Over the course of history, ceremony has been an integral part of our development as humans. Though it may seem outdated or insignificant to the modern person, there are so many ways in which our lives are detrimentally, and often unknowingly, affected by the loss of this deeply meaningful and uniquely human practice. Ceremony gives us the opportunity to bring sacredness into our lives and has been a part of celebrations, life transitions, initiatory experiences, life commitments and times in seasonal and cultural life for millennia. Though we may not even realize we are missing it, there are so many ways that its loss affects us deeply. Until we can bring this practice back into our lives, we may be missing out on the full richness and depth of our journey through life.
One of the reasons ceremony holds such power is because of the way it calls us into full presence and intention in the moment, and brings focus, significance and an experience of the spiritual to a time or event that holds importance. How many important milestones in our lives go by without any significant recognition? Think of the kinds of problems that result from this. How can we fully experience and integrate these events when we give them no time, no attention, and no recognition? There is so much we just push aside, push through or try to ignore. What if we gave these milestones, either joyful or challenging, space to exist in our lives and in our psyches? What if we honored them for the life-altering effects that they hold, for the lessons they have to offer? Think of all the trauma we carry around as a result of simply holding onto unprocessed emotions. Ceremony offers you the opportunity to give time and space in your life to things that really matter, to allow yourself to sink into them, feel what is happening and move forward from a place of healing, acceptance, support and intention.
Ceremony is particularly helpful in honoring transitions and the changing roles we hold as we go through life. In many traditional cultures, this practice was held with great reverence. People were initiated into adulthood, parenthood, elder-hood. Their changed status was seen and honored by the community, thus helping them step into their new position in society and feel supported in doing so. The loss of these initiatory experiences has taken away so much meaning and value from our lives and has left many of us feeling lost, and without a sense of worth or belonging. We are often unable to tap into the feeling that life is sacred, meaningful and valuable and that we have an important role to play within it. Because of this, depression, anxiety, loneliness and feelings of isolation run rampant as people struggle to understand why they are here. These initiations are what gave us not only a sense of a developing self, but also embedded us within the context of our community as valuable, contributing members. What if we were celebrated as we stepped into adulthood, rather than beat up or hazed or made to feel ashamed and embarrassed about the changes our body's were going through? What if we were honored for our wisdom and life experience as we stepped into elder-hood, instead of demeaned and devalued? If we were, this life would certainly feel different.
Ceremony also allows an opportunity for deep connection that we are rarely afforded in everyday life. In traditional cultures, ceremony was one of the main ways people affirmed their interconnectedness, with both each other and with nature, and allowed people the experience of feeling valued and fully validated for who they were. When we step into ceremony, we step out of the superficialities of the everyday and enter a container that allows people to safely share their deepest emotions and most personal experiences. This creates the unique feeling of having a strong bond with those present, whether they are personally familiar or not. This shared experience offers a very different kind of interaction than we normally get in our everyday lives, and can be so meaningful for both speaker and listener, sharer and holder of space. Through this practice, people are affirmed in their feelings of connection and value and can feel supported in a much deeper and more meaningful way.
By reigniting ceremonial experience in our lives, we invite in a deeper level of connection to life, self, community, meaning and spirit. This practice heals, on both the individual, community and societal level. The ceremonies we create can be simple or complex, short or more lengthy, and need not ascribe to any religion, dogma or established faith. In modern times, though we may be short on guidance, creating any sort of meaningful ritual around an intention is all it takes to tap into the power of ceremony. Whether practiced alone or done with outside guidance, this way of connecting more deeply with our emotional and spiritual lives holds the power to give us a more whole and healed experience of life.
For more information about designing meaningful ceremonies, check out these basic resources:
The Book of Ceremony by Sandra Ingerman
Living Passages for the Whole Family by Shea Darian
As 2020 comes to a close, now seems a good time to stop and reflect. As the COVID crisis has reignited, I have found myself experiencing waves of grief; grief over the state of the world, grief over the fact it seems like society always takes the wrong approach, grief over the many who are deep in suffering due to this crisis AND those who are in deep suffering due to our response to it, grief over the divisiveness I see and hear about what is happening, and grief for all the people, and children in particular, who are being denied a feeling of security, safety, health and human connection.
