Ceremony & Nature: Communing With The Deep End
The end of October and the beginning of November signifies an auspicious time of year for so many cultures through history and around the globe. This time of year marks the shortest days before the Winter Solstice for the northern hemisphere. For some religious faiths, the end of October represents the end of an annual cycle. Simchat Torah (Judaism) fell on October 24th this year and denotes the end of a cycle for publically reading the Torah. October 31st is Samhain to those who follow European pagan traditions which is a time to celebrate the last harvest and to acknowledge the coming of winter, “the dark half of the year.” Diwali, the Hindu holiday which falls on the dark moon in October (30th this year), is a five day festival full of rituals celebrating light overcoming dark, wisdom overcoming ignorance, and is also a celebration of Laksmi – the goddess of fertility and prosperity. Dia de los Muertos, Day of the Dead, is celebrated in Mexico to honor deceased loved ones and, thanks to colonization, falls in line with the Catholic holiday, “All Souls Day” or “All Saints Day” on November 1st. Many of us will remember reading about Persephone, the vegetation goddess in Greek myth, who descends into the Underworld during this time of year. I can see her story unfold when I look onto fields of rotting pumpkins or see the golden leaves fall off the twisted, withered limbs of trees.
It seems our human community has chosen to celebrate the rhythm of nature in a plethora of ways over the centuries. I suspect we do this to feel connected to something greater than ourselves, even if it’s a quietly subconscious or highly commercialized desire for some. One of the great therapeutic nuances of the wilderness is that, daily and viscerally, we get to feel these rhythms. When we couple our immediate and personal experience of nature’s pulse with personal narratives and wrap all of that together in ceremony… we’ve created something powerful.
The wilderness therapy model employs ceremony often because ritual is an appeal to our subconscious mind. When we prepare for ceremony – gathering our effects, planning our intentions, choreographing the ritual itself – we are asserting to our subconscious mind that this is important and we begin to heighten our focus and resolve. The hope is that the ceremony will continue to build upon our intentions and willpower toward whatever we hope to accomplish as represented in the ritual itself.
In honor of the turning of the seasons, the dark moon on the 30th, the many cultural celebrations of this time of year, Group 4 and 9 joined me in a powerful day of ceremony, artistic expression, sharing, and sisterhood. We first explored the different cultural significances of this past weekend and formulated ways to bring our own stories to bear on this special time. We focused on what it means to celebrate, honor, or embrace the dark part of life. For some this meant facing their shadow selves – the parts of their personality they judge or reject. For others it meant honoring the grief and loss of a loved one. Some chose to create “letting go” rituals. The scope of how we chose to honor “the dark” was as varied as the personalities present in G4/9. There was dancing and poetry, drumming and busting fire, stories and paintings. The end of the day concluded with many assertions of feeling “spiritual,” “connected,” “loved,” or “inspired.” It never fails to amaze me how a simple invitation to step out of the day-to-day can transform the feelings and emotions we cultivate.
So, during this time of Mama Nature’s quieting and cooling off, when the days give way to long nights, I invite you all to turn inward, get quiet, embrace the rhythm of this time of year, and connect with the shadows of your own being. Below is a simple guideline to assist you in creating your own sacred ceremony.
1. Find a space that is inviting and comfortable for you.
Inside is fine. Outside is amazing if you are lucky enough to be close to nature and not likely interrupted by street lights, sirens, traffic, or neighbors. This space should be as free of distractions as possible. Put the pets and family members in another room, turn off cell phones, close the doors.
2. Set your intentions.
Are you choosing to embrace your grief around someone’s departing? Are you honoring or saying thank you to a deceased beloved? Are you going to have a loving conversation with your “control-freak” part of self or hug your inner child that experienced some hardship in your past?
3. Preparing your space and yourself.
Clear your schedule for the time you will need. Gather any physical tools or objects you will be using so you don’t have to leave the space once you begin your ceremony. Light a candle or incense, play peaceful music, lay down a favorite blanket or rug. Create a sense of peace, beauty, security, and sanctity in this space.
4. Consecrate the space so it feels protective and sacred for you.
Perhaps you pray to God of your understanding or call on your ancestors. Perhaps you imagine a white light enveloping you and moving out into this beautiful space. Do whatever you wish to feel like the space is sacred and fortified with only the highest good.
5. Create and carry out the ritual.
Journaling, dancing, burning, burying, playing music, writing letters,… the sky is the limit and it DOESN’T need to be elaborate… just meaningful to you.
6. Stay present.
Stay aware of all the feelings, sensations, emotions that show up for you while you carry out your personal ceremony.
7. Close the ceremony.
Sit in stillness after you have completed the ritual staying aware of how you feel. Say or do something that signifies closure like saying, “Amen,” blowing out a candle, or bowing your head with your hands touching together at your heart center. Cultivate that inner feeling of completion, take a deep breath, exhaling completely. Leave the space and know that you did some powerful work for yourself.
When your eyes are tired the world is tired also. When your vision has gone no part of the world can find you. Time to go into the dark where the night has eyes to recognize its own. There you can be sure you are not beyond love. The dark will be your womb tonight. The night will give you a horizon further than you can see. You must learn one thing. The world was made to be free in. Give up on all other worlds except the one to which you belong. Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet confinement of your aloneness to learn anything or anyone that does not bring you alive is too small for you. – David Whyte
Remember, this is a deeply personal experience and doesn’t need an audience nor explanation to anyone. It’s for you and you alone. If it feels strange to create your own ceremony, remember that we are saturated in them as a species – weddings, funerals, sports events, holidays… We are just taking something that is hard-wired into our human psyches and making it personal. And if you are facing your shadow, be kind, patient, and compassionate with yourself. Consider first how you would approach a loved one if they came to you to discuss something they deeply dislike or fear about themselves.
I wish you much health, happiness and peace during this season of slowing down and going inward.