THE LOST ART OF RITUAL | The Key to a Purposeful Life?
"...I do believe that if your culture or tradition doesn't have the specific ritual you are craving, then you are absolutely permitted to make up a ceremony of your own devising." - Elizabeth Gilbert
I recently watched a beguiling and moving docu series with the wonderful Grayson Perry, about the effects and possible benefits of ritual on society and on us as individuals. He sought out and immersed himself in, a variety of rituals ranging from a mixed faith marriage and a living funeral, to a divorce ceremony. Contrary to what you might think, all these rituals took place in the UK.
In other cultures, and by that I mean non-western cultures, ritual is as important a part of life as life as life itself; of birth and death. In fact, many rituals centre around life and death.
The Greeks have naming ceremonies for their new borns and go on to celebrate their 'name days' more so than they celebrate their own birthdays. Most Greeks are named after a saint and every saint has its day in Greece.
In Hindu culture, death is thought of as a passage to the next life and so loved ones' bodies are loving prepared by the family by bathing, adorning with flowers and by offering food, money and other considered essentials to help them make safe passage and to enter their next incarnation prepared. Funeral pyres are thought to release the essence of the soul for reincarnation.
In Thailand, to give thanks for blessings received, people will buy live fish and animals for release back in to the rivers and other natural habitats. It is thought to release their souls. Be careful though, the deal is that whatever species you choose to save, you must refrain from eating for the rest of your days.
Here in the UK, as early as 60BC, the Druids practiced Shamanic rituals that connected the spiritual world to the physical world, that involved herbs and holistic medicines. They believed in the power of connectedness; to the earth, to the elements, to spirits, to community and to self. They even worshipped female Gods. I'd say they were pretty forward thinking. When Christianity arrived though, the Druids and their rituals were viewed with suspicion. They were branded 'heretics' and their rituals were banned.
So, here's my take on the role and importance of ritual in our lives. Rituals can give us a focus, a distraction and a purpose and they can heal. It may only be symbolic, but ritual can help to create beginnings and can bring about closure. Ritual brings together people with a common aim and a shared belief. Rituals establish and maintain connection.
In western culture, it seems we have lost our love of ritual. Could that be a contributory factor in our feeling of disconnection, in the fragmented state of our society?
When we talk about ritual, does it conjure up images of weird woo woo ceremonies and dancing naked in the woods? Well listen, there's a place for that, just as there's a place for all the other forms of ritual I've talked about here. But there's also a place for more simple forms of ritual that can help us to find ways of coping with, and managing, the chaos and overwhelm that often shows up in our lives. The kind of rituals that can bring people together and the kind of rituals that can help us feel connected.
My incredibly talented friend Karen Gilbert of Fragrant Alchemy (http://karengilbert.co.uk), talks about the power of the senses on our well-being, particularly the power of scent. She describes beautifully, how scents can induce moods, create physical reactions and improve health. More than that though, she wholeheartedly encourages creating rituals. Running a bath, adding oils, lighting candles and playing the right kind of music. Karen will tell you that the ritual is a crucial part of optimising the effect on our olfactory system and to engaging our other senses.
Every Christmas my friend, who is non-religious, takes her two young boys to the local church to take part in a beautiful ritual of giving called Christingle. Children decorate oranges that represent the world and add candles to them, taking part in a procession of light to raise awareness of the plight of children around the world who have little or no metaphorical light in their lives. Children and adults from all faiths, cultures and backgrounds take part in Christingle rituals all around the globe.
There are many more examples of ritual that promote healing, love, compassion and connection. And, if you ask me, the world could definitely use a whole heap more of that.
My own personal rituals may be more simple, but they're no less powerful for me.
Here are a few examples...
1. Daily 20 minute meditation - it gets me grounded, gives me clarity and sets me up for the day ahead.
2. Daily Fresh Air Baths & Pooch Mooches - Connecting to nature is a non-negotiable for me and so I make sure I make time for my daily sessions that usually involve just me and the dog. Animals can teach us so much about living in the moment.
2. Daily gratitude - I'm non-religious but extremely spiritual, so every day before going to sleep, I thank the powers that be/the universe/God for at least 2 things I've been blessed to experience that day.
3. Tea - Yep, tea is more than just a drink for me. It's a soother, a comforter and a bringer together of other appreciators of the power of tea. It's a ritual.
4. Yoga - Yoga is a spiritual as well as a physical practice. It teaches self awareness, self examination and self care and it gives me time just for me.
5. Meeting Friends - Not much is more important than this one. I cannot possibly overstate the power of connecting with likeminded souls who 'get' you. Oh, and my friends' ritual usually also involves drinking tea of course.
So, what rituals do you have, or can you create, that will give you purpose, focus, perspective and a sense of belonging? That can heal you and connect you; to others
and to yourself? Can you create rituals that others can join you in?
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