Doing the Rite Thing
by Paul Naras
Once upon a time, in a land far far away, there was a village where the inhabitants practiced a number of unusual customs. For example, at dinner hour, families would gather around the table. There was no television or radio blaring in the vicinity. Parents and children would break bread and during the course of the meal they would actually talk to one another.
Neighbors were at least civil with each other, if not altogether friendly, and everyone knew the names of all the families on the block.
Doctors made house calls, people donned their best clothes not only for Sunday services but also for P.T.A. meetings and the theatre, getting to 'first base' on a date meant that she let you hold her hand, on buses men offered their seats to women and the elderly and ... and everyone lived happily ever after.
Okay, the "good old days" were not really that good but let's briefly examine the role of ritual in our lives. Lest you think rites are not that important, just imagine a wedding with no ceremonial aspect whatsoever. A justice of the peace simply hands a document to the awaiting twosome officially signifying their coupling. There are no vows, no rings, no music, no feast, neither friends nor festivities. Would the bride and groom not feel empty, disaffected, somewhat unfulfilled?
Our daily lives are suffused with ritual. What do you do every morning after you get up? And many rituals can eventually become routine, habits - and negative ones at that (the guy who retires to the back porch after dinner every day to light up a big fat cigar; the individual who has been to church/Mass so many times that he is no longer conscious of what he is supposedly participating in as he blankly stares into space).
Rituals/rites are practices used to spur abstract concepts - concepts that are sometimes very unwieldy and problematic when one attempts to spell them out in a verbal/intellectual rubric. Most of these abstract ideas become objectified into clear-cut, exoteric movements, exercises, processes. They are meant to penetrate and impress our demonstrative / psychic selves.
My vocabulary, my ability to express myself, my actions can be very limited and circumscribed. A symbol is not. A symbol has its own intrinsic power, its own parlance and poetry which we, as students of life, have the option of examining and interpreting. Each symbol communicates an ideal. It inflames our senses, generates a psychological knowing/serenity, and is far more immediate and familiar than the perusal of a monograph or book.
Many people automatically associate ritual with religion. Images are conjured up of early humankind sacrificing animals and invoking deities. In fact, religion adopted then prevalent customs and traditions to administer and perpetuate its own train of thought.
We all realize that we can be inspired by other people and by music and by books and so on - but, in reality, all the rite answers, all 'true' meaning is within each and every one of us. Rituals are one way to assist us to locate that inner sum and substance. We have all come into life with singular goals and missions to be discovered and achieved. As we grow intellectually and emotionally, recognizing our truth, adapting our philosophy of life as needed becomes pivotal to our spiritual evolvement. In fact, our ulterior purpose is to remember objectively what we have always known inherently.
Ritual is most vigorous and telling when it accords and enriches the milestones of your life (along with those everyday occurrences) with fixed purpose and signification. In the " Age we have to design and welcome " rites and/or 'consciously' experience the traditional ones.
Upon rising A.P. goes into his backyard every morning, grounds himself by enjoying the sensation of the dewy grass on his bare feet, takes seven deep breaths, faces the rising sun in the East and thanks Divine Essence for another day.
L.Y. grew up saying grace before meals but discontinued the practice when she moved out on her own. She has now resumed this ritual after adding a personal touch. She rubs her palms together to stimulate the Chi energy, holds her hands over the food to magnetize it and, closing her eyes, silently thanks Nature for providing this sustenance and visualizes the victuals nourishing and harmonizing every cell in her body.
R.D. comes home after stressful work days, lights candles in the bathroom, slips into aromatic hot water, and no one is permitted to disturb her for the next half hour as she luxuriates in the tub and allows the cares and annoyances of life to gently slip away.
For the last fifty years of his life C.J. has never fallen asleep at night without first reviewing the events of the day just experienced. He savours again any delectable memory, forgives himself for any word that may have been uttered in anger and promises to learn from each adventure and every ordeal so that tomorrow can be filled with even more dedication, service and joy.
Life is not a recipe. Life is not a mathematical equation with one correct answer awaiting at the very end. One's measure of accomplishment will always parallel one's efforts and one's devotion to personal mastery. There's quite a significant distinction between being fascinated with a fixed purpose and being unconditionally committed to it.
If we look at the world today we'll see that many people spend all of their time concentrating on what makes them different from other people - instead of appreciating their similarities. Diverse rituals are one way to connect and reconcile men and women who might otherwise be unalike (like the woman who decided to start a weekly meditation for world peace in her city and now has 40 - 50 people attending on a regular basis). When we interact we initiate discourse that propagates a compatible mother tongue. We are better able to commemorate our vital force, our deep-seated wisdom.
The path to mastery involves ascertaining one's own physical and metaphysical rhythms. We should all come together more often - to create spiritual time and space collectively - to engender our own rituals. And the ways of honouring one another and learning together are as limitless as our imaginations.