What is it?
A transformation is a fundamental change. The change can be big or small, but what makes it transformational is how close the change is to what makes someone who they are. Not all transformations are equal, and not all transformations come about in the same way. Transformation is hard if not impossible to measure because most measurements track the effects of the transformation, not the transformation itself. Sometimes what is worth measuring isn’t evident until the transformation is well underway.
Well-designed experiences often leave you with a sense of wonder. Sometimes the transformation is in the tricky work of coming to terms with the wonder. If the experience is successful in delivering transformative potential, the participant cannot fully wrap their mind around what has happened; they cannot satisfactorily tame the splendor of the experience with serious judgment about what happened to them. Leaving an experience in a state of disoriented awe allows for the participant to reorder their world view and sense of self in order to make meaning out of what they went through. Transformation is an unraveling, followed by a slow and sometimes prolonged stitching back together.
How others describe it:
“[Ritual] can permit knowledge of what would otherwise not be known at all. It does not merely externalize experience, bring it out into the light of day, but it modifies experience in so expressing it.”
– Mary Douglas, Anthropologist
“The human mind can only disengage itself from the magic circle of play by turning towards the ultimate. Logical thinking does not go far enough. Surveying all the treasures of the mind and all the splendors of its achievements we shall still find, at the bottom of every serious judgment, something problematical left. In our heart of hearts we know that none of our pronouncements are absolutely conclusive. At that point, where our judgment begins to waver, the feeling that the world is serious after all waivers with it.”
– Johan Huizinga, Play Theorist
If all the other pieces of the experience are in place—worthwhile risk, an effective magic circle, and a well executed experience structure—transformation can naturally proceed. When it happens, the most important thing to do is simply hold the space for the participants by letting the experience continue. That’s what triggered the transformation, and that is what will bring it to complete fruition.
It can be tempting to change the plan once people are having a strong response to something or when they are fully stripped down emotionally, psychologically, or physically. Here is where the skill of the facilitator is paramount. A skilled facilitator can recognize the bounds of safety and challenge to ensure that participants don’t venture past where their skills, the support of the experience structure, and the care of the group can carry them. A good facilitator will know when they can let a situation play out and give the participant the fullness of their own experience so they can fall into their transformation. Holding the space of transformation is not a responsibility to be taken lightly.