I don’t know why I want to write about this subject. I just know that I feel called to it, and have been for a while. I’ve been captivated these last few weeks by grief and a growing sense that the quality of my life, perhaps of all life, depends in large part upon a relationship with death. I could more easily be writing about that. But, for some reason, the thought of ceremony has been hanging around like a hungry orphan begging for my attention. I don’t exactly know why, but I’m going to use this writing time to inquire into what ceremony might hold for me. I hope this process of discovery might prove fruitful for you too.
When I think (which hasn’t been much until recently) about ceremony, I think about elaborate rituals that generally I don’t understand, relate to, and that I feel forced to endure. You can smell the old Catholic in my reaction. I haven’t tended to think of ceremony as the little things I do each day to remind myself how lucky I am to be here, and how reliant I am upon the Mystery that keeps feeding me. I haven’t yet made the journey from ceremony being what someone else does, and I have to endure, to something I do, that infuses my life with my gratitude.
I think I started making that journey when I witnessed the casual reverence of a man giving a little tobacco offering to the Sun at the beginning of a day. I’ve never felt moved to do such a thing, I could, but I don’t really want to. What observing this did is stir me up. I think that is why I’m making this inquiry.
I’ve been a little critical of many of the social situations I’ve been in lately. It seemed like they had forgotten or ignored the sacredness of our gathering. Of course the real truth is more about me than about the group I’m in. Groups by-and-large seem to ignore this dimension of meeting, probably to avoid the issue of who’s idea of the sacred gets expressed and who’s doesn’t. That makes sense to me, but it has become less and less satisfying over time. I find the quality of what happens suffers without a sense that “something larger” has a stake.
I haven’t, until just this moment, held myself accountable for the fact that I tend to go along with the program. I don’t mean that I think I should impose my will upon everyone else, but maybe I should honor the truth of the situation as I see it. I need to create for myself some little ritual that reminds me of how I want to honor the moment. This line of thought is too potent, too hard to pursue, too slippery for me to approach head-on. I have to sidle up to it.
I find myself thinking about the little daily rituals I do now: the affirmations when I awaken in the morning, the thoughts of dreams as I go to the bathroom, my morning shower, eating, my at–the-table gratefulness, checking the computer, glancing at the news, throwing things in the garbage or recycle, dealing with clients, thinking about my relations or ambitions, listening to music, readying for bed, letting myself relax and fall asleep. Those are discrete moments when I have to be a little more awake to do them well. Maybe they are already little forms of ceremony I am currently doing?
Yes, and no. These moments are discrete enough and have been infused with a certain amount of holy awareness, but they pass-by commonly without me noticing, and caring enough to take the time to remind myself of the grace inherent in those moments. I could pay greater attention. Ceremony, as some little way of reminding myself, could help me to be more present. And, as one famous Sufi’s said, “He who isn’t present experiences no Presence.”
I am thankful that I am noticing my disappointment in groups, because when I follow the disappointment into the recesses of myself, I am beginning to grasp that ceremony is growing in importance to me. I need to remind myself. I am capable of being happy, of having a sense of my place in this strange unfolding, of experiencing praise at the glorious and surprising nature of Creation. Besides that, I like and trust myself more when I do more than just give a shit.
What a surprise! Ceremony seems to be welling up from within me. Apparently, as my memory fails, I am finding myself even more interested in remembering what is important to me. I seem to be experiencing something like the salmon of me longing to return to the source. Ceremony seems to me, just now, to be a mini version of a much larger ritual that seems to be going on.
I like this knowing. I’m glad I took the time for it. Writing is one form of ceremony that keeps reintroducing me to Mystery. I hope this little foray does the same for you.
I listen to Deva Premal and Miten’s 21 Day Mantra – with earphones. It really invites me into the right space to start the day. Sacred, with beautiful chants.
Helena W. says
Thank you so much, David, for so eloquently voicing your thoughts and process. I have been in a similar process but am a few paces behind you.
Does anyone know how to find a Aging Well Learning Community in my area? I am in Portland OR, an Aging-Friendly (supposed) city but after much searching I can’t find any existing groups.
Nancy Walton-House says
I have a contact for you in Multnomah Village. Please send a private message to me, Nancy Walton-House, on Facebook and I will tell you more about my friend who was a member of the Aging Well Learning Community in Washington.
Alexandra Hart says
Dear Nancy, there aren’t many of these kinds of communities around. David/Lucky and I wrote a book called “The Age of Actualization” that is available on Amazon and gives information about starting something in your own area. Don’t know if you’re up for that, but the book is a lot more than that alone. David doesn’t have a Facebook page and presence, so he may not be able to contact you in that way. I do, so I’ll try to give you his info that way. -Alexandra
Nancy Walton-House says
I apologize for posting a somewhat unclear message. My comment re: Multnomah Village was directed to Helena W. who lives in Portland OR. Helena requested a local contact and I offered one for Lucy, my friend who is an experienced member of our six year old Aging Well Learning Community in Snoqualmie, WA. Hopefully Helena and Lucy will get together and form their own Aging Well Learning Community using whatever sources are known and helpful to them. I am aware of multiple similar communities in the US.
Alexandra Hart says
I find myself asking myself to enter into each new environment and new moment with the question of myself, What is it about this moment that makes it sacred? I suspect that I will find the answer to be, Because this moment IS. Because I am witness to the miracle of Life coursing through me and through the whole right NOW. Gratitude seems too small a word for the magnificence of that!
Nancy Walton-House says
David, I love your reflection. As another old Catholic and current Catholic, I greatly appreciate ceremony/ritual whether designed and led by another or by me. Like you, I am often disappointed by “many of the social situations I’ve been in lately. It (seems) like they (have) forgotten or ignored the sacredness of our gathering.” I seek out and participate in events, relationships and groups that honor and express the sacred. It is a homing instinct for me. Mystery, meaning, purpose and open communication about them call me home.
By the way, also like you and Alexandra Hart, I lead an Aging Well Learning Community that meets monthly in Snoqualmie, Washington. We are hosted by the King County Library System and draw participants from a large region. We’ve met for the past six years to explore topics, share the arts and enjoy a community meal. Sometimes we attend social and cultural events together also. Our purpose is to support ourselves and others in aging well with consciousness, courage and contribution. I am grateful for the presence of these people and our process in my life.
I enjoy your comments on this blog and Growing an Elder Culture Radio Program. Thanks for .haring your thoughts and experiences with others.