The need for ritual is a basic human instinct, as real, as urgent and as raw as our need for food, shelter and love. And it is every bit as crucial to our survival. A compelling urge to merge with the infinite, ritual reminds us of a larger, archetypal reality and invokes in us a visceral understanding of such universal paradigms as unity, continuity, connectivity, reverence and awe. Like sex, ceremony — solitary or shared — offers us a way to relate intimately with the primordial universal force and allows us to embrace that sacred power that informs and fuels all existence. Ritual is our lifeline to the divine.
Today there are many people from all backgrounds who feel somewhat estranged from the religious structures in which we were raised. The traditionally instituted ritual forms and encoded liturgies that we have inherited no longer serve all of the complex contemporary circumstances of our modern lives. They do not always satisfy our longing for meaning, our craving for spiritual communion, nor our yearning for numinous truth. Nor do they necessarily speak to our deepest-felt needs. The absence of significant ceremony in our lives has left us feeling disconnected, confused, alone and bereft. Insulated and isolated in extremely intense times, we dangle, stranded in an enormously complex universe without a spiritual safety net to save us.
Many modern seekers turn to science for a sense of predictable cosmic order, for explanations of the inexplicable, and for solutions to problems. Some assume that the secrets of a sacred existence are the sole possessions of ancient lost civilizations or indigenous primal peoples and are tempted to imitate and expropriate their customs. Others believe that in order to gain access to the ways and means of vital ceremonial participation, it is essential to join an established religious organization — a church, a synagogue, a mosque, a temple, a tribe, a coven, a circle, a sect or a charismatic cult.
This is simply not so. We do not need to follow a set of hand-me-down observances, preprescribed formulas, or lowest-common-denominator recipes in order to develop and express a relevant, resonant ritual manifestation of our own true best selves. Nor do we need ordained priest/esses, rabbis, ministers, imams, medicine wo/men, shamans or gurus to design, direct or officiate our important events and passages. We each have within us the resources based on our own unique life experiences to create an eloquent ceremonial order to our own existence. We have everything we need to mold our meaningful moments into our own psychic support system. I always say that I practice my religion precisely the way my forbearers did 50,000 years ago. I make it up as I go along.
But how do we know what to do in a ritual? It might seem audacious, even heretical, within the context of our culture’s innocent idolization of the expert opinion, to dare to presume that we might know what’s best for us. Yet, if we examine the private and social patterns that we have created throughout our lives, we can begin to recognize, identify, affirm and claim the ways we have already, intentionally or not, established a system of celebration and commemoration for our families, our communities and ourselves. This realization helps us to develop a confidence in our sense of ritual appropriateness and our own ceremonial ability.
Building on this new-found assurance, we can begin to nurture our creativity and consciously strive to liberate our spontaneity. We can learn to encourage our inner voice by studying our dreams, trusting our intuitions, heeding our instincts and pursuing our impulses. By freeing ourselves to follow the promptings of our private signs and signals we can develop our own symbolic vocabulary. In this way, we are able to constantly re-invent an individual ritual language, which can charge our special events as well as our common dailiness with clarity, energy, meaning and grace.
Ceremonial observance adds lucid layers — depth, dimension, drama and distinction — to our lives, making the ordinary seem special, and the special, extraordinary. Through the practice of ritual we are privileged to experience ourselves as prepared, present, passionate, principled and potent. When we set aside the quality time and claim the psychic space for ceremony, when we assume the authority to do so, we are able to transform our perceptions, our perspectives, our experiences, and in the process, our reality.
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