Ritual

February 16, 2011 § 6 Comments

Yoda in jammies.

Yesterday, I received a comment from Kristin Noelle about my post Uncertainty. She wrote: The raccoons are everywhere. That is my new go-to quote when talking about reasons to fear.  Now we just need a comparable one for trust…

I have been thinking about her comment for the last two days. Especially yesterday when I got so caught up in my own fear, I made myself miserable, even when nothing was wrong. Trust, trust, trust. You would think it would be easy, but I forget all the time. And yet, if fear is the poison that holds us back, trust is the anti-venom.  In yoga, there is a practice called Pratipaksha Bhavana or “cultivating the opposite.” What it entails is simply thinking a positive thought immediately after thinking a negative one. When fear is felt, one should cultivate trust  – if one remembers. The problem is in the remembering.

I have been thinking about a way to remember to come back to trust after fear much as we try to remember to come back to our breath in meditation after the mind takes us away. What I thought about was Joseph Campbell and his discussion of ritual in The Power of Myth. In his book, he talks a great deal about the lack of rituals in our culture, especially in adolescence. ( I also think we lack rituals in middle age as well.) In my own adolescence, running became my ritual. Every day during high school and college, I tied up my shoes and tried to outrun prelims and rejection and leaving home.

The rituals I cultivated in my 20’s were achievement! advancement! ambition! Now, in my late 30’s, my rituals involve small children. Making the beds. Cutting apples. Spreading peanut butter. Folding laundry. I unfurl my yoga mat and come into downward dog. These are the acts that now ground me in the now, in the present moment. And of all my “rituals,” these are undoubtedly the most healthy.

Today I was wondering if I could cultivate some sort of ritual to disarm the fear and general ickiness I feel once the clock strikes 2 pm. Lately, I have been feeling “stuck” during the late afternoon. This is an empty time of day, without structure, and it mimics the uncertainty in my life as a military wife. Usually, everything is fine during these hours, but my fear transforms this time into a bit of a panic. What are we doing? Where are we going next? If I could think of some way to imbue the quality of trust into these difficult hours, perhaps I could  cultivate the opposite of what I usually feel. Then,  rereading Thomas Moore’s amazing book, Care of the Soul, and I found this:

Ritual maintains the world’s holiness. Knowing that everything we do, no matter how simple, has a halo of imagination around it and can serve the soul, enriches life and makes the things around us more precious, more worthy of our protection and care.

A halo of imagination. Holiness.  What if I could infuse my dreaded “unhappy hours” into something holy?  What if I could make the ordinary sacred? I need something to remind myself to trust.That even though I may not know where I am living in 15 months, I know where I am living right now. That bad things may happen to me but right now, there is nothing wrong. That some day I will die but right now I am alive.

Moore cautions against “making up” rituals because they “may support our pet theories but not the eternal truths.” But still, I can think of many everyday rituals that are ordinary but also support an awareness of something greater, something timeless. In my son’s preschool, they taught the children now and next. We wash the clothes and then we dry them. We breathe in and we breathe out. These are small, ordinary gestures that remind us to trust that in the present moment, nothing is wrong. And present moments are all we have.

I am thinking about maybe taking the boys for an afternoon walk as a way of creating a ritual or something sacred in the pre-dinner hours. Here in DC, spring is arriving timidly but most assuredly. It is in the 40’s and 50’s most days and there are oceans of mud to run through. For me, connecting to nature dissolves much of my panic. I am not sure if Thomas Moore would call it a ritual, but it is something that can be a little holy, at least to me.

Today, we walked down a path near a local park. Gus insisted on carrying a rock the size of his head and Oliver imagined that we were Star Wars Kitties, which is kind of a heartbreaking portrait of where he currently is right now: one foot in his preschool world of innocence and the other in a world where light and dark, good and evil are so clearly evident. In a way, it was almost fitting as he was calling to mind Joseph Campbell himself, whose book Hero with a Thousand Faces inspired George Lucas to create Star Wars in the first place. I was Anakin, Oliver was Luke, and Gus, of course, was Yoda. “Hold you me,” is what he says when he wants me to carry him. I tried to make the walk feel sacred, if only to myself. I tried to notice the air, the warm sun, the buds starting on the trees.

It was good. I am not sure if it was a quality of trust, or of simply having to remember to meow and use the force at the same time while also attempting to keep Gus from wiping out, but the afternoon was pleasant. I didn’t feel the yawning abyss of uncertainty. It was peaceful. Maybe, it even felt a little bit holy.

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