Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Did you know Ritual Work is Central to the Human Capacity for Empathy?

ritual:  a religious or solemn ceremony consisting of a series of actions performed according to a prescribed order; relating to or done as a religious or solemn rite.

like many people in growing numbers, I don't consider myself much of a religious person, but I do consider myself a spiritual one.  if you type 'spiritual not religious' into a search bar, you'll probably get the same 179 million results that I did in the same .52 seconds, including its own wikipedia entry.  I didn't read any of the articles (ok, I scanned the wiki, because I love it as a jumping-off point for oh-so-many things), I was just curious to see what would come up, as I was when I did an image search for 'ritual'.  interesting results there, as well - some expected, some...rather less so, but not all that surprising, nonetheless.  I went there because I'm following a theme of late, and this is where last week's the Monday blog from two weeks ago led me.  aside:  last week's blog was off-topic, I just needed to get that one off my chest, and I threw down a few sentences yesterday for The Sunday Whirl just for fun.  in any case (there's a phrase I use too often), I'm back on track with my theme of pulling myself back from the depths of single-parenthood, and returning to my former place as a creative writer/artist/thinker.

what the..?  oh, Church of Satan, you got me with that pig's head, because that image from the Amityville Horror still haunts my nightmares!  but you've been pretty cool, lately, so I'll let it go...(O_o)

ok, that pig's head is freaking me out...where was I?  oh yeah, ritual.  in researching ways to relocate my Muse, and get my life back on some sort of track, I cross-referenced several sites about 'habits of successful people' and made myself a list to follow in an attempt to get more of the important stuff that would further my goals getting done inside all the daily business of being the 'head of household'.  one of those 'habits' involves creating rituals around the activities that support those goals, so I revamped my schedule to include that kind of ritual in my daily practice.  I did manage to get the grocery shopping done this week, and do all the writing/editing work-for-hire that I had to complete (yay, me!), as well as practice for my show, but the dishes are still in the sink, and my hair is so dirty, I don't even want to talk about it.  baby steps...baby steps!  since it's Monday, my goals today involve writing this blog post, practicing my songs for my upcoming show, washing my hair, getting the teen to his show rehearsal, and yes, that sink full of dishes.  there's more, such as dealing with my long overdue correspondences, actually reading the book I borrowed from the library, and planning my Equinox ritual.  ah - Ritual!  there we are again...

why is it always white people?  "The Youth of Bacchus" by William-Adolphe Bouguereau, 1884

as part of my desire to renew some of my former spiritual practices, I invited some of my friends to join me in celebrating the 'wheel of the year' by gathering together for the purpose of performing ritual during the Solstices, Equinoxes, full and new moons.  these gatherings have been more and less successful, given the times of year, work schedules, and other people's personal dramas, but I continue to work on my own practice, and keep the door open for anyone who wants to show up.  there are those who say this sort of Work is important to them, and there are those who actually engage in it.  I want to share this small thing I wrote to one I believe to be the former, who claimed to be bored at the beach because there was 'nothing to do', and they had no tolerance for sitting still:

our bodies are made of seawater, our babies grow in our saltwater wombs, the ocean covers 3/4 of our Earth, it is the Primordial Mother, respect Her. there is Deep Ritual to be done near the ocean, deep truths to learn, absorb, and soak in. the ocean can kill you in a second, and never once care...it is powerful, and overwhelming, and yet...people ride it. there is an entire Universe beneath the waves, aliens of every shape and form, depths we cannot plumb - our fragile, terrestrial bodies, seemingly so strong and agile on land, have no power there, are crushed under her pressure, devoured by her children. it is both life-giver, and life-taker. entering Her is a risk, and pure joy, connection with the Absolute. we die under each wave, are reborn each time we emerge into light and air. the rhythm of the waves is the rhythm of our heartbeat...feel it ebb and flow. sitting/being still is a blessing of one's own connection to inner peace, while attachment to monkey-mind fills one with doubts and boredom, as constant activity can indicate an avoidance of the inner voice, whispering 'step back...breathe...calm down'. quiet the mind, connect with the heart, just Be. the Ocean as God-being is enamored of the Moon, rising to meet Her, flowing with Her, deepest Love.