Perhaps the biggest problem, as I see it, is the polarization happening among the general population. While I have my own opinions about things, I have been shocked and saddened by the anger I've seen spewed on both sides of the argument: maskers and anti-maskers, pro-vax and anti. When are we going to realize that we don't make things better by trashing the "bad guys", by fighting injustice with hatred, fear with anger or ignorance with contempt? In spite of my strongly-held opinions, I respect people's choices in regards to how they are living and what they need to do to feel safe. The only way we will ever make progress on any of these issues is if people's rights to their opinions are respected, if we can listen to each other with open hearts and allow everyone to make their own decisions. Granted, there is a lot of skewed and biased information out there - I don't deny that. But I still want to allow people, even misinformed people, to make their own decisions. Coming from a place of non-judgement rather than opposing, attacking or defending allows people to be more open to other perspectives and may lead them to a place within themselves where they can find their own answers rather than being led by the stories and fears of others.
As a practitioner of natural medicine, it is also very difficult for me to see the intense avoidance of the issue of health in the midst of the dominant narrative. From what I have experienced about the "safety" measures so far, the message is that we are fighting an enemy, namely, this one virus, and behind that, fighting the enemy we all fear most, which is death itself. I will abstain from getting into a discussion about our deeply, deeply rooted cultural fear of death, or our extreme misconceptions about the role of bacteria and viruses in human health, but will point out instead the avoidance of what this virus really indicates: basically, it shows that we are a population of sick individuals living on a sick planet. What if our virus-prevention measures included giving out free organic vegetables, taking action aimed at cleaning up the air and water and starting programs that support connection with nature and teach mindfulness and reduce stress? Hmmmm, all things that would improve health and immunity and make us less susceptible to disease. Of course, we all probably understand why these things aren't discussed (just keep up that war mentality so nobody thinks too hard about the way things are. Use fear to keep control of the people and make more money!). It is sad to see how well this campaign works and how little attention is given to improving health, on a personal or global level, and, it seems obvious that there will only be more rounds of these kinds of crises if the current program continues to be followed. Unless we as a global culture decide to clean up our bodies and the environment, we are unlikely to see much change or improvement.
In addition, I am also deeply concerned about the detrimental effects of the current measures taken in the name of safety. Who is weighing the costs of all this? The increases in anxiety, depression, loneliness, suicide, abuse? The vast increase in screen time for children? The isolation and lack of human connection? The detrimental (yes, you heard me right, VERY DETRIMENTAL) effects this distancing is having on our immune systems? There is plenty of research out there to show that all this is happening, right now, as a direct result of our so-called protective measures. As a mother, I worry about the children especially. I work hard daily to make sure my kids know they are safe, that contact and connection with other humans is safe and healthy and necessary, and expose them regularly to things that will strengthen their systems, specifically and in particular, nature, sunlight, bacteria, viruses, plants, animals and other people. If you look at all of human history, when have we ever isolated ourselves? It is a deeply unnatural thing to do and comes with all sorts of costs mentally, physically, emotionally, and psychologically, which are currently, in my opinion, being swept under the rug nearly completely, and at a very high cost to many portions of our population.
So how do we right this crazy ride we are on? I don't pretend to know all the answers. There is so much that needs to be righted, it is hard to know where to begin, much less how to implement a sweeping global overhaul. But I do know that the more we allow ourselves to be guided by love, acceptance and respect, the greater and faster we can move forward. I do know that health, safety and a better world can never come from disconnection and separation. And I do know that the force of human creativity and inspiration has more potential and dormant power than any other force in the world. Once again, I find myself in the place of calling out to my fellow humans to awaken, AWAKEN! We can create something different, something beautiful, if only we would stop, think, and find the truth deep within. Acting from that place of deep humanity, we can find our way out of this thing and into a better future, together.
We are living through unprecedented times. A few months ago, I never would have believed a societal shut-down like the one we are experiencing would have been possible. But here we are. And with all the fear and unknowns raging around, it is harder than ever to maintain any bit of balance in our lives.
Yet, it is precisely at this time that I feel it is most important to be balanced, perhaps more than ever before. There are four main reasons why: 1. to protect health (more on that later), 2. to begin transmuting the fear into something positive, 3. to take advantage of the benefits this time is affording us, and 4. to aid in creating the best possible outcome for ourselves and our planet.
