When people hear the word ‘ritual’
many think of empty actions, repeated and repeated without meaning. The word
“habit” and ritual are often connected. Frequently people in the Western world
even use the word in a negative fashion, associating ritual with the actions of
wild religious cults, and irresponsible people who use spirituality to hurt
others. We should not, however, let the misuse of words deter us. A healthy use
of ritual involves an action sequence involving our body, place and objects.
This sequence is set in a pattern intended to connect us with the sacred order
of the spiritual world. Ritual intends to shift our awareness to cultivate an
immediate felt relationship to the power and presence of Spirit.
The communion ritual in Christian
tradition is an example of a sacred action and pattern that uses the physical
world to unite people in the metaphysical force of Chirst’s love and
consciousness. It is important to remember that when the intent is strong, the
bread and the wine carry the spiritual power of Christ’s own body and blood.
This is neither simple psychological symbolism, nor literal cannibalism. It is
a sacred ritual in which the subtle spiritual energies of the world are
engaged. This ritual has opened millions of hearts and minds to spiritual
experiences that have changed their lives. The ritual is more than the act, it
is a gateway to an inner encounter of The sacred.
In ritual we use our bodies and
sacred objects in three primary ways. First, is the use of ritual to embody and
interact with the patterns of the spiritual world. Second, through intent,
symbol and action we activate the subtle energy within things to have an impact
on our body and awareness. Rituals aim to mirror the scared world by creating a
microcosm we can interact with, and thus touch and be touched by the greater
forces of this world. Alternately and closely related, a healthy ritual act is
an act of power: a behavior, gesture or action that intentionally moves energy
to effect a positive change.
Finally, there is a psychological shift
that impacts our attitude and worldview. This final element is helpful when it comes
to managing our emotions and reactions in daily life. If we carry the ritual
mindset with us into our lives, we see that all habits, actions and routines
can be acts of power and intent. When understood properly, a ritual should ideally
be infused with these three elements. While it may become a consistent
practice, try to make the meaning and value endure. Be careful not to fall into
is easy to get caught up in the language and semantics around ritual – trying
to differential between ceremony, rites, rites, sacraments etc. For our purpose
here, any distinct action that fulfills one or more of the above three
functions is a ritual. A ceremony may be made up of many rituals and many of
the other 11 Master Paths incorporate ritual into their process and protocol.
Yet, rituals may stand alone. Entering a Christian church many people will
kneel, make the Sign of the Cross upon themselves and proceed to the service of
the day. But the same act of kneeling and evoking the Sign of the Cross may be
done at home, in nature or before bed.
If we think of spirituality as our
deepest experience of The Sacred, in the world and within us, then we see that
religion may be a support to exploring and experiencing these elements. The
religions of the world are vast repositories of practices and philosophies that
point us toward The Sacred. They offer timeless wisdom and sophisticated
systems that can advance the soul. Yet, if we understand that spirituality is
ultimately about a person’s sense of identity, connection, and meaning, then it
is equally true that religion is not necessary either. Sometimes religion may even be an obstacle to
A religion is typically a social
organization built around common beliefs and practices that reflect a shared assumption
about the nature of The Sacred and the Self. There are many people who find
their spirituality ignited and fed by their religion. Spirituality and religion
may function in harmony. We must not forget all the good work, charity, and
service that is done in the name of religion. There is also great value in
understanding and honoring your heritage: your language, your ancestors, your
traditions. These strong foundations can bring great meaning and stability to a
In contrast, for some their
spirituality will never closely follow a religious community or prescription. For
many, religion becomes a barrier to spirituality, and feeds off fear, a desire
to belong, and a lack of willingness to truly question and explore the nature
of life, the self, and The Sacred. The gift of religion is its capacity to
preserve and transmit teachings of philosophies and practices that, if engaged
with a spiritual focus, can serve as powerful vehicles of connection and
awareness of The Sacred. When politics and ego get involved, religion can be
dangerous. While I believe that a conscious spiritual practice, supported by
guides and community is essential to a life of peace and balance, I have not
found religion to be necessary. There are many ways to find these elements.
Excerpt from Return to the Sacred
I have a simple practice that has changed my life. Years ago
a made a commitment that I would never get out of bed in the morning without
being sure that when my feet hit the floor my attitude and intentions were
aligned for the day.
Yes, I still often wake up and think “oh it is too early” or
“I wish I had the day off” or maybe even some worry is cropping up. But that is
not the last thought I have before I get out of bed – instead, I consciously,
intentionally, stop myself and shift my focus to what I am grateful for. I say
a little prayer. If you don’t like to pray you could do a little deep breathing
or select an affirmation.
Imagine that the thoughts you hold when your feet hit the
ground will set the tone for your day. It will change your morning and
eventually your life.
When you think about health one of the most significant
things you can change is your perspective. The way you think about health,
shapes your health. If you think only your body matters, you might eat well and
exercise, but then your worry or anger will negate those efforts. If you think
you are a body and a mind, you might also learn to manage your daily stress,
but then you might not tend to the deeper emotional wounds behind it all, nor
focus on a connection to a higher power or the world around you.
The question follows, “what isn’t a part of my health?”
Spiritual traditions will tell you that you are deeply interconnected with the
world, and what is done to one is eventually felt by all. Science now knows the
same principle to be true. There is no debate, all of life is interconnected
and the pollution in the air and water is as much a part of your diet as what
you buy in the store. Everything impacts your health; the world is an extension
of your body in a very literal way.
This means that if you are concerned with your health, you
should be concerned with the health of your planet. You can’t see your body
metabolize Vitamin C, but you know you need it and that your body uses it well.
You can’t see the massive oil spill off the Gulf Coast (partially because the
Coast Guard and BP Oil are controlling media access), but you still know its
impacting our world. I am struggling to make a difference and have accepted
that I won’t be flying down to help. But I can make donations to charities that
are helping, I can write my Governor or Senator, I can ask my friends to get
involved, and maybe some of them have connections or time to help. I am sending
this blog to all my posts (which breaks some blogging rules) since it is one
effort to help make a difference.
Because my next book is about the connection between
inspiration and health (Inspiration Deficit Disorder), I have found myself
talking to a lot of people about lifestyle changes and how to make themselves
happy. But true inspiration impacts others and makes the world a better place.
And though it’s unpopular to say, it is not just about being in the world it is
also about doing – the core of an inspiration deficit is believing one thing
(like valuing nature) and then doing another (ignoring massive environmental
catastrophes). This kind of incongruence may not touch you in the short term,
but in the long term it may impact us all.