be bored, or choose to See. Divine yourself, learn something new. face what is breaking your heart, fall apart, and let Her put you back together. be thankful for the opportunity to Connect with your deepest longing, or choose to turn away from the Mother for fear of seeing who you really are. this Depth is not for everyone, only the strong - true inner strength - can face themselves inside it. can you choose to see? or will the knowledge smash the mirror of the image you've created out of fear of really being seen? I see you...I see You. learn to see yourself inside all the layers you're wrapped up in. when you're ready... we're only given so much time, but the Ocean is Eternal. Honor Her, and learn to accept Her blessing.

sometimes, as a financially disadvantaged single mom, I look in at other people's lives from the outside, and feel a small tinge of jealousy for what they appear to have.  I'm learning to break myself of this habit, because I have had at least two close friends in my life that appear to 'have it all', yet suffer from this inability to 'be still', and it breaks my heart, because I feel it comes from deep inner pain, and I have a longing to help them move through it.  but it's not my place...it's not my place.  if they want my help, it's on offer, but I won't hand it to them unless they ask.  one of them did, once, but they wanted to do the wrong Work for the wrong reasons, and when the tools I gave them didn't move them towards those goals, they suffered even worse in the end.  I don't envy people that kind of pain, and I am grateful to be able to truly 'sit' with myself, and build on the solid base I was so blessed to have been born into, and raised with.

Buddhist prayers in Thailand

what was I born into and raised with?  well, I was born Jewish, and I still identify as Jewish, though my family was not what I call 'temple Jews'.  when I was in grade school, I used to say that we 'weren't so much religious as we were cultural', as my father had emigrated to Israel in the early 1940's, when he was around 4 years old, and grew to adulthood there, only moving to the US in the late 1960's.  my mom's people had been in the States since the early 1900's or so, with my great-grandparents having come here from Poland and Russia (Ukraine), respectively.  while my mother's parents were certainly what I considered to be 'temple Jews', my dad's people weren't the least bit religious.  growing up, I remember going to my mother's parents synagogue to celebrate Purim, and a massive Passover seder at their house that included the whole extended family, as well as friends and neighbors.  we celebrated Hannukah either at the grandparents or our home, and Sukkot was pretty much at our house, though my earliest ones may have been at the grand-folks.  Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur were temple holidays, and there was a dairy meal for Shavuot, but that's about it.

there are A LOT of Jewish holidays, and we didn't come anywhere near celebrating them all.  there were holidays that were celebrated on my dad's kibbutz (communal farm) in Israel that I remember getting a mention - Tisha B'Av, Lag B'Omer, Tu BiShvat - that we didn't really celebrate, and a host of other remembrances that weren't that big a deal in the US, so they slipped quietly by.  we did, at some point, begin to celebrate Shabbat every Friday evening, but at this point, I don't remember if that's something we did at the grandparents' house, and later moved to ours, but I do know that as a teenager, I couldn't go anywhere on Friday nights until after 'Friday night dinner', which typically didn't 'end' until late.  again, we weren't temple goers for Shabbat, but that was the day my mom put the chicken soup up to simmer while she cleaned the house, and we were all expected to be home, and dressed more than casually though not necessarily fancy, for our ritual meal that generally included my grandparents, and took place in the dining room rather than our eat-in kitchen, on the 'good plates', with great-grandma's 'silver'.  the prayer book came out, though our ritual was short and sweet, and we all stood up until it was over, wished each other "Shabbat Shalom" (sabbath peace), then sat down to enjoy the big meal and each others company as the collective sigh that ended our week, and brought the relative peace of the weekend into our lives.  while I still observe some of the Jewish holidays, I don't bring the same depth of them to my child as my ancestors did for me.

lol - I think this image is from some television documentary about the roots of Judaism, but it serves to illustrate what Shabbat looked like at our house, though we had dad at one end of the table, mom at the other, the grandparents on one side, and my bro and I on the other.  the dog, of course, took his place under the table, in case anyone dropped anything... 

