Living Your Intentional Life--Quality Six--Ritual
When I work with groups, the most confusion comes up around ritual. For those grappling with being “un-affiliated” with the religion or church of their youth, it brings up all kinds of ghosts, especially around the holidays. Ritual can also be a no-no word from certain ethnic and religious backgrounds, implying god or goddess worship or pagan behaviors. How we carried this into the 21st Century is another article, but suffice it to say that these reactions are real, at the body level, and deeply imbedded. So, why would we want to “infuse” our lives with more of what we have removed or ignored for years? Because ritual is not what we think it is.
Ritual is a reverence for things of the spirit, the family, the country and memory. I usually ask my groups, after the groans, some of the following questions:
· Do you have something on the table at the holidays that is your mother’s or grandmother’s, like a tablecloth or a bowl?
· Do you have an area in your house where you gather photos of family and/or friends? Do you have several such places?
· Do you sometimes have a figurine and/or candles in those same places?
· Do you eat certain specific foods, create certain blessings or play certain games when gathering for holidays?
· Do you sing the Star Spangled Banner before a football game, or wear your team colors?
All of these things are ritualistic—places of energetic spirit where we evoke the memory and the presence of family and friends. They are things we do naturally, without thought, because they are part of the tapestry of our lives. Maybe we have carried them on unknowingly because we learned them from someone else, or through our religious affiliation. Maybe we created them in our childhood rooms or dorm rooms or in the early days of our marriages. Maybe our children are already creating similar spaces in their homes and offices. Because of the amount of pleasure they create, we can infuse our lives with our own self-created rituals or places of sacred energy. Family ritual changes as the family changes. Divorce, death, illness, children grown and gone, all create flux in the way we observe our rituals. Sometimes the time has come for us to create personal behaviors that are honoring of ourselves as much as ancestry or habit. For those who came from Orthodox religions, particularly Catholicism, recreating an altar in our own vision of our spiritual life is healing.
The most common way of creating ritual is to build a small altar that is ours alone, made up of items that inspire us or create memory of sacred precious times for us. The altar doesn’t have to be fancy, and it can be anywhere. Most women choose the bedroom, so they have privacy and quiet to create their own sacred space. Some use a dresser top, a small end table or a low table with a cushion in front. A lot of us put a scarf or cloth on the altar, then decorate it with things that are meaningful like an angel statue, a Buddha, a Kuan Yin or Blessed Mother or a Native American pot. They then add things that bring them to a spiritual thought, such as candles, flowers, music, feathers, sound bowls, cards and pictures. Altars can be as elaborate or as plain as you like. Mine are reminders of my May altars, when I worshipped the goddess in the guise of Mary, with peonies and lilacs galore.
Then, it’s time to choose a specific time of day where you will devote at least ten minutes to clearing your mind while sitting in front of your altar, and inviting guidance, memory or meditation. Generally, women choose first thing in the morning and last thing at night to put their mind at ease and prepare them for the day and for sleep. At those times, it helps to open your meditation/prayer with similar saying or wording to create a sense of ritual deep in your body.
Rituals can be individual or include members of the household. If you all begin dinner at the table—even if only on certain days—and open with a blessing, prayer or saying, you are creating a ritual for the family. Using dishes that have been in the family, and sharing that with your children, creates a sense of continuity in a world that is moving at the speed of light. Helping your family to create their own personal altars, with their own choices of décor and creation, heightens a sense of their spiritual self as much as awards and statuettes heighten their sense of mental or physical accomplishment.
As you go along, ways of infusing one’s life with the ways of the higher self will begin to change how you look at life in general. There will be daily reminders of how life can be peaceful, loving and intentional, as opposed to chaotic, rushed and disorderly. You will want to spend more time in the place of celebration and ritual, and that can be a wonderful life change. Just start small and see what happens.