It’s holiday season and it’s made me think about ritual. It’s made me think about losing oneself in something larger, whether that be a large extended family around a Thanksgiving table or a greater purpose. We all want to lose ourselves, don’t we?
Can rituals be consciously created, curated, planned? I suppose they didn’t need to be in a time when these were passed on from generation to generation and their genesis was so long ago that few remember or care about the why’s or how’s. “Create memories,” we’re told, the actual mechanics of this plea often tied into someone selling something. I’m such a skeptic.
There is a movement among the non-religious to recapture the ritual in their lives, the community, that used to belong only to the church. The School of Life in England even holds “Sunday sermons.”
My mother was a traveling organist of sorts, a definite believer but one who embraced rather than avoided other beliefs with different names. She played in church and synagogue—and would have expanded to temple and mosque had they asked her—with equal devotion, her two children in tow. When I traveled to other lands and other beliefs she embraced that too, openly, generously.
Perhaps it was the beauty and comfort of ritual which I’ve always sought, because for me the belief has always been the same, with many names, the rituals specific yet with similar effect. Always drawn to fervency, to the way the bullfighter prepares rather than the way he fights, to the endless twirl of the dervish and those associated with birth and death and the in-between. But I’m not one for organized anything, my little rituals are very much my own, and they change, adapt. But maybe that’s precisely what is wrong—should rituals not remain the same in order to establish themselves? Is that not the whole point?
I’ve started meditating again. I say again because—as I’ve often recounted—I took my first meditation “class” in the public library when I was 12, having saved up leaf-raking money to pay for it. I’m a lapsed meditator in the same way I’m a lapsed many things. But alas, once I made the decision to visit this practice once again I found that things had changed. “Learning” to meditate is expensive now, and tied up with controversy and battling schools and their gurus. I must admit I was a bit disappointed to find that the mantra I’d been given at age 12, which was purportedly uniquely individual and chosen “especially for me” (every child’s dream, right?) was actually just from a chart and purely age based.
So here I am, settled on my little cushion, my ears perked to the lessons of Charlie Knoles who has a wonderful way of simplifying, distilling the practice to one that is natural, intuitive, not cloaked in pseudo sacredness. It feels great.
But whether or not I stick with a regular practice, the fact is that I, and so many others, are reaching back to a time when rituals soothed us, organized our thoughts and our days. We do, I suppose, sometimes need help in curating our own lives, reminders of how to turn off the noise. How odd it would seem to someone from long ago that we need to “learn” how to sit in silence, how to move our bodies, how to nourish ourselves, how to focus on what is before us, how to live and love.