I’m continually amazed at the healing power of simple rituals and have been playing for some time with rituals that involve meeting our former selves to clear things that we feel stuck with. I want to insist on the simple aspect—nothing needed beyond intention, imagination, and words. Some of mine happen spontaneously when I’m lying in bed at night (or in the wee hours) and notice something that needs to be addressed. In other words, no props, no prep, no nonsense.
Let me give you an example. It came to my attention recently that I was divorcing myself from certain past versions of myself. I would have memories come up that made me cringe and shudder and do some kind of internal muttering that I was glad not to be that person today. Actually, I am that person. I noticed this, and noticed that this unconscious disowning of self I was engaged in constituted a shame response. I’m not an advocate of letting shame have its way. Because shame is the most potent of self-destructive emotions, I believe it’s best to face and clear it as soon as it comes to our awareness.
So one night, I lay in bed with the idea that I needed to embrace each version of myself that I’ve traveled through in this fascinating lifetime. I decided to progress year by year, beginning at the first age where I could find any crumb of belief there was something wrong with me. I found I could start at age three. I then went through progressively, watching whatever visions of myself I could call forth from each year. Once I had taken in each character (the three-year-old, the four-year-old, the five-year-old, and onward through teens, twenties, thirties, forties), I repeated the same words, which went something like this: You have been part of my journey. I thank you and embrace you. I love who I have become, and I extend that love to you. You are part of me. Note that the repetition of the same declaration infused the process with a ritual quality and also facilitated the integration I was after.
It was a powerful exercise. By the time I got up to my current age of 49, I felt cleansed. I felt relieved, and calm, and whole—integrated. Looking at what came of this ritual, I notice that my mind hasn’t been playing that mean-spirited teasing game of randomly visiting a shaming memory on me. Before clearing it, I hadn’t been fully conscious of this habitual mind pattern of reaching back in time for something to shame myself with in the midst of a happy, connected present time. (In the absence of current shame, let’s see what we can dredge up from way back when!) This seems to be over. Because of my ongoing experience with profound and lasting transformation, in both myself and others, I suspect it’s fully cleared.
I guided a client to go back to herself at various ages when she was engaged too early in sexual activity that she wasn’t ready for with people who weren't looking out for her well-being. She talked to her younger selves to help them see what was protecting them even though they weren’t being protected from sex. She also gave them hope by telling them about herself now and letting them know about the wonderful partner she would end up with.
I find it’s very powerful to go back to former selves who we believe are still inside us holding trauma. Just today, someone told me about the sad and scared five-year-old inside her who still believes … I hear this all the time. It’s both insanely easy and hugely potent to step in as our older, more evolved selves and give these young aspects of ourselves what they didn’t get in the past. In your imagination, you can hold the child you used to be and tell her it wasn’t her fault that someone was awful to her; it didn’t mean she was awful or deserved it; it didn’t mean her whole life would hold nothing but the same. Give the child what Byron Katie calls the turnaround: if she felt unsupported, let her know all the ways life would support her over the years (from her age to yours in the present moment). Give her a lot of concrete, specific evidence. Tell her some good and true stories from your life, her later life.
I also think it’s especially useful to let our younger selves know who they get to become—tell them things you love about yourself as you are now, or some of the fascinating and amazing things you’ve gotten to do, or the stunning ways grace found you at various times and landed you in just the right place, with the right people, doing the right thing. Let them know how much you like who you’ve become; invite them into the wonderful-me club.
These rituals don't have to be bare-bones simple: I just want to insist that they can be, and their power is in no way diluted for that. If you want, however, you can add candles and incense or sage, music, creative actions that symbolize clearings and completions—whatever you dream up that's doable. If you have access to some healing modality—if you can do Reiki on yourself, or know EFT techniques, or use ecstatic dance to express shifting rhythms—it can be a great integrator to end the ritual in such ways. Just don't stop yourself or stall by concocting something too complex to realize. If something's up for you, follow the energy that brought it to light and go for the clearing.
Finally, I urge you to hold a consciousness of transformation. This sort of ritual has the potential to fully release something you've held on to and identified with. In no way are we stuck with our past identities unless we continue to claim them. Allow your intention plus the power of simple ritual to bring you fully and solidly into the present.