Why rituals matter and how to embrace them
Life is not a thing to be managed, but a mystery to be lived.
Last weekend I took time out from a very busy day to join friends for a labyrinth walk in nature.
Labyrinth walking is an ancient meditative practice used by countless spiritual traditions and faiths for contemplation and healing. Often the act of walking a labyrinth (there is only one way in and one way out) quiets the mind and helps us connect with our own innate wisdom. This ritual always brings me new insights and gifts. (Search for labyrinths in your area.)
Rituals and traditions give our busy lives meaning and connect us to humanity and ourselves. They are powerful and necessary anchors in the world.
We all crave sacredness and ritual in our everyday lives — and not just around birthdays, Bar Mitzvahs, and weddings. Rituals can be both carefully planned events and casual but regular remembrances.
They might be as simple as voicing gratitude before a meal, creating regular space in your day for contemplation, setting an intention before a yoga class, scheduling morning and/or evening meditations, lighting a special candle in your home or work space before you start the day, or creating meal time support circles where you take turns sharing a high and low from the day.
When my son was young, one of our favorite rituals was hosting a “back-to-school” blessing for the kids in our life. We’d gather in a circle on the back porch after a special meal, have the kids voice and write down a one-word theme or intention for the coming school year, and then all the parents shower them with positive qualities — focus, compassion, the ability to try new things — for a healthy, enjoyable year. I also like to celebrate the holiday tradition of All Souls’ Day (November 2), and I set up a Mexican Day of the Dead altar to honor deceased relatives. My son loves to be involved in this ritual and always learns new things about his ancestry.
I also love creating larger rituals that celebrate important life transitions.
When my sister was thirty and pregnant with her first child, I hosted a blessingway — a ceremony derived from a Navajo tradition. (In Native American culture, women are honored as they pass through many phases in life, not just pregnancy.) About twelve women, both friends and relatives, attended the ceremony. None had ever attended a blessingway before, and it was a new and unusual experience for them to come together with other women in such an intimate way.
I spent hours Sunday morning getting ready for the gathering. Being about as non-crafty as they come, I was very proud when I successfully hobbled together a simple handmade flower wreath to adorn my sister’s head. For me, the process of contemplatively preparing for my sister’s arrival that Sunday felt like a ritual unto itself. Then, when everyone had arrived, we gathered in a circle on cushions on the floor in our front room. I told stories about growing up with four brothers and how excited I was when the “surprise twins” made their entry — and one of them was a girl! I talked about the significance of women’s circles, my sister’s journey from maiden to mother, and the importance of asking for and receiving help from a tribe. Then, we all took turns “gifting” my sister with qualities to support her as a new mother and honor her beautiful, kind, generous and wise heart. As we took turns sharing, we created a birthing necklace for my sister by stringing together carefully chosen, symbolic charms and beads. Finally, we blessed “birthing” candles that each woman left with, that they would light as soon as they received word that my sister’s labor had begun.
The women attending were visibly moved by this ceremony; it was clear that many were hungry for this level and type of connection.
When we mark important transitions or milestones in our lives — whether it’s your daughter’s first period, your last day at a job or your son starting kindergarten — we connect to the sacredness of life in the everyday. We remember that life is mysterious and unknown — and way more than a to-do list. More than anything, rituals help remind us that we’re all swimming in the same big, vast, miraculous and awe-inspiring ocean.
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