Friday, September 18, 2015

Living Within Ritual

We human beings love ritual.  A defined form for endless repetition within which we live and express our lives.  Ritual can be personal, secular, patriotic, or spiritual.  Ritual can make us far more efficient, because it eliminates the time and thought process of much decision-making.  We just follow the ritual, the sequential steps already predetermined for us, and our task is thereby completed and our goal is accomplished.

Most of us start our day with a daily ritual.  From the time we crawl out of bed until we begin our workday journey, everything in between is pre-laid out for us.  No think.  This is especially beneficial for those of us who crawl out of bed sleepier than when we crawled into it, whose brain is comatose and tongue is unable to utter a coherent sentence in the bright sunlight.  Neither brain nor tongue is required within the supportive web of our morning ritual.

Much of our workday follows a similar pattern of familiarity due to practiced work habits, the dictates of daily calendars, and the responsibility of recurring duties.  If such do not put us into mental numbness, our creative energy is then reserved for those few moments when we are called out of routine to express something truly “new.”  In which case we create something “new” – and typically then transform that new something into yet another ritual for us to follow.

Efficient?  No question.  But at a price.  Creating an environment with too much ritual creates too much non-thinking.  And non-thinking can become an easy trap to fall into.  In non-thinking, creativity is not created.  And without creativity, connection with our constantly changing and expanding world is lost.

A proper perspective of ritual is particularly needed in our religious practice.  All religions and spiritual practices incorporate ritual into their structure.  Properly so, because ritual can be very supportive in heightening our spiritual expression.  It can give physical expression to our mental thoughts.  It can guide us along a path of pure experience without the “interference” of decision-making: i.e. what do I say or do next?  It can be a vehicle for sharing expression among our spiritual community, invitingly welcoming strangers into that community.  It can honor, and give us a sense of timeless connection to, our ancestors knowing that we are practicing the same ritual as they performed.

But as with all beneficial things, there are cautionary notes and downsides that require our ever-present vigilance.  Ritual can envelop and guide us through a meaningful expression of our spiritual self.  But the valve that shuts off our creativity of personal form can also shut off the flow of real connection to our spirit.  In our mindlessness can also be our soulessness as we go through the steps, recite the words, not only with mind disengaged but with heart disengaged.  It becomes a rote performance of no meaningful substance.  Or we expend more effort on learning ritual than on learning to be spiritual.  Performance of the ritual can become yet another basis for competition and self-criticism.  Did I do it “right”?  Did I execute it “perfectly”?  As if God and our Spirit could really care!

As we follow our ritual, we have to simultaneously find ways to renew our connection and creativity within the ritual, lest it become dead in our hearts.  Every now and then, we need to turn left where heretofore we always turned right, just to reawaken our spiritual energy and awareness.  When the seeker asked Jesus to “tell us how to pray,” The Lord’s Prayer was not offered as THE way to pray.  It was only an example, a fallback if that seeker could not think of anything else to say in a given moment on his/her own.  It was not a mandate.

We follow our ritual most of the time.  But on occasion, we need to go outside of that ritual into the extemporaneous, the unexpected, the intuitive.  And in that moment of careless individuality, just say and do what we feel.  However awkward, however clumsy, however unpolished.  Honest expression of our Self and our Spirit is always polished enough.

©  2015   Randy Bell