally during the celebration. We worked intensely with anxiety to prepare for the mountaintop fete.
On the day of the ceremony, I stood under an arch of flowers surrounded by friends and Sequoia trees. I grounded with my breath and welcomed the guests.
During the initial movements of the ceremony, I had the couple bring their personal writings forward and we had a friend take them away to burn them in an awaiting campfire. The couple then said farewell to their families and asked for the gathered crowd to bless their departure. This particular part of the ceremony was filled with music and tears. Sadness was present and doing its beautiful work of letting go and making space.
Now the couple found themselves separate from their families and their past. In this sacred space, they publicly said their vows. I saw this vulnerable sharing as the ordeal, as Michael Meade would say. We also took time to discuss and reflect on the power of Love. This was inspired by Karla’s chapter on Love in The Language of Emotions. From the reflection:
“I cannot end this without one final note, on the constant and unconditional force of Love. It is so easy for us to identify love in moments of joy and happiness. In fact, we sometimes over identify love with happiness. We turn love into something that comes and goes, as happiness does or as sadness does. But, love, it is different from the rest. It abides. It bears witness to all parts of our deepest selves. It sees our flaws and darkness, just as it sees our talents and generosity. It stands by us, in us, around us, and with us. The daily experience of marriage gives each of you the opportunity to see the depth, consistency, and ever abiding presence of Love in your relationship. Everyday you are given a choice to notice its presence and to act toward one another with it in mind.”
Once the ordeal was completed, we sealed the ceremony with the exchange of rings. Next, the gathered friends and family welcomed them back, as a new family, with a wisdom poem and promises of support. We all witnessed them as they were announced as a new couple. The joy of connection and the happiness of their future was present as they left our ceremonial space and merged into the celebration.
I have been a practicing Speech-Language Pathologist in the DC Metro area since 1997. I work with children and adolescents who need help with building communication abilities and social-emotional skills. I became a DEI Trainer to help my community learn grounded and practical skills that bring richer emotional knowledge, deeper empathy, and uncover the hidden genius inside all of us.
As a DEI Trainer, I assist people of all ages to identify, name, and work with their emotions. I share the flexibility and self-acceptance that comes from developing inner emotional skills. In my trainings, I love to offer body based skills and empathic communication practices. I also use art, including ritual and shrine building, as a tool to help the emotions speak in their own unique and beautiful ways.