when I was in high school, and soon after I graduated, I became aware of the first of my peers that began to have issues with drugs and/or alcohol, and, subsequently, 'the law'.  people I knew went to jail and/or rehab.  it was a bit scary, I guess, because some of them were guys I had crushes on, or guys I knew from work (no girls).  I don't know where I got the idea, but I remember thinking that maybe they didn't have the same strength of spirit I did due to my 'religious-ish' upbringing, and strong faith in...whatever I thought of at the time as 'god'.  it wasn't an old man on a throne in the sky, at that point, like the prayer-books in the temple suggested (though it had been), but was evolving into something...more.  maybe simply a belief in something greater than myself, though I didn't know what.  I was still too naive to take things like family history with addiction, poverty, or abuse into account, let alone mental or chronic illness, among other factors.  by then, I had long since discovered the occult books section in the local library, so I must have already been on my way to my own personal belief system, but I was still largely connected to my Jewish roots.

sometime after I turned 20, surrounded by a completely new group of friends and acquaintances who were, for the most part, not Jewish - upon reflection, most of my close high school friends had been - I had, in them, a new platform in which my understanding of the occult and esoteric practices could not only grow, but was encouraged to flourish.  I was introduced to new ideas, new books and authors, new practices and ways of thinking, new music and art.  I went to my first pagan gathering, out of which a new coven formed, of which I was an integral member.  we met regularly for ritual gatherings, some deeply meaningful for me, and, I think, for others.  but my soul is often restless, and I moved around the country for awhile, so I found other groups to work with when I lived far from my core group, but always circled with them when I was near.  eventually, I moved permanently 'away' and lost touch with my coven as our lives evolved apart from each other.  one of my two closest contacts within the group married someone I didn't much like, and the other...well, let's just say we had a weird conversation that made me uncomfortable, so I stopped calling, and I guess they didn't miss me enough to notice.  it's said that all good things come to an end, and given the nature of Life, and/or my experience with it, I tend not to disagree.  some good things just seem to last longer than others, I suppose.

image taken from the Damanhur website 'A laboratory for the future of humankid.  looks interesting, if a bit 'white-people-y'.
image taken from the Damanhur website - 'A laboratory for the future of humankind'.  looks interesting, if a bit 'white-people-y', but click the pic if you care to check it out.

in my new environment, being a Seeker after a certain kind of Knowledge, new learning quickly revealed itself to me, and I traveled further down the path I had been walking since...when?  since I was 15.  that was a pivotal year for me - I got my first period, my first glimpse of a 'Solomon's Seal', and lost my virginity.  I probably should have waited a bit on that last one, but...such is the folly of youth, and I was hungry for information about life, and how to live it.  I had become what is known as a 'solitary practitioner', doing ritual alone in my room, or out in the woods and fields, occasionally with a like-minded friend or two, but I was exploring my own inner-space, and the lessons were powerful, manifesting themselves through my art and writing.  during that time, I 'produced and directed' my first (extraordinary) public ritual/performance that I neglected to properly 'ground', so the energy went flying off in a series of unfortunately destructive events affecting several people (whether or not they knew it), and as a result, I stopped messing around with that level of Work for awhile, since I didn't have a larger group to work with collectively, and I thought it wise to reign myself in a bit.

so, life became much more mundane, and I found myself working a series of low-level boring jobs to pay the bills, engaged in a sometimes-incredibly-fulfilling-but-mostly-not relationship, and aside from the every-now-and-again playful appearance of my Muse, just living my life in the day-to-day work/eat/sleep grind that some choose to define as adulthood.  during that period of my life, my father passed away, and as heartbreaking as it was for me, I did experience some supremely powerful energy and connection surrounding his death that I may not have been open to, or able to experience, if I didn't have such a strong grounding in esoteric knowledge and occult/meditative practices.  oddly enough, it was just before his death that I was asked by a woman I knew if I could create a public sacred space (labyrinth) for her to perform a ritual within, which I agreed to do, and completed after I returned from my father's funeral.  I was so exhausted from the work, I didn't even take part in the event, and spent most of the night just trying to regain my balance, and connecting with people in attendance who hadn't heard the news of my father's passing, and were wondering where I'd been.

