Thank You For Being A Friend

I think most people would consider their very close friends and family to be, objectively speaking, a more significant part of their lives than their spiritual family (unless, of course, they are the same group).  We tend to spend more time with them, share the important events of our lives with them, and they’re usually the ones with whom we celebrate.

Therefore it is our social rituals, those things we regularly do with our friends, which often occupy a more significant place in our lives than the formal spiritual rituals and celebrations in which we may participate.  Midnight Mass might be an important holiday observance, but is it a bigger part of your life than Friday night happy hour with your buddies?  Or that show you watch with friends every Sunday?  Or the vacation you take with family every summer?

Those regular social rituals are an important part of our everyday spirituality.  They’re significant because they highlight the connections in our lives which are most significant, most valuable, most treasured.  Those rituals which allow us to stay in touch and nurture relationships with people in our lives should not be ignored as mundane or unimportant.

In fact, maybe we should think through our social rituals and see who and what we are leaving out.  Let’s create and celebrate meaningful connections.

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Elixir and Ambrosia

Back when my wife and I considered ourselves practicing witches, we used to follow our private ritual circles with the traditional cakes and ale, or in our case pre-packaged snack cakes and tea.  Traditional or not, the idea was to ground ourselves after the ritual experience and to take time to share food and conversation before going on with our mundane lives.

Though this isn’t nearly as symbolic as the use of food and drink in other religious contexts (Christian communion, for instance), the ritual use and significance of foods and beverages is a nearly universal phenomenon.  Everything from fasts and ritual breaking of fasts to special foods prepared for certain celebratory meals can be found in a wide range of traditions.  

For the most part, the food or drink itself is merely a symbol of some kind, either because of its ingredients or preparation, or the timing of its consumption is symbolic or meaningful.  This gets carried through all aspects of our lives, well beyond spiritual boundaries.  Certain foods are associated with certain occasions or situations, like turkey with Thanksgiving or hot dogs with baseball games.  

Far from being silly or meaningless, these associations we make with foods and beverages are an important part of our personal ritual lives.  In fact, it’s almost a natural reaction to mark special occasions with special meals, especially those which include gatherings of friends and family.  What we eat and why and with whom is really the foundation for observing what’s truly important to us.

Giving Has No Season

I cannot even count how many times I’ve been asked what I’d do with a huge lottery win.  More than the average person, considering I’ve worked in places that sell lottery tickets.  Still, the question is one we’ve all considered at one time or another.  And there are all the things we’d do for ourselves and all the things we’d buy or give to those in our lives who we know have a need.  

But what would I do with millions of dollars?

Aside from whatever personal expenditures I’d make, my plan would be to spend my life leaving very large tips for service employees.  

There’s something really powerful about the idea of just giving to strangers, not because they are specifically in need of help but simply out of kindness and generosity.  Random acts, paying it forward, simply being a giving person.  Being kind just because the world needs more kindness, being generous just because you’re lucky enough to be able to give.

Certainly making a regular habit of giving freely has an element of thankfulness to it:  giving signifies an ability to spare some of what you have, that you have enough to share.  But more than that, it’s the sharing of goodwill and joy in a way which is likely to extend beyond that act.  It’s putting positivity into the world in a tangible way which encourages the recipient to do the same for someone else.  

Beyond “Man Caves” and “She Sheds”

One thing I’ve always wanted for my spiritual life that I have not quite yet achieved is a private sacred space all my own.  I envision some kind of meditation/library/yoga space where nothing else happens.  

Also I want an alchemy lab that isn’t in the kitchen.

Clearly, I need a larger house.

Still, I think it’s not an uncommon desire among those who practice Neopagan or Eastern religions (and others, of course) to have a designated place for their spiritual activities.  Especially for those paths which regard spiritual activities as a retreat from the mundane and profane, the idea of shutting the world away and spending time in a sacred space is particularly powerful.  

In addition, so many of us follow individual practices which do not have a communal worship space to go to, and so we must make our own.

Even though most of us don’t have the luxury of actually creating a private sacred space, the mental exercise of designing one can be quite enlightening.  What would it look like?  How big is it?  What objects do you put in it and what do you do in there?  

In other words, what is so important and sacred to you that you would shut it away in its own special place?

Yule Brinner and Other Punny Holidays

On the topic of everyday or non-traditional rituals, my favorite celebration of the year happens at the Winter Solstice or Yule.  On that day, I gather my framily for a special feast of foods that, though we eat in the evening, are traditional breakfast foods.  If you’re a fan of the show Scrubs, you might remember that Turk and JD referred to breakfast food eaten at dinner as Brinner.  

