Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Journeys, Ceremonies, and Rituals

Like many, I dislike New Year resolutions. But I’ve come to accept I’m on a journey this year – and journeys call for a change in routines. They also bring about new rituals and ceremonies. Sometimes the rituals and ceremonies last beyond the journey and sometimes they don’t.

In the book, “eat, pray, love” (that has now infiltrated far too much of my life), Elizabeth Gilbert talks about how she can to hear the voice of God, most clearly, while journaling. She writes about being in Italy – and confronting the twin visitors of Loneliness and Depression, who’d followed her from her home in the US. In a moment of spiritual despair, she pulls out her private journal and writes to God,


As she puts those words to paper, a quiet voice spoke to her,

Who are you talking to, then?”

I don’t know about you – but I have a mythical “perfect person” in my life. This person steps in and comforts me in the perfect way when I encounter difficulties. He always knows what to say, which parts of my anger and self-pity to ignore, and pays attention to the right parts of my distress. But I never equated this “perfect person” to God.

Elizabeth Gilbert has this person living in her life too – and at this moment, as she was confronting her lack of belief in God she writes the following words from the “perfect person” to herself,

I’m here. I love you. I don’t care if you need to stay up crying all night long, I will stay with you ... There’s nothing you can ever do to lose my love. I will protect you until you die, and after your death I will still protect you. I am stronger than Depression and I am braver than Loneliness and nothing will ever exhaust me.”

You see, I SAY those words to myself. I READ those words. I SPEAK those words on Sunday – and every day of my life. But I don’t always BELIEVE those words. I don’t believe, because I listen to another voice. This is the voice who convicts me of every misstep and misdeed. He keeps a tally sheet, meticulously detailed of my every transgression, and brings it out at every opportunity demanding I pay homage to the tally. This ritual takes much time and energy. Energy that should be spent on loving myself.

Ms. Gilbert too is forced to pay homage to her tally, which also prevents her from moving forward in her journey. In India she realized, “[Closure] is what I need[ed]. I was sure of it. And I was sure of this too – that the rules of transcendence insist that you will not advance even one inch closer to divinity as long as you cling to even on last seductive thread of blame.” The prayer we’re taught is NOT ‘Give us this day our daily grudge’, … and “you might just as well hang it up and kiss God good-bye if you really need to keep blaming somebody else for your own life’s limitations.”

Wanting to remove blame from her life, she climbs on a roof top and enters into a ritual so she can gain some closure with those people she will never be able to achieve peace with in person. Even though the individuals aren’t physically there, in her spirit she invites them to join her under the stars. Greeting the person, she reviews the relationship, recognizes there is nothing she can do to change the past and offers up forgiveness to each person she felt most hurt by, and then releases them.

After the ceremony, she says it’s not that she no longer thinks about those people who hurt her, but she realized her part in those relationships were over, and she could no longer try and fix them. It was up to her spirit – and theirs, to straighten things out.

When I read this section – I quickly skimmed through it. “Release? Release? Oh I don’t think so!” said my inner demons.

Gilbert points out, “[w]e 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, weighting us down.”

I however, want to hold onto mine, and hug them close. These negative thoughts are all I know, and in some perverse way, they comfort me. But as I work on other areas of my life; the discipline of writing, of limiting procrastination, of starting an exercise regime, and sticking to an earlier bedtime so I can take advantage of the BEST parts of my day, I realize I cannot wag this old shit around with me and make headway. I’m doing other difficult and scary things, why not one more? After all, I am making these changes for ME. No one else.

But HOW – HOW do I get there? What else must I do to remove the pollution from my “love harbor”. How can I make the area pristine again? And then I get to the end of the book.

While in Bali, she seeks out ten days of solitude. Gathering the last of her strength, she summons all of her warring demons and confused parts of her spirit and tells them, “We’re all here together now guys, all alone. And we’re going to have to work out some kind of deal for how to get along, or else everybody is going to die together, sooner or later.” She remembered the Yogic sages saying all the pain of a human life is caused by words, as well as all the joy. “We create words to define our experience and those words bring attendant emotions that jerk us around like dogs on a leash. We get seduced by our own mantras … and we become monuments to them. (I’m a failure … I’m lonely … I’m a failure … I’m lonely). It took a while for these words to fall away in her self- imposed silence, but once they had, “[e]verything started coming up … everything hateful, everything fearful, … ran across my empty mind.” On the last day, she asked her mind and heart to show her, “everything that is causing you sorrow. Let me see all of it. Don’t hold anything back. One by one, the thoughts and memories of sadness raised their hands, stood up to identify themselves. I looked at each thought, at each unit of sorrow, and I acknowledged its existence and felt (without trying to protect myself from it) it’s horrible pain. And then I would tell that sorrow, ‘It’s OK. I love you. I accept you. Come into my heart now. It’s over.’

When she was done with all of her sorrows, she started in on her anger. She faced each injustice, betrayal, loss, and rage. Those too were invited in and accepted. Last she examined her private shames. “A parade of failures, lies, selfishness, jealousy, and arrogance. But as she tried to welcome these thoughts and feelings in, just as she did the others, ‘they each hesitated at the door, saying, ‘No – you don’t want me in there … don’t you know what I did?’ To each one she’d reassure them, ‘I do want you. Even you. I do. Even you are welcome here. It’s OK. You are forgiven. You are part of me. You can rest now. It’s over.’

At the end of this ceremony she was empty, but there was no more warring going on within herself. In her heart she finally saw her, “own goodness and capacity”. [Her] heart, “wasn’t even nearly full, not even after having taken in and tended all those calamitous urchins of sorrow and anger and shame.” She realized she could have easily received and forgiven even more, as her love for herself was infinite. Plus, she recognized this was not a once in a lifetime ritual, that she would have to keep dealing with these thoughts again and again, until slowly and determinedly she changed her whole life. It would be difficult and exhausting. But the reward was her heart telling her mind, “I love you, I will never leave you, I will always take care of you.”

And so, in this new year of 2008 I am contemplating ceremonies and rituals. Thinking of ways to welcome forgiveness and instill love of myself, in myself.

1 comment:

tp said...

How scarey these challenges must be ! I love you, too, all the way. Good luck -