Ceremony From Here. From The Bones of Us.
“Walking, I am listening to a deeper way. Suddenly all my ancestors are behind me. Be still, they say. Watch and listen. You are the result of the love of thousands.”Linda Hogan, Chickasaw Nation
As a people, in industrialized culture, we have lost our fundamental human capacity to be present in our lives; alive and engaged in this moment, in relationship with ourselves, each other and The World (the Earth, the Animals, the Wild) in the place where ceremony, ritual and prayer naturally arise from the bones of us as we go. We no longer inhabit the intelligent human place where our lives are living-in-motion ceremony, prayer and rituals of first-and-foremost, gratitude and appreciation and then of reflection and witness of ‘I see what’s going on here,' ‘I see this glory of which I am an inextricable moving part.' It no longer makes sense to us that ceremony and prayer are simply expressions of our breath, coming in and out of our body, that breathing itself is a ceremony, an affirmation of Life...if we are actually living. That breathing is an act of making love with thousands of others who have breathed that particular breath, taking these others into our body and then giving them back to The World imbued with the unique essence of our Self. It no longer makes sense that every act of love making is ceremony.
A culture without ceremony which specifically honors the brilliance of The World and of our moment-to-moment participation in it, is a dangerous one for its lack of practiced gratitude. A culture without intentional ceremony is a sign that its people are orphaned from their parentage and here, we are full of fury and despair. In our perceived exile causing a measure of harm commensurate with our rage and despair.
The task at hand is not to turn backwards and draw from the old ways. We only do that because we cannot feel ourselves – and we do not value ourselves – in relation to The World right now, right here. But that is the task at hand. The old ways, our ancestors’ ways, are not our ways. They are not the answer. Certainly honoring them, honoring where we’ve come from, is critical. But only as a way of creating a ‘we are no longer that’ leaping-off point; as a way of acknowledging and honoring the things that have allowed us to get here in order to create the new ways. Old ceremonies, old songs, all of them must continue to evolve with what is sacred now; with what it means to be human on this earth now. It is likely the same things will always be sacred to us, The Earth, The stars, each other...to name only a few...but the reasons they are sacred will shift, our relationship to them is constantly shifting, and there will be new things that we discover are sacred to us. As well, the way we are human is shifting. The stories of grief and ecstasy living in our bones are different than those of our ancestors’. And all of this necessitates that the language capable of describing and honoring these be different; that it evolve in its capacity to describe our new way of being human, the new relationship we have with this place and all who live here.
With this, the ceremonies, songs, dance and prayer which honor and invoke all of this must change as well, arising naturally from the process of self-love, self-honoring and gratitude. They will arise from the space we occupy when we dare to imagine we are an integral part of this entire process, not unfortunate interlopers, not wretched agents of destruction who must be mitigated, contained and disparaged. But glorious participants in a process of mystery and awe, participants who have orphaned ourselves from our parentage and in this place are dangerous, but no less breathtaking. Simply lost.
This is perhaps the scariest of all invitations: start from here, remembering and celebrating all that it took to get us here, all that was required, all that offered itself so generously to create us in this moment exactly as we are; are heritage, our lineage, our ancestors....acknowledge all that and then put it right over there, just to our right within the wise view of our peripheral vision, and stand in autonomous relation to The World as it is now, as we are now, in the present, where we stand singularly as the ones who hold the human flame in this moment, looking out into the deep future which will be generated by the gifts we cultivate and bestow from right here. As it was with our ancestors.
Years ago, while praying with the 13 Indigenous Grandmothers in upstate New York, the oldest grandmother, in her 80’s, Agnes Baker Pilgrim from the Federal Tribe of Stiletz, said to me (and I’m paraphrasing here because the minute I knew what she was saying to me I began weeping almost inconsolably), with her hand on my head the way grandmothers do, ‘All the ways YOU pray – right now, your prayers – are exactly what is needed. What is moving in you right now is the answer. Don’t look backwards. That is behind us. Everything behind us is what got us here.’ The old ways are old ways. We must honor ourselves enough to imagine news ways are required and they will come from the longing living uniquely in us. We must let go and step out into the terrain of our own imagination as it lives in these times. Oh, there is grief here. There is a rite of passage here.
And I am interested in this new way of being human. Everything about us has changed in the last few millennia. Everything about being human has shifted. We are neurologically and physiologically different from a few hundred years ago, even from half a century ago. The ceremonies created by our ancestors were created when The World and our relationship with it, was radically different. In joining the understanding afforded us by science and our capacity to harness more of our soul’s understanding in harmony with our empirical understanding, interwoven with a reclamation of our deep imagination and a brand-new cosmological story about how we got here and why we are here, we will hear the never-before-seen contextually relevant songs, prayers, ceremonies and dances which honor Life. Ceremonies which acknowledge our new relationships with Fire, Water, Earth and Air, with North, East, South and West, with Raven and Blue Whale, with Striated Canyon Wall, with Life and with Death. It is through these new ways that we will come to a new, but no less reverent, intimacy with this Earth and all the life within it. It is through these new ways that we will un-orphan ourselves from this particular and devastating destitution. From right here; from the unique love and wisdom living within each of us, right now.
Some Thoughts on Daily Ceremony:
Self Pleasure can be a ceremony of our Soul caressing the physical body it’s inhabiting, or of our mind in right relationship with its body, exploring the terrain of sensual aliveness. And here, the task at hand is not to fall into the routine that knows how to get the job done but rather, to touch in new ways each time, to stop and come back into the moment of right-here-right-now rather than the just-around-the-corner expectation of orgasm that happens the moment we begin touching ourselves in the particular way we know will result in the outcome we anticipate. Slow down. Go left instead of right. Weave your deep breath into each new moment. Speak, out loud, your gratitude for this body you are endowed with and the way the energy of all Life moves uniquely through you. In this way the specifically sexual way we make love with other is also ceremony. Ceremony of exploration, of gratitude, of vulnerability, of play – so many of the component parts of Life itself. The opportunity to engage with the energy that creates Life (whether or not that is your intention) is always ceremony. Ceremony does not have to be serious. But it must be sincere.
Eating is a ceremony. Slow down. Breath. Smell, taste. Experience your self experiencing the food. Imagine the nourishment. Imagine the specific physiological process that is happening, but from a place of awe rather than ‘knowing’ (and therefore a lack of curiosity). With each mouthful imagine the extraordinary process that got this nourishment to your table, to your body. Taste gratitude in this place.
Every mundane task you perform is ceremony....the ceremony of a life being lived. Dishes, driving, weeding your garden are all moments of ceremony in which you are engaging in the mystery of your life; in something so vastly greater than your own expression but which moves through you in your every breath. We want to pay particular attention in these places where we could easily resent the ‘tasks’ of living, and even imagine that a preferred life is one in which we farm these tasks out to others so we don’t have to concern ourselves with them, so we can get on to the more important things. And yet, our participation in the structural support of our own lives is critical to our sense of aliveness and engagement. It is critical to the humility required for true gratitude in this experience of living. Gratitude is the fundamental human ceremony. The grace and vulnerability of our true expressed, spoken gratitude keeps us human and keeps us engaged.