This blog post follows closely on the last one, in that I think the two are stronger together.
After writing about incorporating small rituals into daily life, I felt that something was missing. It’s not that I don’t believe what I wrote about how easy and beneficial it can be to bring ritual into almost any part of your daily routine to strengthen things that already flow well and to bring things that don’t flow well into closer alignment with your intentions. But I don’t want to sound like a commercial for ritual, saying, “here, just follow these steps and your life will be better.” While my business is built on offering support to those who would like to incorporate more ritual into their lives, I in no way want to give the impression that ritual is a slick package that you can just plug into your life, a program only there to help you change your habits and with determination move ever onward and upward.
Ritual, in its externals and in its benefits, really does have a lot in common with other types of self-improvement programs, or other practices, such as mindfulness or prayer. It will help you to slow down. It will help you be more intentional and aware of what you are doing. But for me, ritual is also something unique and something more.
To get to where I’m going with this, I’m going to write a little bit about the concept of work. There’s more than one way to think of work. You can think of it as the opposite of play. You can think of it as those things you have to do, as opposed to those things you want to do. You can think of it as what you necessarily have to get out of the way before you can relax and just be.
You can also think of it in the way it was presented to me in a dream several years ago. I dreamed that I was among a group of large, heavy stones. When I say large and heavy, I mean large and heavy. Each stone was like a rough, strong sculpture, big enough to sit on. The thing to do in this space was to sit on the stones. When you did, work would happen. But it didn’t come from putting forth effort, or physically moving or doing anything. The stones were there to help something inside you to move. More than anything else, their function was to act as a catalyst for a transfer of energy from wherever it had been inside you to the place inside you where it was needed. It was something like connecting an electric circuit.
After that dream, I had a new definition of work: transfer of energy. There is no part of that definition that states that you have to sweat or prove yourself or push yourself up to a certain threshold of activity. If the necessary transfer of energy can happen by simply sitting still within a certain environment, the work has still been done.
Here is a quote from Shaun McNiff, art therapist, that comes the closest I’ve found to describing what I learned from my dream:
“Physicists view work as energy in motion and the result of force applied to an object. The continuous application of force on an object does not necessarily generate work in physics since there must be movement to achieve this outcome. Therefore effort is not always work. In art, work is perceived to be both the process and product of creation—artists do their work and create works.”
(from the book Art Heals: How Creativity Cures the Soul)
How does this relate to ritual? Simple. Don’t work on your rituals. Let your rituals work on you. Build them using what will catalyze you, what will move you.
How do you know what will move you? That’s where personal symbols come in. We all have personal symbols. We all have dreams we’ve had again and again, colors that feel particularly and inexplicably good to us, images and particular types of objects we tend to surround ourselves with or that we encounter frequently.
The stones in my dream are personal symbols for me. The stones were symbols that were given to me so that I could understand a new concept of work. If I were to design a ritual around a work-related intention, I could infuse my ritual with deep soul energy by including some object or action that to me represented those stones, embodied them, brought them to life as perceived by my waking senses.
Do you know what your personal symbols are?
If nothing comes to mind (or even if it does), pay attention during the next week or so. You might even want to make this a ritual of its own. In your sacred space, breathe and focus on the question: What are my personal symbols? Write the question down. Place it in your sacred space, and let it go. Pay attention to what comes to you. Take notes. Begin to build a list, a virtual personal library and archive of your symbols. This is what you can refer to when you need those catalysts in your rituals.
Using personal symbols, you can let your rituals rise from the core of who you are, from your personal home base, your soul home. This is what will lend them power and authenticity. You will not be forcing anything. You will be making changes, but they will be fully aligned with your deepest sense of who you are, because they will come infused with that sense.