Human beings need rituals. You can deny it, but I am willing to bet you have your own private rituals. Those things that you may not admit to doing, but somehow give you comfort. Now I’m not superstitious, but if I spill salt, I will flick a bit of it over my left shoulder. I don’t really believe in the devil but you can never be too careful!
Even dogs have their rituals. If you doubt that, watch your dog as he turns around three times before lying down or hunts for that perfect spot in the yard to “do his business.” My big dog has her routine when getting into our bed. She has to pull the blankets up in a bunch just perfectly before she can relax and lie down. There is ritual around all of that.
Humans need rituals to celebrate happy events and also to sooth themselves from the not-so-happy ones. None of us think twice about attending a wedding or funeral, but have you thought maybe it would be nice to create a ritual to signify the importance of other transitions in life, such as divorce, job loss, changing where you live, or beginning or ending menopause? In some cultures they celebrate the “coming of age” of young men and women. Why can’t we create rituals to commemorate any important event in our lives?
I believe one of my callings as an Interfaith Minister is to help people peacefully and happily navigate life’s transitions. Too often when big emotional upheavals happen in our lives, we are told to “just get over it!” When someone important in your life dies, you have a funeral or memorial service. Why don’t we have a ceremony for any major life transition?
It doesn’t have to be sad. It can be very comforting. For instance when an important relationship dissolves or we lose our job, why not have a ritualistic burning of the old and embracing the opportunities the new void in our life will bring to us. Of course crying and venting can come along with that but the focus should be on re-affirming life and the gift that changes bring us.
I have never been one to enjoy change that is thrust on me. If I choose it, that is fine, but the ones that drop in your lap without invitation are very disturbing.
When I lost my job, I was stunned. Never mind I had been secretly wishing to get out of there, but when the decision was taken away from me, I didn’t react too well. When I got over the shock and realized it was a wonderful opportunity for me to move on, I did better. A lot of us lost our job that day. I know some people are still angry about it even after 10 years. I wonder if we had banded together and had a ritual for this major event, then we would have recovered quicker.
According to Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, “This is what rituals are for. We do spiritual ceremonies as human beings in order to create a safe resting place for our most complicated feelings of joy or trauma, so that we don’t have to haul those feelings around with us forever, weighing us down. We all need such places of ritual safekeeping. And I do believe that if your culture or tradition doesn’t have the specific ritual you are craving, then you are absolutely permitted to make up a ceremony of your own devising, fixing your own broken-down emotional systems with all the do-it-yourself resourcefulness of a generous plumber/poet. If you bring the right earnestness to your homemade ceremony, God will provide the grace.”
We can create our own rituals for any event. My father died on February 10 several years ago. In the past, I was always sad on that day. Then I created a ritual to remember the love between us. When he was alive, he would always send me flowers for Valentine’s Day no matter where I was and even after I got married. My Daddy was always my Valentine! On the anniversary of his death, being just a few days before Valentine’s Day, I now buy myself flowers. It comforts me somehow to remember him and feel his presence through the flowers. That was our ritual when he was alive and now it is my ritual in remembrance of him.
Your ritual can be as simple as that or as elaborate as you want to make it. I often tell people who have lost a pet, that we can do a memorial service just like we would for any other member of the family. So often once your beloved pet passes away, there is no comforting ritual like when a human dies. You are just left to deal with your feelings of loss on your own.
I know when we lost our jobs if I had created a big piñata of the manager that fired us, people would have stood in line to take a bat to the effigy. But rituals should be something more positive and optimistic. They are meant to bring closure to the past and look forward to the future.
Think about your major life transitions and what sort of ritual you can do to celebrate and sooth yourself. If you need any help or ideas, I am here to serve.
Many blessings to you all!