Growing up in Rochester, Minn., Kaia Svien despaired that she was misplaced - that she'd been born in the wrong time. She was sorry that she lived in a time when people no longer believed spirits lived in trees. Mainstream life seemed flat, uninspiring, lonely.

Gradually, she discovered Native American spirituality, and her yearning for something more layered began to take root.

Late in her teen years, she strongly envisioned an image that she was looking at Jesus in the stained-glass window of the church she grew up in and saying, "I have to go. There is not enough for me here as a woman." In her image, God was understanding, and responded, "Have a good journey."

Passages marker

And she has. Decades later, in the 1980s, and after a variety of jobs, she began to follow her calling as a ceremonialist. If someone wants to mark a transition in life - a coming or a going - she is called on to work with her or him to devise a ritual to embrace the passage.

For example, a retirement party - typically, sharing a speech, giving a gold watch, eating some food - can be so much more. Whether for grief or for celebration, "marking transitions is an opportunity to find meaning in our lives," Svien said, "to lift up the beauty in our own selves."

That might mean holding hands in a circle with a family that is undergoing divorce, in which the children's hands are entwined with their parents', between parents whose hands are no longer clasped. The connection of family, through the circle of the children, remains unbroken.

It might mean overseeing a wedding, and weaving in the teachings and imagery of alchemy to honor how the ingredients of two people's lives combine - harmoniously and sometimes not - to create something new.

It might mean creating a ceremony with a victim of rape, surrounded by friends, calling forward the supportive spirit of women who have survived rape.

Svien marks passageways with people who want to commemorate anything from puberty to menopause, from preparing to give birth to turning 40, when we might acknowledge dreams that need to be left behind.


Intention maker

Co-creating ceremony assists a person in "assessing who they are, accessing their own wisdom centers, giving them more layers," Svien said. She has herself ritualized her own despair, at times, about how society sometimes functions.

"So few states of consciousness are honored, respected, transmitted to our children," she said. "We are taught to be good cogs in the machine, to dismiss dreams, to avoid curiosity. When our children are young, we sing them lullabies, tell them stories, let them swing. But by the age of 7, we start focusing our message on letting them know what is expected of them. There is no mystery involved. Ceremony is one way to open us up again to the mystery of life - to our beauty, our interconnection."

The intent of ritual, she said, is to lift up the mystery, rather than dragging our grief behind us or being driven by fear. We build a safe container - with supportive people around us or alone - in order to go forward after a "healing release."

"In embracing what is being left behind," she said, "it allows us to birth something new. Treating our loss honorably is the seed for what can emerge. The phoenix rises. We see the ashes, as well as what is rising from them."

Svien has often created rituals for herself to mark the transitions of the seasons. As the lengths of day and night change, she said, it is a way to assess her own balance. "Where am I doing too much? Where am I doing too little? How do I let go of not knowing?"

It's not always easy to believe we are capable of creating our own healing balance, Svien admitted. But continuing to find and celebrate the metaphor of our experience, she said, is part of the enormous poignancy of our lives.

Create your own sacred space

Ceremonialist Kaia Svien recommends creating a sacred space in a corner of your home, where you can control who comes in and out. Include in it objects that mean something to you - colors, symbols, fabrics, photos, song lyrics that help you remember.

"If you find you don't come there on a regular basis," she said, "ask yourself what is the resistance inside?" Use it as your place of rest, where you hold yourself in kindness. Treat yourself in that space as you would in comforting a child.

Neuroplasticity, whole-brain learning, meditation, the teachings of environmental healers, cultural anthropologists, Buddha and other sages, are all resources Svien has explored.

Learn more at Svien's website: MindfulnessForChangingTimes.com.

The profile appears in every issue of the Minnesota Women's Press. It reflects our founding principle and guiding philosophy that every woman has a story. Readers are welcome to submit suggestions for profile subjects. Email your ideas to editor@womenspress.com.