Let me explain, both why and how.
As many of you probably know, we have two main branches of our nervous system - sympathetic and parasympathetic. The sympathetic nervous system is the one known as "fight-or-flight", its our emergency response system. When you are afraid for your survival, stressed, worried, and feeling out of control, you are likely in sympathetic mode most of the time. This system was designed to work in short intervals, to allow us to deal with immediate dangers and threats. When it is activated for prolonged periods, as is often the case in our modern lifestyles, this carries a number of negative ramifications for your body as a whole. A prime consideration in this time specifically is that when you are in sympathetic mode, the functioning of your immune system is severely impaired. So, the more fear you are carrying around getting sick, around life circumstances, around what is happening in the world, the greater the degree of immune impairment and the more vulnerable you are. Break the cycle. You don't have to be living in fear! We'll talk more about how to do that later on.
Let's take a moment to acknowledge the collective aspect of our culture. Every emotion we have has an energy to it. You can tell/feel when someone around you is angry, sad, or joyful without them having to speak, yes? So imagine a room full of people, all feeling strong anger, sadness or joy. How would that feel. Pretty intense! Now multiply that by millions. In our world right now, there are so many people feeling fear, sadness, worry, disempowerment. That energy cloud is huge and it envelops all of us. This is one of the reasons why many of us have been feeling so emotional and rocked by waves that we can't see but can definitely feel. It is important at this time to be aware of how the collective energy is affecting you. It is possible to clear this energy from your body and even to change it, which is what I would encourage you to do, both for your own health and for the well-being of society as a whole. Yes, stay home, yes wear your mask in the store. AND, help change the energy. Feel gratitude, find joy. Its ok to have fun, laugh and be thankful, even during difficult and serious times. As you stop contributing to the cloud of negative energies, you help to transform the situation for everyone in a beautiful and positive way.
Think about the benefits
I would also like to point out the benefits of recent life-shifts, on both a personal and societal level, and the opportunity it provides us if we can view it in that lens. When was the last time we slowed down? How many of us have had the opportunity to be home, be with our loved ones and maybe do things we feel we never have "time" for? As a society we are always in go-go-go mode. Time is always in short supply and self-care, connection and appreciation for the home and family are often not at the top of the priority list. This time many of us have now is such an important opportunity to really look at and reassess how we are living our lives. Is it feeding us? What is truly necessary and what do we do just out of habit, routine or feelings of expectation or obligation? As we think about these things, it may become very apparent that shifts are needed. Shifts that prioritize, health, family, and connection. This is so needed in our culture, for individuals, for society and for the health of our planet.
So, considering all this, let's talk about outcomes. Can you imagine, what if there was actually a positive overall outcome to this situation? What if people were able to step out of their fear and into an empowered place of hope, love, support and connection? What if people, families and communities began to prioritize health, balance, and sanity over work, obligation, and the drive for more? Just imagine how that would change our world, our economy, our environment and the challenges we face as a species. Structures would begin to pop up that actually support personal wellness, the environment, and the family. Physical and mental health would be improved, relationships would be improved, people might be happy. Imagine. Yes, there will be sadness, grief, and loss that come along with all that. It is not all sun and flowers. But let's give some focus to the positive aspect of things rather than focusing only on fear. Put some energy into the positives and I guarantee it will benefit you and everyone else as well.
Now comes the how. How do you escape all the fear and begin to bring in a more positive outlook and perspective? There are so many techniques out there, but outlined below are a variety of suggestions that I have personally found to be effective. Most importantly, experiment and find what works for you. Tune in to your body and feel, how does this thing I just did affect me? Do I feel calmer, more uplifted? Do I feel deeper in chaos? Then, limit what leads to chaos (like turning down the volume on it), and increase what leads to calm, joy, peace (turn it UP). Pretty soon and with awareness, the balance will start to shift and you can feed yourself that which leads to stability, positivity and empowerment.
Suggestion #1: Connect with nature
If there's one thing I would suggest over anything else, it is this. Spend time outdoors if at all possible, preferably in someplace with plants, trees and water. There is little that is more grounding and calming to the body, especially if you can be in direct contact with the earth or water (think bare feet or sitting directly on the ground). Forest, beach, river. They hold such healing power and pull us out of the chaos in our minds. Also, being outdoors often means moving (walking, hiking, running, etc.), which is also extremely beneficial for the body and mind and can be invaluable in processing difficult emotions.
