November is a month rich in beautiful ritual. Yet it seems that the commercializing of the holiday season has spawned a generation of curmudgeons that often choose to stay home, opt out of social interactions and avoid family gatherings. We've assimilated into the fast-paced, plugged in society that celebrates independents. Is it any wonder our society is losing its relationship with ritual?
Today's youth clamor that our society has no culture yet it is their non-participation in family traditions that is causing this culture riff. A major portion of childhood memories are based around our individual holiday experiences. Participation in holiday celebrations helps us feel connected to our place in society. Through ritual we connect to generations, past and future.
Barbara Fiese writes in the Journal of Family that families that celebrate holidays are more likely to raise kids who have a strong sense of identity, are healthy, have close ties to family members and succeed in school. Dr. Steven J. Wolin, a clinical professor of psychiatry at George Washington University Medical School, cites that the power of ritual comes from heritage, tradition and most of all something being emblazoned in your brain over time. And that family rituals protect the individual against a sense of loneliness and uncertainty in daily living as it transmits shared beliefs of the family group across generations.
Carl Jung wrote, "Without meaningful ritual, people suffer. Ritual and ceremony can bridge our past and our present elegantly, making it possible for folks like you and me to travel through life, honoring the good and bad times we’ve been through. They can help us become human “well-beings,” ready to take on more life and liberty and ready to pursue our happiness.”
Recognizing and celebrating holidays and interacting with your family, friends and community are all ways to acknowledge seasonal changes. By celebrating these ancient rituals we attune with the magical tides and acknowledge the rhythms of life, death and rebirth, to harmonize with the world and to recognize that we are a part of it.
Dr. William Dorherty, director of the marriage and family therapy program at the University of Minnesota, has identified two kinds of rituals in our society. The first is the traditional secular and religious rituals surrounding holidays, weddings or funerals; the second involve ritual a family or individual has created to celebrate their life. As children our lives were sprinkled with these small, magical rituals from nightly prayers to singing skipping songs, blowing dandelions to blowing out birthday candles. As adults practicing daily ritual allows us to experience a more magical life. Through ritual we can reprogram the unconscious mind so we have a different set of expectations about how the world will respond to us. Through ritual we can find our way to the places in our lives that exist in between the tick-tock of everyday living and the luscious places of dreaming, the magical places that connect us to the Divine.
There are many simple ways to incorporate ritual into your life: practicing meditation, keeping an alter, lighting a morning candle, whispering a prayer, silently focusing only on your breathing as you visualize what you want to accomplish during the day… all of these are examples of simple morning rituals and all of these work to pull your awareness from the mundane and shift it to the sacred. Through daily rituals we are able to recalibrate our energy and connect with the Divine.
Ritual doesn't have to stop at home. Look at your workspace. What does it hold to remind you that you are a human being, not a robitron but a person, a human being living a tender, ecstatic, gorgeous life? I have a peacock feather and a bright red rock shaped like a heart and before I start my workday, I put the rock in my palm and whisper Namaste. This is called ritual. It is a small ritual but never the less it serves to remind me that I not a robot, and that I am so much more than just flesh and blood, but that I am also spirit as are all those I work with.
Taking a few moments everyday to engage in ritual allows you to become the spiritual being you really are and creating a personal ritual is easy. The important thing is to take something that is significant to you and to honor it. The gesture could include lighting a candle, practicing a daily meditation, honoring a specific place either inside or out, burning incense, or incorporate icons obtained in faraway places. Nothing is, unless you make it so with intention.
So make your life sacred. Take time out to see your world. Don't let the hurry and worry of life take the magic out of your existence. We as a nation have forgotten the art of conscious living. Unplug and take a conscious breath. This is your life you are missing. Put down that cell phone when you are out on your walk. Be present in the here and now, and stop multitasking! If you are eating, then push away that paper, book, phone and take a conscious bite. Be present and enjoy the flavor and texture of your food. Allow yourself to revel in the rich taste, to savor the decadent scent. Give your spouse your full attention during your conversations and be there in that moment when you send your child off for school or play. When we shift our awareness back to the things that matter, it honors and allows them to regain their importance in our lives and makes a way for the magical moments to exist, the moments that make life worth living.