Why do I use ceremony and ritual in my process and at my events? The short answer is because it works. But that answer wouldn’t have sufficed for me when I started this inner work. I was educated and worked as an engineer so I required more research and understanding. I hope people are skeptical and so that short answer shouldn’t suffice for you either. In the realm of personal growth, self-help, and guru’s there are many false paths so it can be prudent to be skeptical.
I was trained to do the experiment or run the calculation myself and not just take someone else’s answer as good enough. Even in professional engineering and science work you check other people’s work and have other people check your process and calculation to ensure it doesn’t have mistakes.
When I started reading books on personal growth I was hesitant about ceremony and ritual. It looked like hokey stuff to me. Going to church as a kid didn’t help. I didn’t see any value in the ceremonies they did. Ceremonies in church seemed empty of value and meaning. When I didn’t understand them they seemed to take on a mystery that fed fear and superstitions beliefs. Fortunately, early in my personal process of change I was reading Care of the Soul by Thomas Moore and he helped clear up some of my misunderstandings, fears, and resistance. Thomas Moore helped me understand that we use ritual and ceremony all the time and that it has value in deepening our experience of life and events. This helped me get over some of my judgments and fears. Being skeptical doesn’t mean cynical, or to doubt everything. We have to try new things to see what will work and what won’t. See my previous post about my first ceremony to find out how it turned out.
Ceremony and Ritual in Everyday Life
We use birthdays to celebrate life and longevity. We customarily wish people happiness and sing them a song together. There might also be a Christening or Baptism as an intent for a young person’s well being in life. Weddings are ceremonies where people come together and unify their commitment to love, honor, respect, and take care of one another. Anniversary parties are for fun and to celebrate love. Thanksgiving is a celebration of gratitude. Independence Day is a celebration of freedom. Christmas time holidays are a celebration of great love and family connections. Holidays and celebrations are filled with rituals that deepen our connection to emotion, and to each other. Sometimes the bonding happens through the ritual of sharing a sports game together.
Funerals are our ceremony to honor and pay respects to the departed. They also afford family and friends to engage in practices that will help them to detach from that relationship emotionally and move on with their life. These rituals serve a purpose for those still living.
When I was in the military I put on my uniform each morning. With it I assumed a new identity, and personality. I shed my personal life attachments and commitments, and embraced a serious commitment to service. Wearing the uniform made many things about my personality and expressions change such as showing affection, my posture in how I stood, sat, and how I spoke. When I first put on the uniform I was taught that it was a big deal. I put on that uniform and it was an individual ceremony of change where I transformed my focus and intent within. Over time I became practiced at the change and it became automatic ritual of personal change each time I got dressed.
We also use ceremony and ritual in smaller ways in our everyday lives. At a sporting event we play or sing the national anthem. The music invites us to connect with our country men and women in a unified way. After the game competitors shake hands in a ritual of respect. Brushing my teeth is a personal ritual of cleansing. If I don’t brush my teeth before bed I don’t feel like things are in order.
Some people start their job by getting dressed for it. Others don’t feel they are ready to go until they first have their cup of coffee or tea in the morning. We probably don’t think of these everyday actions as rituals that connect us to our lives, activities, relationships or ways for us to focus our attention and intent, but they are. An action or activity can be practical and still have a ritualistic emotional feeling or centering aspect to it. There are rituals we do all around us that help us get centered in an emotional state and focused. We probably just have a different label for them.
All of these ceremonies and rituals add richness, depth, emotion, meaning, and order to our lives and relationships. We may not think of these everyday activities as rituals or ceremonies. Somewhere the terms ceremony and ritual have been left out of our cultural lexicon. In doing so we may not be as conscious of the value they serve. Even if the value they serve is to connect us socially with friends while having a beer and watching a sporting match. The term ritual and ceremonies have somehow unconsciously been relegated to realms of the religious or superstition. In doing so we may have lost some of the importance we use them for in engaging our attention, intent, and connecting with others.
Early Resistance to Ceremony
For me, the resistance to appreciating and utilizing ritual and ceremony grew as I distanced myself from the religion I grew up with. I didn’t understand the meaning of all the symbols and I didn’t connect with the meanings I did understand. The ceremony therefore seemed empty and rote. By distancing myself church ceremony I somehow distanced myself from all ritual and ceremony. In the separation I lost some connectedness with others and a deeper connection with life.
In the church the priest was doing the ceremony and so I wasn’t engaged. I was sitting near the back only watching what the priest had is attention and intent on. What I didn’t realize is that when you watch a ceremony you are not experiencing it in the same way as if you are doing it. Doing rituals and ceremonies is always much more powerful than watching or thinking about them. You’ll have no idea the power of ceremony if this is your only experience. When I finally engaged in my own ritual I knew what all the meanings were because I created the ceremony for myself.
What is Ceremony?
The essential part of a ceremony or ritual is the concentration of intent and attention that you put to work on beliefs, emotions, and feelings. Our patterns of fears and false beliefs were created because we put some amount of attention and intent into building them. Then to dismantle them also requires a similar amount of attention and intent. In our house of beliefs in our minds, the nails and screws were all driven in by a force. That force is a kind of personal will power that I call intent. To take out those screws and nails holding beliefs together requires a force as well. A ceremony is an event where you focus your force of intent to release those beliefs. In a wedding you direct that intent to make commitment to love and respect. At other times you can use that intent to release agreements, beliefs, or commitments that you previously created.
Ceremony can be anything. It can be as simple as making tea. The real essence is the attention and intent you put behind it. You can make tea in a stressed out way with fears of judgment that your guests won’t like it. Or, you can make and serve tea with a focused attention and presence that changes the mood in the room. Walking doesn’t look like much, but when done in a funeral procession it can be reflective, mourning, releasing, and put us in touch with a very precious commodity of life so that we can then further appreciate the time we have and not waste it. You can clean out your garage or a closet as a grudging bit of work, or you can direct your attention to see it as a cleansing of your past and baggage. As you let go of items of your past you are freer with your attention to live in the moment. Done in this way it is a ritual of ceremony. Without awareness and intent it is just a chore to get done as soon as possible.
Where is there ceremony and ritual in your life? How do you use it to change focus your attention, your emotional state, ground yourself into a centered feeling, or change the direction of your life? Do you have rituals like brushing your teeth, morning coffee, or physical exercise that help center you? Do you have certain holiday foods, songs, activities, or decorations that give you a sense of purpose and connection? What ones do you want to create that would make your life and relationships richer?
Where or when do you judge and diminish the practice of ritual and ceremony in your mind? Is it necessary to do so considering that you are probably including such activities in your day, even if it is just a matter of doing dishes and brushing your teeth? Consider that by reclaiming power over the lexicon of ritual and ceremony that you are claiming power over areas of your life that you have previously dismissed as hokey or ceded to the realm of superstition.
Life is richer in emotion, love, and happiness when we engage our attention on it. Ritual and ceremony is just a label that describes moments when we consciously create richer moments. My suggestion to you is that you claim and create more of these moments instead of letting them be lost to habits of the past. Doing so will carry you a few steps further on your pathway to happiness.