Barbara Biziou with Dr. Barb
Barbara Biziou is a life-strategy coach and inspirational speaker, as well as the author of The Joy of Ritual and The Joys of Family Rituals. She blogs for The Huffington Post, MindBodyGreen, Rewireme.com, and What Now, What Next. She’s been featured in The New York Times, Oprah.com, PsychologyToday.com, and Harper’s Bazaar. Barbara’s work is to “inspire and empower people going through life transitions with spiritual wisdom and practical tools to make life richer, easier, and more meaningful.
Barb: Our guest today is a coach, consultant, and author. Barbara Biziou brings together her knowledge of global spiritual practices and rituals to psychology and business. She provides tools and practices to help her clients to be inspired and empowered. Welcome Barbara!
Barbara: Well this is so wonderful. Welcome. Happy New Year!
Barb: Happy New Year to you as well! So, it’s interesting to hear you talk about ritual, and in fact, you have centered your work around ritual. Can you tell us a little about how you have come to understand the power of ritual?
Barbara: Absolutely. My story goes way back to when I was young, and I write about this, but when I was six weeks pregnant, my sister died of a brain tumor. She was only 24. So that totally blew me open as far as looking for answers on how do I deal with it. I was told by many older women that it was dangerous for me to grieve because I was pregnant – I’d love your opinion on this later – but, basically what I did was I stuffed down my grief for many many years. And it was really dangerous to my health, my emotional health. Years later when I discovered a teacher who really understood and believed in spiritual practice and taking time for yourself in silence, I was really guided to create a healing ritual for myself and my sister, and I found myself in Arizona climbing up a mountain until I found this giant tree. I just literally got down on my hands and knees and started rocking and digging a hole in the earth and crying – in essence doing a grieving ritual for my sister. When I was finished, I just felt like something had shifted, big time. And I didn’t even understand it. I remember getting up and just looking around and going, “Wow, what just happened here?” And it started to rain, and I was just totally soaked. I remember thinking, “I’ve just been purified.”
I went back to where I was staying, and I was in silence, so I couldn’t even tell anyone. I wrote and journaled about it, and days later when I shared it with people, I found out that what I had actually done was a Native American grief ritual, which is to give your grief to Mother Earth. I didn’t even know I was doing it, and the movement I was doing was really an ancient Mesopotamian movement that women used to do to remove grief from their body. So that was the big ‘aha’ for me on ritual; that this stuff really works, and I wanted to find out more about it.
Barb: Well, I am so sorry to hear about your loss and how you were sort of forced to discover a better way. But it sounds like it was somewhat instinctual for you to do what you did.
Barbara: It was totally instinctual, and that’s the part that I really got when I did this is – that yeah, it’s wonderful if we know what other people around the world do. And that was my quest for many years, traveling around the world, interviewing people, going to rituals, seeing what they did to make sense of the world; especially around healing and transitions. But then I started to see how we needed to create new ones for this twenty-first century.
You know a friend of mine, at the age of 50, adopted a daughter from China. And there weren’t any rituals on how do you become a mother at 50 when you’re not physically carrying a child and you’re just adopting. Or I do a lot of weddings, but people would get divorced at some time, and I noticed there were no rituals around divorce, and you need to. So, I started creating new rituals; and I still do. I think it’s wonderful to have traditional ones – I’m not putting them down; they have a real use – but there are also many times that we need to create new rituals because the old ones don’t really exist. Or they’re not relevant to this world right now.
Barb: Is it true that for a life event that you’ve identified, we don’t have a ritual in our current language or culture that that ritual becomes unique to you in that experience, or is it your goal to try to make it more widely known and understood and accepted?
Barbara: I guess it has two parts. Number one, I feel rituals should be personal, so even if you are doing a “Birthday Ritual,” which you know we all do, we celebrate. We don’t always see it as a ceremony and a ritual and a rite of passage, but it is. I give people recipes. Like I’ll give you a recipe on how to make bread, but maybe yours has raisins in it, and somebody else has whole wheat, and someone else is gluten-free. You know, you want to make it yours, but there is an overview where you can actually see how you can do these things. So in a way there’s a map. But you want to make it your own. I mean we are individual, however it does connect you collectively to people all over the world who have done rituals for these various occasions.
Barb: You have been called a “practical spirituality expert.”
Barbara and Barb: [laugh]
Barb: I would like to know more about that. What do you mean by that phrase, practical spirituality?
Barbara: What I mean by that is in days gone by, spiritual teachers would be living in ashrams, or on top of mountains, and separated from the world. People would come to them and learn, and then go home to their lives. For me, I want to take those techniques – and I do, I live in New York City – and I teach people, “What are some things you could do on the subway?” “What are some things you could do if you are in a business meeting to bring more spiritual juice, so to speak, into your lives?”