Yes, we have Yule Brinner.

(If you’re not at least chuckling right now, do a quick Google search for Yul Brynner and then come back.  It’s a pun.)

Anyway, the special part of the celebration isn’t that it’s particularly meaningful.  It doesn’t have anything to do with anything.  It’s an excuse to get together and exchange holiday gifts with friends.  We’ve literally taken a pun and turned it into an annual tradition.  And that’s the part that matters.  It’s ours, and we consider it special.

It’s like Festivus.  Or Star Wars Day (May the 4th…).  There’s nothing that says we can’t make up celebrations and rituals for personal reasons, to celebrate how we see fit.  And, in fact, by doing so we often create more meaningful rituals than the ones observed as part of larger cultural traditions.  Traditions and rituals should mean something to us, even if just as a pun or an excuse to gather with people who mean something to us.  Shaping that cycle of observances shouldn’t be left to the forces of society, it should be something we create on an individual level.  It should fit our own spiritual intentions and needs, our own particular concept of what’s worth celebrating.  

But yes, you can all steal the Yule Brinner idea if you want it.  

This is My Body

I’ve long aligned myself with the pagan community more than anything else, and despite the whole lack of believing in gods or deities or supernatural beings I find a lot of useful thought and practice in neopagan paths.  The Wheel of the Year, in particular, is something I apply to my own practice in various ways, though my way of celebrating the sabbats is a bit unorthodox.

On the solstices and equinoxes (or as close as we can reasonably get), my wife and sister and I go to a local spa and get massages.

Four times a year, we take a morning for ourselves.  We come away with relaxed muscles and refreshed minds.  It’s like a reset button we hit every three months so we can continue to function.

Of course, a lot of people kind of laugh at that, as if our spa days aren’t really rituals.  As if that’s not an appropriately spiritual way to observe the turning of the wheel of time, the changing of the seasons.  But why isn’t it?

Self care in all its forms is not only a largely neglected activity in most people’s lives, it’s one which recognizes that we are not indestructible.  We are fragile beings in need of care, and we should not leave that care to the whims of the universe.  We should not run ourselves to ruin before we seek comfort and healing.  

Now, for some, self care may not mean having a stranger knead the living daylights out of your muscles until you feel like you’ve been beaten up, then give you a glass of wine.  That’s just happens to be my thing.  It could be any activity by which you indulge in your own needs above others, where you assess what would help you feel healthy, happy, and whole.  It could be a long hike.  It could be a trip to the doctor.  It could be time when you get away from your social obligations, or time when you enjoy your social life without worrying about your other responsibilities.  It could be an extra yoga class.  It could be a trip to your favorite ice cream shop.  It be purchasing all new socks and underwear.

The point is that some of the most impactful rituals when it comes to elevating yourself and your life are rituals designed for one purpose:  to take care of your needs, especially if you’re prone to neglecting them.

Give Of Yourself

I’m not the most tidy person of all time, but I do believe there is something especially valuable in the ritual of cleaning and decluttering.  I’m not just talking about routine chores like washing dishes or mopping floors, but the deep Spring Clean or complete overhaul of a storage system.  Even someone like me who, to be honest, has little problem navigating piles of clutter feels different when their living space has been freshly cleaned, organized, and purged of unneeded items.

 

Certainly there are spiritual parallels to the process.  Many traditions include rituals meant to cleanse the spirit in some way.  A focus is often placed on finding those thoughts and behaviors within ourselves which cause negative consequences and purging them from ourselves.  And part of the idea of feng shui is that the condition of our environment has a direct impact on our thoughts and actions.  Clearing the spaces around us of clutter and useless objects creates a space more supportive of a focused and positive life.

 

Now, of course, that’s the ideal.  Just like some aspire to daily meditation or prayer or other consistent and lofty spiritual goals.  Those are great.  I’ve never been particularly successful living up to that kind of expectation, but that’s a blog post for another day.  
Still, for those of us who are seeking meaningful ritual with spiritual subtext, a regular ritual of removing things from our physical existence which serve no positive purpose is a simple and meaningful one, especially when combined with the act of donating those things to those who can benefit from them.  Cleansing our own lives and elevating someone else’s in the same action is a ritual with a really profound positive lesson:  just because something isn’t useful to us doesn’t mean it’s worthless to everyone else.  Things aren’t good or bad, they just are.  It’s how we use them that matters.