Presence in the present is the key to creating rituals for daily life.
by Donna Henes
Dear Mama Donna,
I think rituals are very important, and I feel their lack in my own life very strongly. But the fact is that I can never seem to find the time to actually plan special ceremonies. I am always too busy, too tired. I would appreciate some advice.
Time Deprived and
Pooped in the City
Dear Typical City Dweller,
In a culture which defines itself in terms of clocks and dollars, it is difficult to claim the time and mental space to devote to an occupation that results in no visible product. Non-product and nonproductive are definitely not the same thing, however.
We may think of ritual, ceremony, contemplation and meditation as not doing anything, but down time is not negative, it is not not doing something. What we are doing when we step off the rat race treadmill is resting, reflecting, ruminating, regenerating, rejoicing, receiving, re-sourcing; re-centering and renewing our energy, our essential spiritual selves.
Nor is sacred activity a luxury. When we carve out a niche in our busy lives to do the sorts of things that feed our souls; when we establish an integrated, ongoing ritual practice, we produce beauty, order, harmony, reverence, patience, introspection, connection, understanding and appreciation, which enriches everything else that we do. Ceremonial observance adds lucid layers-depth, dimension, drama, and distinction-to our lives, making the ordinary seem special, and the special, extraordinary.
Perhaps your idea of what a proper ritual should consist of is too daunting. If you imagine that ceremonial practice must be complex, complicated, ornate and overly organized, you are confusing a ritualistic concept with actual ritual. All that is truly necessary for effective and transformational ritual is a well-conceived, honest and sincere intention and the willingness to pay attention to the process.
Even the smallest, most mundane and profane moments of our lives can be potently sacred, if we honor them as such. The trick is to treat dailiness in a consciously celebratory manner. Those precious few quiet minutes in bed before we propel ourselves up and out into the day; the last sleepy moments at night before we fall to sleep; the precious stolen hours of quality time that we share with family and friends; time spent in the bath, in the garden, with a good book, even doing domestic routines; can all feel like holy rituals if you perform them with a concentrated ceremonial intention. Our resolution for sanctity makes it so. Concentration = consecration.
By making the time, by taking the time, by taking our time, and honoring all our times, we bless ourselves and endow ourselves with depth and enduring meaning. We consecrate our very lives, and celebrate the continuously wondrous miracle of our living.
Meals, for instance can certainly be more than the mere rushed intake of calories, nutrients, television news and bickering. A normal supper on any average evening can be one of life's most agreeable ceremonies if we establish a comfortable, leisurely, aesthetically pleasing, emotionally safe environment in which to enjoy food and convivial company even – especially – if it is "only" that of our own.
When my mother died, I inherited my grandmother's set of turn-of-the-century hand-painted china. I have always loved those dishes. They evoke fond memories of Gramma's excellent Jewish cooking and her unconditional love for me. They hold a complete smorgasbord of rich and heady sensual childhood recollections.
To this day, when I eat from them I can hear my grandfather's gruff benediction as he swallowed down his customary pre-meal shot of medicinal schnapps. I can see the giant blue spruce outside her Detroit dining room window and smell the lilac bushes that surrounded her tiny house. I can feel the fine stitches on her immaculate, embroidered tablecloths and my little brother kicking me under the table.
When Gramma died, my mother took the enormous set home with her to Cleveland. She wrapped each piece carefully, lovingly, in tissue paper and put the whole thing, covered in layers of protective plastic, away for use only on special occasions. For a while we enjoyed them at holiday suppers and other celebratory occasions when they were filled with company-only extravagances like black olives and pickled watermelon rinds.
But as time passed and the family dispersed, special occasions became rare. I didn't see those dishes for years, and I coveted them. Now that they are mine, I, too, cherish them and use them only for very special occasions. Every Meal. Every Day. I am careful with them, to be sure, but I use them. If I break one occasionally, I feel bad about it for a second, then put the pieces on the soil of my potted plants where their colorful pattern continues to cheer me. If there are none left by the time I die, so be it. One less find for the Antiques Road Show.
The art of approaching all areas of life with the same dedicated, detailed devotion that one would apply to an important ritual event is endlessly affirming. I think of this mind set as altared sense-ability. The process, the conscious and conscientious practice of living a seamless ceremonial existence. The finely tuned craft of making every single detail matter and every precious second truly count. It is this constant presence in the present that ultimately nourishes and energizes us.
With ritual in our mind, any time is sacred, and any place a sanctuary. When we allow ourselves to claim the psychic space and set aside the valuable time for creative ceremony – when we assume the entitlement, the ability, and the authority to do so-we are able to tranceform our perceptions, our perspectives, our passions, our experience, our expectations, and, in the process, our entire reality.
Are you cyclically confused? In a ceremonial quandary? Completely clueless? Wonder no more. Send your questions about seasons, cycles and celebrations to Mama Donna at firstname.lastname@example.org.