So how do we make these things practical? My kind of vision for this year is pivoting. So when you actually pivot – let’s just say you’re a skater; you have one foot back and one in the front, but, you are shifting energy. For me it’s about walking the spiritual path with practical feet. How do we make real differences in the world? How can we use the information we are gaining – from opening our intuition, from learning meditation and all of this – and bring it into our lives so it is part of our lives, not separate?
Barb: Now that we’ve just begun a new year, and it’s often a time for people to start thinking about reinvention or refocusing, do you have any practical words or advice that people might implement to incorporate more attention around ritual or enhance that aspect of their lives?
Barbara: Absolutely. I even have a lot of videos of these my website. But one thing that I think is very important for 2018: you know 2017 was the cosmic flashlight on the collective and personal shadows, meaning everyone’s dysfunction came up for you to see big time. So 2018 is how do we take what we’ve learned last year and make changes? Really make some changes. How do we own our own “shadow”? How do we integrate it? How do we heal it, and how do we move forward in community?
One of the techniques that is really easy is to just take a few minutes – could be five minutes – take a notebook and just make sure everything is quiet. Turn off your phone and don’t be disturbed. And then just sit and answer these questions: “I need…,” “I feel…,” and “I want…” Then just do some free-flow writing to see what starts to come out. It’s a way of accessing your intuition. It’s a way of getting some clarity on what you might need this year and what small changes you could start to put into practice. And then take one small action step.
The big problem as you know, in January everyone makes these gigantic resolutions, and only eight percent actually fulfill them. So if you take small conscious-rounded action steps, you will really move in a new direction. Instead of saying, “this year I’m going to exercise,” say “I’m going to exercise three times a week for 20 minutes. That you can do. It’s rounded. Things like that will really shift you.
Barb: In my medical practice, it’s primarily focused around women in perimenopause or menopause, which I see as a significant transitional time – and we use that word in the term – we talk about menopausal transition. And I also have observed it to be a time of great change for women, both in their own lives and often in the lives of those around them with adult children, aging parents, maybe some relationship changes, career/professional changes, but it strikes me that we don’t have many – at least that I know about – many rituals or celebrations to acknowledge this process. Do you have any experience or insights into how we maybe look at that differently?
Barbara: Absolutely! [laughs] You know, I remember when I was going through the change, and as you know, it can take many many years. It’s not like one day it’s there and then the next day it’s over. However it is a journey. In women’s spirituality, we used to look at the stages of growth as, you know, you start as a maiden, then a mother, then a crone. Well now we’re living a very long time, and that’s not as true anymore. So, the people, the women that I know who are consciously working with rituals and practice around this, are saying it’s more maiden, mother, queen, crone. So we are really in our time of being a queen. We need to honor that, and for many people the first step is to acknowledge that your “mothering days are over” in the sense of biological. But as I said, I had a friend who did adopt at 50, and many women are mothering their grandchildren or biological children.
But it’s really a time when you have to say goodbye to that part of your life and really look at what’s the new part coming in, and the juiciness of that. Because really, going from princess to queen is a big deal. You are really owning your power, and especially this year we’re seeing how all this is so much the Year of the Woman. We need to own our power. When we reach a certain age, especially when we reach the premenopausal/menopausal time, we have some life experience, and we need to be able to own it and share it with other people.
Barb: Do you have any suggestions so when I’m sitting in a room with a patient talking about the discovery of this kind of new beginning – it really is for women, I think, a time of discovery/rediscovery, women looking for opportunities that they hadn’t considered previously – are there practical ways I could share with women to help them move forward in that journey?
Barbara: Well first of all, I think it would be important, if they were open to it, to really gather with some of their close women friends and do some kind of a ceremony around it. Again, it could be as simple as saying goodbye to the old, and having your friends share with you what they think your gifts and talents are. And then it’s almost like putting them all in a box and pulling them out, and how can you reconfigure them in a new way – to look at what sparks you. Try out new things.
It’s very important when we are going through these passages to try new things. Like I say pretend you’re a tourist in your own town, so if you were visiting Paris for the first time, you’d probably be walking around, talking to strangers, going to museums – you know looking at different things. Do that where you live! Start experimenting with something new. And then also go back to the time when you just loved to do something for hours and hours and hours. Most of us have a time when we were younger, and for some of us it’s very young – I mean I could spend hours and hours with crayons. Or I had, you know, a ball that I would bounce forever, or do hopscotch, and I could do it truly for hours. Go back to the things you loved to do and feel the energy of that. How could you bring that energy into new things that you’re picking now? And again, pick one thing. Play with it, experiment with it, and see how you feel about it. And if it doesn’t feel good, put it down and go on to the next.
Barb: So what about rituals in the context of women and their relationships? Are most of the – as you refer to them, rituals – do they often include others? Does it require a relationship, so to speak? And what might make it unique between women?