this is not the one I made - mine had a large center area with room for the ritual within, and had high walls that were white near the entrance, progressing to pink, red, and then black at the center to simulate entering/exiting a womb.  spooky...

then I got pregnant and had a baby, which was a sort of ritual of its own.  while my son's conception was not a planned event, both his father and I, having a grounding in magical Work, must have been connected to certain energies during the..umm...'moment', and I felt (and saw) my son's Being enter my womb like a lightening bolt traveling through the Tree of Life.  while my lifestyle during my pregnancy was difficult in the sense of my extremely diminished socio-economic status, I felt incredibly strong and healthy, and somehow sure that everything was going to turn out ok.  this is from my post two weeks ago:  "While I was pregnant/single/unemployed/homeless, I asked with my anger where all the Good Energy I put out into the Universe had gone.  I questioned all those times over the years that I danced naked in the woods around a bonfire, connecting with the Absolute, sweating in lodges, and cold-plunging into the lake - directing the Work towards where it was most needed, howling under the stars.  Where Did It Go?  WHY wasn't it helping me NOW?  the moment my son was placed on my chest the answer came, as I welcomed him with the words, "there it is!"  and lo, there he was."  actually, the first thing I sad to my son was, "hi!" but you get the idea...  at some point during my labor, I remember there being a quorum of...shamans (warlocks?  Beings? who were they?) in my head, chanting to me from inside a cave, around a fire.  they definitely helped, though I still don't know who they were.

there are a multitude of images that illustrate this theory of energy flowing into manifestation, but this was the simplest I could find, assuming the reader's complete unfamiliarity with these concepts.

 most of the magical Work I've done since becoming a mother has revolved around using a healing touch on my son when he has been ill, and moving energy around and through him that is nurturing, loving, joyful, and happy.  'ritual' became more about bedtime routines and daily schedules, and 'magic' was all about helping a new human discover the natural world - acorns, pinecones, flowers, animals, sunshine, music, movement, floating on the water, digging in the sand and dirt, rocks, the moon and stars...everything was magical, everything was a miracle, every little thing was an incredible blessing, and our days were filled with moments of the purest joy and wonder.  the Universe blessed us with a really big, rainbow colored Hoberman Sphere with glow-in-the-dark joints that my darling boy used to camp out inside, and that was a kind of magic, too - from a very young age, he had a kind of knowledge of how energy expands and contracts, and often chose to sit inside what I consider to be a very real expression of both a macro- and microcosm, and learned how the two related to each other, and to the forces outside ourselves, as well.

oy, my little monkey!  he was such a happy baby ~ 💖

but back to ritual - we/I have had some opportunities to circle up with friends over the past decade or so, and while it's been nice to celebrate in community, these circles have lacked any real power or energy, like the ones I experienced as a young adult.  I remember asking a friend when we were in our 30's if she wanted to do a solstice ritual with me, and she snarked back that she hadn't done that since she was in her 20's, which communicated clearly to me that to her, 'that kind of stuff' belonged to a certain time and place, and we were too old for that sort of youthful nonsense.  I beg to differ.  there is always time and place in my life to connect to that 'bigger-than-me' that people call by many different names.  today is the Vernal Equinox, and circling back to the beginning of this post, where I defined 'ritual', and discussed my desire for more of it in my life, in several forms - both to structure my days around, and to engage in spiritual Work - I plan to celebrate by smudging my home, opening windows and doors (even though the high temp. for today may reach 40F), and sweep out negativity. I will do yoga, and meditate. I will prepare offerings for my personal deities, and share them with the Earth. I will light a fire, and dance on a bank of the Esopus Creek. I will chant and raise my arms to the Heavens. I will connect with the Absolute.  maybe some friends will join me, maybe they won't.  either way, I won't be alone.

how do you celebrate/connect/create ritual today and everyday?

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