Suggestion #2: Make time for stillness
This is another very beneficial practice, and one that is easy to never get around to actually doing. Find space and time in your day to just be, undisturbed and quiet. Though your mind may be busy, try to release attachment to any chatter and let it float on by. Find some guided meditations if this is difficult for you. There are many great apps and other resources out there to support you in this. Though our culture often does not recognize or honor it, we all hold great wisdom inside ourselves. The only way we can access this is by getting our minds to be quiet enough to hear it. Take time also to tap in to how you are really feeling, instead of what you are being influenced by. Check in with what your fears and concerns are and reflect on how realistic or grounded they are. Can you let go of some of the worries you are carrying around?
Suggestion #3: Nourish the body
Both for your physical health, as well as your emotional balance, it is important to connect with and care for the body. This includes things like eating a nourishing diet, using appropriate balancing and strengthening herbs and supplements, practicing good self-care and getting good rest. Keep in mind that there is no one-size-fits-all diet that is good for everyone, however, an abundance of organic vegetables, good fats and healthy protein is always helpful. Nourishing the body goes way beyond diet though. Listening to your body and responding to its needs is very important at this time, and will help you get more in touch with your own empowered guidance and wisdom. This could mean sleeping long nights, taking extra time to rest, journal or just space out, getting good exercise, stretching or taking a long bath. Whatever it is that feeds you, truly and deeply, do it!
Herbal medicines can also be very helpful in staying calm, grounded and feeling strong. There is so much information out there about this, but at this time, I think rhodiola, cordyceps and astragalus are particularly useful for dealing with stress, supporting the lungs and immune system, and strengthening the body.
Suggestion #4: Limit your intake of media and find positive ways to connect with others
The greatest contributor to the fear we are all feeling is the media. While you can definitely stay abreast of current events, limit it to that and avoid taking in more than necessary. Also, be aware of who you interact with and what their attitudes and opinions are. If the people around you are in panic mode, it will be much harder for you to stay centered. Try to connect with people who have a more grounded and positive take about things and make an effort to expose yourself to this attitude whenever possible. Again, don't take this as avoiding or hiding from what's happening in the world, but rather taking charge and bringing more balance into your perspective of it. Staying connected with others is definitely important in this time, as we all spend more time at home. Just be aware of who and what you are choosing to be influenced by.
Suggestion #5: Cultivate trust
If there is one word that has the possibility to transform your life more than any other, I would suggest it is this: TRUST. Can you imagine what it would feel like to trust your life: trust that you will be taken care of, trust that things are working out just as they are supposed to, trust that things are happening for a reason even if we can't see it. Trust your body to take care of you, trust the universe to bring you what you need, trust that you are being offered an opportunity, if only you can be open to it. Maybe this will sound dreamy or foolhardy to you, but I can say that if you live with this perspective, life will never be the same. When you trust, there is no longer worry. And what good does worrying do us anyway? It has many negative effects, but what does it give us? It may be really hard to stop worrying if it is an ingrained habit for you, but maybe, at least sometimes you can start trusting. Worry then will naturally disappear. Try this out! When a worry comes up, try shifting to trust and see how it feels. For me it a very different and immediately noticeable change in my body and energy.
In the end, we all have a lot more influence over our experiences than we tend to recognize or take responsibility for. We often have the idea that things just happen to us, like a leaf being swept along in a stream. The way to become more empowered is to take charge of our perspective, even very consciously molding and crafting it, so that our experience of it is more positive and enjoyable and our outlook more optimistic. Two people can experience the very same event but have very different viewpoints about how it went and what its significance was. So, view life as a struggle or an opportunity? See challenge as difficulty or as opportunity for growth? See only suffering, or recognize the gift that comes with it? Though it is not always easy, these are the questions I encourage you to reflect on, at least some of the time. And in so doing, you change your experience of your life and help shift the energy in the world to a more positive place. I hope these reflections and suggestions have been helpful and allow you to take greater charge of your experience in these challenging times. Wishing you much love and great joy on your journey!