Barbara: Well, what makes it unique between women is first of all, women have been doing this for thousands of years. So one thing that I do, especially when I’m at home or in a place where I can do it, is I celebrate the new moon because women have been doing this for thousands of years. Traditionally it was a time when women would have their menses together. So they would be given kind a free card to just come together and share. One of the biggest rituals for women has always been storytelling. So how can you come together – maybe it’s once a month with your women friends – and just share what’s going on in your life, and what you need, and bring in some new things. I think that would be an important thing.
You can do a ritual without other people; however, I find in this day and age there’s a yearning for real conscious community, and women really know how to do this. So try! Meet once a month with your women friends and come together. It’s almost like the old consciousness-raising groups from the 70s in a way. But, in a different turn because it’s a new century.
Barb: And what about ritual within a marriage?
Barbara: Ritual within a marriage is great! Something as simple as date night with your partner, and make that a real ritual where you’re not bringing in the mundane. You have your new lingerie or you get decked out and you make it special. You need to bring – constantly, I feel – love and excitement back into your relationship to keep it going. Otherwise, you all get bored.
Barb: I imagine there are things in our lives that are rituals that we don’t even recognize as that?
Barbara: Yeah, so rituals… let me just back up a minute. Rituals really are honoring life’s passages. That can include gift giving, it can include witnesses, it can include actual ceremonies. So it’s actually taking the time to honor where you are. For example, I am doing an anniversary ritual for couple who have been married for 40 years. Two of their friends are giving them this ritual. So it will be three couples in this ritual. Part of it is I ask them (the couple who celebrated their anniversary) to write vow renewals for each other – to renew their vows to each other. And their friends are sharing with them what they’ve seen and what they love about them. I also did things – like I found a yearbook from the year they got married so they could see what was happening in the world at that time, and how different they may be, and how they’ve evolved. So just something like that can really bring friends together and really deepen your relationship with your partner.
Barb: Can you speak a little bit more about when it’s time to give up a ritual? I think you referred to that a bit earlier; so when do you recognize or understand and in what circumstances would it be important to maybe move beyond an existing ritual?
Barbara: Well, I call them rote rituals when they don’t have any juice anymore – and you know it. You’re just doing it, you’re going through the motions, it doesn’t have that much meaning to you anymore, it’s because you always did it this way. And when you start to feel that, that’s the biggest thing with me is keeping your heart open and starting to feel. If it feels good, then maybe it still has some life and juice; but if it doesn’t … um, I’d let it go and bring in something else.
You know, it’s like parents who try to keep the ritual of a certain holiday going even after their children now are not eating the same foods, they’re not doing the same thing. It’s doesn’t have the same meaning anymore. So you want to then try something new.
Barb: Well I think that’s freeing to hear that you can have permission to give up something that’s been long-standing because I do think sometimes some of the details in our lives happen just because that’s the way it’s always happened…
Barb: …and not because that’s necessarily the most productive way to share time together or go through an experience.
Barbara: Right, and also things change. You know, if you always had a certain dinner at someone’s house and suddenly there’s a death, you may want to move it to a different place. I mean I see this especially around holidays. You need to create new rituals that will give you joy. Getting joy is really important in moving and transitions, especially talking about women moving into this next stage of their life. A lot of women fear it. I’m sure you’ve heard this a lot. They fear they’re going to be “dried up” or not attractive anymore, or they won’t have the intellect, or whatever it is. And I just have to tell you that one of the rituals that I do on a birthday is do something you’ve never done before. Maybe it was … well my mother’s best friend, by the way, is 101 – just so you know that – and every time I go to visit her, we go to a new restaurant that she’s never been to. And when she was 90, she took up belly dancing! [laughs] Because she wanted to stay vital and just learn something new. And I think that’s one of the reasons that she’s still around, and is really smart, and she looks good, and she feels good, and she’s healthy!
Barb: That’s fabulous! That is fabulous.
In your book, The Joy of Ritual, the premise that rituals can make difficult times easier is compelling. And it seems that this stage of life often is accompanied by loss. Obviously you experienced a tremendous loss at a very young age, but it’s probably more typical for those of us in midlife to have more loss encountered.
Barb: How do you… how do we individually discover a way of healing through ritual?
Barbara: Well number one, as you know because you work with so many women, when you actually take the time to create a ritual or be part of it, you are suddenly taking responsibility for your own healing. So you’re not just going to someone to heal you, you are participating. And as soon as you participate, you’re already boosting your immune system. So you already have more resources. I deal with a lot of people going through chemo or operations, and when we’ll do a healing ritual together, the fact that they are participating in it gives them a structure. It gives them a container to hold some of it. So for example, it’s now fairly common when women are going for chemotherapy, if they think they are going to lose their hair, to ritualize it with one person or their friends or by themselves to cut their own hair. Because they are then taking charge of this process. They’re not letting it happen to them. They are part of it.
