I was reflecting recently on my experiences with ritual, and had a pretty profound realization. It’s one of those things I already knew, but didn’t quite grasp the significance of until just now.
After we have experienced something in ritual, especially a challenging something, we don’t have to learn that lesson the hard way in the rest of our lives.
Let me explain. When we create ritual as an embodiment of a specific intention, the energy of that intention is really present for us during the ritual. It’s there because we created it. We called it into being. If, for example, we are creating a rites of passage ritual, with the intention that it help ease us through whatever transition we are currently facing in our lives, when we move through that ritual, we are really present to the feelings, fears, excitement, and uncertainty that is part of moving through that particular transition. It’s not just a symbol (although we may use symbols during the ritual). Those feelings are real, and we are really moving through them.
Knowing this, why not use ritual as an easier, safer, quicker, more conscious way of moving through experience? Life is full of lessons no matter what. It can be difficult to move through these lessons with ease and grace, and one big reason is that we don’t see the lessons clearly. Maybe we’re afraid to see. Maybe we don’t know what we’re looking for (or think we don’t). Maybe the things that happen to us seem like just bad (or good) luck, or just the way things are, and we think there’s no way we can make sense of them or make a difference in the way things happen to us.
It’s true that we can’t control everything that happens to us, and it’s true that analysis of life (trying to understand exactly why things happen as they do) can paralyze us and keep us from living even while we still can’t get to the bottom of things. Ritual is not a magic wand that will suddenly clarify everything around us to the point where there is no uncertainty or discomfort. Ritual is, however, a tool that can help us to become more conscious of what life already offers us, and offers us in abundance.
Say you are feeling dissatisfaction with your job. You wake up every morning and dread going in to work, but then you tell yourself it doesn’t matter what you feel, you have a good job and it allows you to keep paying the rent. So you go in. On the way to work you see a group of teenagers just hanging around, doing nothing in particular. You want to yell at them to go find something to do, but at the same time you wish you could join them. As you use your computer at work, an ad comes up for a cruise vacation. You quickly click to get rid of it, but you feel grumpy for the next hour and you’re not sure why. Going home, you decide to get a dozen donuts even though you know you don’t need the sugar, because you feel you deserve it after having had such a rotten day.
And so it goes, and so it could go for weeks, months, or years. Nothing moves. Finally you might get sick, or get in an accident, or get fired. At this point you can’t ignore the fact that something significant has happened, but you still might chalk it up to bad luck, or believe someone (the universe?) has it in for you. Or you could pay attention to how relieved you feel that you don’t have to sit at that computer anymore, even though you don’t know how you’re going to pay your rent now. You could realize that you’d been unhappy in that job for years, and since you didn’t pay attention to that feeling, something happened to make sure you did, to make sure you know that feeling was and is important.
This is the kind of lesson I’m talking about. The kind where something moves inside you and, if you don’t pay attention to it, it starts moving outside of you too. You know what happens when you don’t pay attention. Time and energy is lost. You suffer. What happens when you do pay attention? What happens when you honor what wants to happen through you, when you honor the abundance of signals and messages life is offering you that support the movement inside?
Ritual is a way of honoring this internal movement. Ritual is a way of making the internal external in a conscious, focused way, so that you don’t have to wait for life to send you the lessons that knock you on your butt. So that you don’t have to miss the signals. So that you are already in safe, sacred space, where all feelings and thoughts, even the difficult ones, can be contained and woven into the energy of the whole, harmonized with your intention instead of allowed to do their best to drown out your intention.
What does this look like? Let’s go back to the job example. If you are dissatisfied with your job, instead of continuing on in misery and trying to ignore your feeling, you might decide to create a ritual to help you move through your experience. You might set an intention to manifest more clarity about your direction in life. You might set an intention that an abundance of options for alternate jobs manifest for you. You might intend that you have a safe space to explore your feelings and be witnessed by others who care about you.
Which direction you choose to go with this is up to you, but no matter what, the moment you choose to have a conscious intention around this situation, and begin to take action towards embodying that intention (designing a specific ritual which includes specific actions and specific symbols, that takes place at a specific time and place, with specific people present), you are no longer in a hit-or-miss relationship with this particular life lesson. You are in a conscious, focused relationship with it. You are paying attention. You will be able to move through this lesson more quickly and with greater ease. Ultimately, you will live a richer life. More of your potential will be available to you, and more opportunities will open out to you, because you aren’t getting stuck in a repetitive loop with one lesson that you just can’t seem to learn.
And, too, if part of your lesson is to learn how to move with and work through difficult emotions, such as despair, grief, or rage, when you do so within ritual space, you do not have to first create destruction and waste around you as you blindly attempt to manage these. Ritual does not take the sting out of painful emotions, and it does not reduce them to ghosts of their former selves. They show up in ritual in all their glory. The difference is that in ritual you are consciously choosing to work with them. You are allowing them to come through in sacred space where you may meet them without fear that they will overwhelm you, where you may meet them surrounded by support and by the powerful clarity of your intention.
Isn’t this what the world needs? Isn’t this what you need? Imagine the possibilities…