Insights from Rituals

photo from Microsoft Office Image

When our workshop facilitator, Ms. Leah Tolentino asked us of 3 things that remind us of rituals, I failed to mention a word that somehow appropriately tells my usual experience: awkward. Perhaps I would elaborate on this article my thoughts about rituals and shed some light to past memories.

I often feel awkward doing any rituals because I know nothing about it. I just followed people who do them because they do it well. I have attended many rituals, most of them religious, and followed them for the sake of doing them, not knowing the meaning behind them.  I was quite uneasy to hold  the hand of the person sitting next to me as we sing “Ama Namin” in a Catholic mass. I stupidly lit an incense in a Chinese Buddhist temple, trying to imitate others on how to bow before a huge statue of Buddha, while some middle-age Chinese mothers seemed to pry and gossip over me. I was a out of my mind hearing and singing along with singers of Hare Krishna chants. I mindlessly repeated a meditation teacher’s chanting in a Buddhist-inspired meditation retreat. I was too cautious making my steps in a ceremonial rites of an esoteric organization. My arms and feet were frozen in the sea of people jumping, shouting, and waving their hands in an Sunday worship and praise inside an Evangelical Christian church. I naively knelt down and waited for a Taoist ritualist to finish her ritual of waving her hands and writing strange things in air over my head. Feeling awkward is so normal that how it arises within me becomes almost a ritual.

Rituals provoke me to ask questions. “Is this right?” “Why am I doing this?” “Is there something going on that I do not see?” Since I found most rituals awkward, I shy away from asking and just let my mind wander. The end of any ritual is its sweetest phase. I was blind for a moment, and later I was back to the real world. Rituals for me were rather funny, naive icebreakers that shake the predictability of everyday life.

Every ritual is a wonderful kaleidoscopic expression of the deepest workings of our souls.

But meeting with Ms. Leah last February 2010 was a breath of fresh air. When she asked us to pay attention to my navel and follow the credence of her arms and hands as the crowd before her moved their hands like pressing and pushing something down from waist, I knew there was something in this ritual–in ritual per se– that I have to understand from her. I wanted to talk to her that day but I missed my chance. But I was very certain that sooner I would have the opportunity to learn from her. More than a year had passed, her wisdom became alive as I participated in her workshop last June 4, Saturday. The Art of Ritual Making was more than just theories and practices of a ritual; Ms. Leah’s workshop was a grand ritual itself.

At first, I thought Ms. Leah would teach ritual how-tos as if it is a sort of skill to be learned and mastered step by step. Up to the end of the workshop, the learning I imbibed was altogether the opposite. Ms. Leah told us that what turns out in every ritual is the enigma of its spontaneity, ambiguity and uncertainty. There is always an element of surprise and insight. Ritual might look something as an outward action, regardless of its cultural and religious textures, yet its very process is an inwardly organic transformation.  That debunks the notion that rituals are only redundant gestures and  blind ceremonies. Every ritual is a wonderful kaleidoscopic expression of the deepest workings of our souls.

photo from Microsoft Office Image

Our society often look down at rituals like some collection of primitive and superstitious practices. Rituals are misconstrued as a thing of the past, irrelevant and outdated, riddled with myths and symbols that are rather mind-boggling in the much modern and rational world. These beliefs and conceptions are not against rituals but merely a response of people who are preoccupied by, ironically, many things that in themselves are rituals. Livelihood, household, media, leisure, politics, social and global issues are just a few of the examples in which rituals of the modern life are abound. What distinguishes them from the rituals that deepen the spirit is the lack of living attention and awareness. Only by failing and forgetting  to attend and be aware of the essence or the invisible truth behind what we do that our actions and busyness become automatic and dreary routine.

So whatever we do, in its symbolic sense, is always a ritual. The lessons from the workshop taught me that as I expand my awareness, I can forge my deep appreciation of every action that makes me alive. In so doing, my life rituals awaken me to the infinite intelligence of my very nature: Love.

The Art of Ritual Making was held on June 4, 2011, Saturday. We will send updates for the next workshop schedule for July.

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