Having lost my mother last year, I know that some of the rituals that were really important for me was to just to be able to have lunch or dinner with my friends, and it gave me permission to cry and to grieve. Just to have friendship around me so I didn't have to feel that I was alone. And I think that’s another big part. When you are dealing with difficult times, sometimes you can feel alone. Having the support of a friend or group, or creating a ritual – whatever it is; going out to lunch, or walking on the beach, or walking your dog together – that becomes a ritual of bonding. Just like the tea ceremony traditionally is a traditional ritual of consciousness because you are only focused on the tea and you’re focused on the person you are having tea with. So it’s also a sharing, and nothing else is important. We need to bring those kinds of things back. It will help us tremendously.
Barb: For those of us who have someone in our lives who’ve experienced a loss, and our attempts to help them journey beyond that loss, I don’t know if it’s always easy to enter that space with them, for them. Or introduce a ritual. Is it helpful generally to reach out to offer some sense of a repetitive gesture even though it doesn’t seem to be received at that time?
Barbara: Absolutely. Grief takes as long as it takes. It’s not like you have a loss today and next Thursday you’re going to be fine. Some people jump back faster than others, but knowing that there are people around you who are reaching out to you – and not just reaching out saying, “What can I do for you?” Because I find usually in that state, you don’t know what you need; so rather than say, “What can I do for you,” it might be better to say, “Can I take you out for tea?” “Would you like to take a walk with me?” Even if they say no in the beginning, to keep doing it. Because that gives them a security blanket to know that they do have a lifeline. And it’s available to them. We don’t want to impose what we think they need; you want to open up space so that you can be there for what they do need.
Barb: Well that’s helpful. Thank you.
Are there any other important pieces of this that would be interesting to our listeners that we haven’t talked about?
Barbara: Yes, I think one of the things that’s very important to understand that when we actually create a ritual, we are directly impacting the brain and the neural pathways. So when I used to do this in the beginning, people would say, “Why does it work?” And I’d say, “Well, I don’t know. My teacher told me.” Now it’s like we can really look to neuroscience. The brain reads ritual as real. So if I decide… for example, this morning I was feeling just too much going on. And I just needed to clear energy. So I wrote down on a piece of paper everything that was kind of bugging me and then I went to my sink and I set it on fire and symbolically released it. And I have to tell you, I feel better. Because your brain reads it as real. So get in a practice of making your morning shower a ritual of purification and of release.
If you are really upset about something, one of my favorite rituals is to get a really cheap plate – you know you can get them at the dollar stores – and write down on the plate everything that is upsetting you or disturbing you or [making you] feel stuck – put it in a garbage bag – you know one of those really thick ones; really wrap it up tight, and then go someplace that’s safe. Get a hammer and smash the heck out of it. You will feel such openness and relief. And again, the brain reads it as real. That’s what you have to understand. So unless you are recreating the “negative situation,” you now have space for something new to come in.
Barb: So it’s not just the thought with it, it’s partly the action that puts that pathway in our brains.
Barbara: Yes. The more you can use your five senses, the stronger the ritual is. Can you smell something, taste something, see something, feel something? That’s why aromatherapy and scent is so useful in ritual because it goes directly into the brain, unlike our other senses. That’s why traditional Native Americans, for example, their people will burn sage; or the Mayans used to do copal which is actually used in the Catholic Church. It has a direct impact on your brain to open up space, whereas lavender will calm you down. I’m sure you’ve found that people going through hormonal changes, and certain scents are really helpful – like geranium is really good for women; it helps balance them. Lavender calms them down. When you go into using different scents for different things, it really adds to it and makes the impact on the brain even stronger.
Barb: Of course. That makes perfect sense. Well thank you! I’d like to close by asking where do you find richness at this stage in your life, Barbara?
Barbara: I find richness in my friendships, and I find richness especially being around different generations. I always like to have millennials around me as well as “elders.” Because I feel I get so much from the multi-generational experience. And for me, of course I meditate. Meditation is a major major part of my practice. Being in the ocean, being in nature is really something that sustains me tremendously, and now that we have the research scientifically how being actually barefoot in nature can help your inflammation – so it works on the physical level as well as the spiritual level. For me, just walking around in the dirt of the ocean – I can’t do that today in New York, but I can as much as possible just imagine nature. And that really works for me.
Barb: Well, thank you. Thank you for your time and your insight. It’s a very fascinating area that I think will prompt all of us to dive a little deeper and reach a little farther in our day-to-day journeys to incorporate more ritual and look for opportunities to do that.
Barbara: Great! As I said, I probably have 60 free videos on my website, which is BarbaraBiziou.com, so feel free to watch them. I blog a lot on ritual, and I love to share what I learn from other people, so come play with me!
Barb: Great. Thanks for your time.
Barbara: My pleasure, and thank you!