Last night, when the kids were in bed I sat out in the full moon and wrote down my intentions and affirmations in the silent cold, wrapped in a blanket; my own mini-ritual. The moon was radiant.
I do yoga and meditate and occasionally go to a sweat lodge, all of which have an element or ritual in them. All of them allow me time and space to empty out the chatter of my every day mind and tune into my deeper knowing. They allow me to focus on attention and intention where I want it to go rather than the usual free-rein running around it usually does. These rituals allow me to access my unconscious as well as my conscious and they replenish and reconnect me with myself.
On Sunday I’m running a retreat to celebrate Imbolc which is the pagan festival of the first signs of spring. We will be clearing out old habits and thinking patterns and behaviours to make space for the new. All the retreats I’m running this year are tied in with nature and the seasons as more and more i’m tuning into them and marking them, creating our own rituals for that short time.
Maybe it is age that makes me want to mark the passing of time, to pay attention to it and these moments of pause, either with others or alone, allow me to live more intentionally, rather than just having life pass me by. I want to live life and not have it live me.
Seamus Heaney’s poems evoke images of a son watching his father digging for turf, or children picking blackberries, or the thatcher turning roofs to gold. His later poetry looks to the Norse blood sacrifices of the bog people in Denmark. ‘We pine for ceremony’, said Heaney and I think we do, I just don’t think we notice we do.
Rituals are ways of marking what is important to us. They focus on the transcendent, not in a religious way, but just by letting us know that this that is happening to us, has happened before, will happen again and that life will go on.
Rituals are the way that we human beings gather together to mark an occasion and we draw strength from each other as we do so. There has been a death in the family recently and the hundreds of people who came to the wake were, by being present; expressing; ‘We are with you, we too are mortal and will die, we too are mortal and have lost. We are all in this together.’ Ritual gives our life shape and structure when things seem to be falling apart or chaotic.
Rituals connect us with our ancestors, as Hamlet said of death ‘t’is common’, we all die, we are all born, the rituals mark the places where our single lives connect with universal humanity. As my uncle (now dead himself) said at mum’s funeral, she was in good company; Auden, Einstein, Churchill, Sartre; the great and good whose steps she was following in death.
Rituals also ‘hold’ what needs to be processed; they can provide a safe space to say what can not usually be said. Most of what I do at the retreats is ‘hold space’. Yes I put coaching tools together to support reflection, but then I sit back and watch, and listen and tune in to see what needs saying and when things need moving on or slowing down. Because, from the outside, this looks like I am just sitting still, doing and saying nothing, I used to feel like I wasn’t doing anything. But if you have ever been in a group or in a one to one relationship and not been held you will know the difference.
I had an experience towards the end of last year where I was in a group which was not being held. The rules were being broken which made me and others feel emotionally unsafe. The group cohesion began to shiver and people began to withdraw into groups. No one knew what to expect or what to do and this caused confusion and anger. For change to happen, for insight to come, for clarity or release or sharing to happen, we need to feel safe and rituals provide the holding space for that to happen.
Rituals can give us a sense of meaning, of recognition at the importance of what is happening. Ritual elevates our experience above the mundane to the transcendent and ubiquitous. There are a lot of changes going in my partner’s life which of course have an effect on all of us. I’m going to create a ritual (which he has agreed to) to name these changes and process them.
We could just talk about it, but actually this is tough stuff which feels scary to talk about and so for me, the ritual of maybe lighting some candles, setting an intention, doing some meditation first, having some rules about how to talk and listen to each other, means that we are both safer to say what we want to say.
It also provides a container. We live in this house day to day and tough conversations can leak into the sofa and the kitchen sink unless they are contained. When we light the candles we are changing the space and making it something other than how it is in every day life. When we blow the candles out we will be signifying that the ritual has ended and we are back to talking about what is for tea. Different states of being sometimes need different places and spaces to hold them.
Essentially rituals can be as individual as we are and we can use them as we want. But life would be more prosaic and mundane without them. They are the pause and reset buttons on our lives and direct us to pay attention to what really matters to us.
I recommend them to you.
If you’d like to come to the retreat on Sunday or to find out more get in touch by replying to the email or emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The next one is in March and you can find all the retreats here.
Thank you to Jon Lydon for the photo..magnificent as ever xx