I started this post back in March, when I was really deep in Spiritual Nomad along with some other stuff. Then most of it came to a screeching halt for a variety of reasons (mostly illness and injury), and here I am, still knee-deep in Chapter 4. It’s a fun chapter, too. I get to create my own ritual, and my own wheel of the year with my own holidays and everything! Whee! So let’s get going.
This week is about ritual and the role it plays in our lives. We’ve all been to at least one kind of ritual: weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, etc. They don’t have to be religious in nature. Many are, though, and are the kind most people think of when they think of the word “ritual”. We go through all kinds of rituals in our daily lives, though. I do one every morning when I make my tea or coffee. There’s a very specific set of actions that happen in a very specific order in order to achieve a very specific goal, and it happens the same way every day. Brushing your teeth in the morning is a ritual. Driving to work is a ritual. Checking Facebook while you eat your lunch is a ritual. Rituals, big and small, establish order and give predictability to our lives. They make us feel secure.
There’s a big difference, though, between ritual with and without intent. Ritual without intent is just a series of motions repeated in the same way. Sure, it may bring comfort in its own way, but not in the same way that ritual infused with intent will.
For example, consider someone making their morning tea. They heat the water, they get their cup, they prepare the tea, they pour the water, they wait for it to steep, they augment it with anything, should they wish, and they drink it. While they made their tea, they were probably thinking about the day ahead of them, an argument they might have had with someone yesterday, what they’re going to wear, whether or not their dry cleaning is ready, so on and so forth.
Now consider someone who has made their morning tea into a ritual infused with intent. This is just an example, of course, and is similar to how I might perform my own tea ritual sometimes.
They walk into the kitchen with nothing on their mind except making their tea. They reach for the tea kettle and walk to the sink, paying attention to the water as it fills the kettle. They set the kettle down onto the stove top and listen for the click of the igniter and the ‘foomp’ of the gas flames leaping into life beneath the kettle, or the creak of the electric burner heating up. They may stand there and listen to the hiss of the flames and the other sounds around them: the HVAC switching on and off, the birds chirping, the dog or cat eating, a car door shutting.
As the water heats, they prepare their tea by getting their favorite teapot or teacup, and possibly contemplating it for a moment before setting it down. They may even have special teapots, cups, and spoons that are only used for their tea, much like other types of ritual tools. They get their tea out, pausing to smell it before measuring out how much they need for the cup or pot. They pay attention to the color, smell, and feel of the tea leaves. When the water boils, they take the tea kettle and slowly pour the water over the tea leaves. If they are lucky enough to have something in which they can watch their tea leaves steep, they take the time to watch their tea leaves slowly unfurl in the hot water and release their color and tannins.
When steeping time is over, they remove the tea leaves from the water, or pour the tea from the pot into their cup. They spend a moment just smelling the tea, and enjoying the sense of warmth from the cup. Only then do they take a first, small sip, really taking the time to discover all of the different flavors and aromas of the tea, the final physical and energetic product of their ritual. Each sip of tea can be its own ritual, in that way, taking in everything that went into making the tea, until the cup is done.
See the difference? One is done without attention and largely out of habit for the purpose of getting the morning’s caffeine hit (or taste hit, if one just really likes tea in the morning). The other is done with the intent of moving energy through and wrenching every iota of experience out of the simple act of making a cup of tea. One makes the tea a goal to be achieved. The other makes the tea a spiritual tool. Not that one is “better” than the other. When I’m in a hurry, I go for the quick way and in fact, rarely go for the full-on tea ritual experience. But what a wondrous start to each day it would be, or end, if I were able to afford myself the time for that or something like it.
Now I have instructions for how to make my own ritual, which I’ll be keeping to myself, thank you very much. Some things a girl just has to keep personal, and if you want the instructions, you’ll just have to buy Spiritual Nomad for yourself.
I did get to make my own calendar, with my favorite holidays and events on it. Everyone has days that are important just to them, for whatever reason, and they are just as deserving as any other holiday. So I plotted them all out: important birthdays and deaths, anniversaries, and religious holidays you won’t find on any American calendar. I still have to make it into something that looks nice, so that can be a nice art project to look forward to.
An aspect of Spiritual Nomad I’ve not been very good at are the prayer exercises. I just wasn’t in the habit of sitting down quietly and focusing my mind in a particular fashion. Now that I have a meditation habit established, I think I can attempt the prayer exercises with success, and will probably integrate the two activities, or at least do one after the other. I like getting my candles and incense out.
So that’s where I’m at. This week’s questions took some thought.
1. What rituals have you attended in your lifetime? Think of a ritual that you found moving, then one that wasn’t, and compare the two. Do rituals you enjoy have anything in common that you could incorporate into those you create?
I’ve been to a variety of church services and weddings as well as pagan rituals. I don’t like a lot of seriousness and rigidity or being commanded to do a lot of things. I do like music and drumming. I do NOT like the group meet-n-greet that often happens at churches in the middle of service or the tendency of pagans to hug one another. I like chanting and the reading of verse in ancient languages. I really like the use of lots of candles and incense and other physical methods of invoking spiritual energy (water, salt, etc.). Mostly, though, I like not having to say or do anything at all and just try to enjoy the ritual. So I suppose my rituals would probably involve the ritual lighting of candles and incense followed by reading something not in English or perhaps chanting something, and then probably a period of meditation (f someone had taken me to an Eastern or Greek Orthodox service when I was growing up, I might not have disliked Christianity so much).
2. What is one rite of passage you wish you could have marked with a ritual of some kind but didn’t? If you were to create a ritual for that missed occasion, what would it entail?
It would have been nice to have had a bigger deal made about my 16th birthday. As it is, I don’t really have any special memory about it at all. If I could create a celebration for it and not have to worry about money, I’d probably plan a dinner party at a nice restaurant (but not too nice: we’re talking about teenagers here) and invite my friends. We’d listen to our music and hang out and then go to the mall to go shopping until it closed. Then we’d go to whoever’s house was biggest and party some more. A beer or three would be quietly passed around. Then those of us with driver’s licenses would drive the rest of us home (the drivers not drinking beer, of course). The next day I’d wake up to car keys. 😀 And away I’d go…