Friday, March 8, 2019

What Ritual Isn't

The best way for me to understand some things is to really dig into what they are NOT. Strange, I know, but go with me here.

For years I equated ritual with habit though I never consciously thought of it that way until now. I'd do something, every day, hoping I'd develop the "ritual" of it when what I was really doing was attempting to form a habit. It didn't work. Right now I know of something I've been doing every single day since January 10 because I feel like I need to do it every day in order to keep in practice. I do enjoy seeing the project coalesce into finished products but I have to be honest: I'm not enjoying the process.

Ritual isn't a habit. It isn't a compulsion. It's not something that you do just so you can check it off your To Do list. Now do get me wrong; doing anything every day for any length of time does become a habit and I'd wager having a ritual that brings positive reinforcement to your life isn't the worst habit one could develop. But it goes deeper than just training yourself to do something.

Webster's New Riverside Dictionary (an actual, physical, made-out-of-paper copy no less) says that ritual (n) is "the form for conducting a ceremony" and "a ceremony or body of ceremonies".  An online search reveals that ritual is also "done in accordance with social custom or normal protocol". Wikipedia states ritual as "a sequence of activities involving gestures, words, and objects performed in a sequestered place, and preformed according to set sequence."

Hmm...very formal and uninviting.

For me, I view rituals as something that one does to guide the course of their day, something that is looked forward to, that is completed in order to lend order and a sense of stability to life. Legal definitions aside, when I think of starting a ritual, I see myself performing a task that I enjoy, that I love, for the sake of bringing balance to my own, hiccupy Force. I see it as a form of rooting, of grounding in the soil in which I find myself. A focused coming to the present, being fully "in" that moment and allowing my hands and my heart to flow freely with the familiar motions.

I don't just see ritual as lighting a candle and sitting Zazen for a hour on a cushion. I don't see it as lighting incense before prayer. It can be and for many it is and that's wonderful and good. These things are important: silence and sitting, prayer and intention and they are things I need to cultivate in my own life. But I also need something a little more rooted in the tangible. I need both heaven and earth.

I believe that anything we do can be ritual. Any task we enjoy can become ceremony.


What types of rituals have you cultivated in your own life? Do you look at your art, your craft as a ritual? Is it something you do every day or once a week? Do you look to formal ritual to bring a sense of normalcy to your day? Do you perform them alone or with a partner, your family or friends?


Thursday, March 7, 2019

Ritual and Rooting

 I'm interested in ritual. Not in any religious sort of way, though one could argue that anything we do with a ritualistic intent becomes, in a way, spiritual. No, I'm talking about doing something day after day with the intention towards a goal. You could call it commitment. You could call it consistency. I prefer the term ritual because it elevates the action a bit, tricks the brain into thinking that this goal is something lofty and worthy of such attention.

Ritual can be something that you do to help you connect better to some aspect of your life. It can be the lighting of a candle before prayer or the brewing of tea before enjoying some quiet time. It could be a yoga practice, a morning run, a weekly cleaning out of the fridge (if any of you look at cleaning your fridge as a ritual see me: I've got a fridge that's in desperate need of some incense and prayer!)

Personally, I've been seeking ritual connected with things that I've talked about doing for years; things that I've constantly talked about, dreamed about, wanted to accomplish but for different reasons haven't. Over the years I've accumulated a long list of "things to do" but I'd much rather sit with these and uncover the ones that are tugging at my soul-strings rather than the ones that I feel compelled to do because of any external influence.

"You should totally ..."
"Why don't you pursue..."
"You're so talented at ..."
"Why don't you own your own..."
"It's a shame that you don't..."

I've heard it all and it's caused so much confusion. Since I was eight years old I've heard a never ending parade of those phrases. They aren't bad. They're wonderful but, unfortunately, to this hyper-imaginative and highly-sensitive kid, I took every one of them to heart and have continued to whirl around and around in my head on the merry-go-round of "I should do this...what about that other thing...what if I do that and find out I should have done the other?"

Frustrating, isn't it? Try living with it day after day, year after year, decade after decade.

The good news is, I'm aware of this now and I can determine for myself which pursuits are actually things I desire to do for myself and not for any other reason.

That's the key I wish I'd known sooner. Sure we all want to pursue a goal to success, either turn our interests into careers or viable enterprises or fulfilling hobbies that we can share with others and help them develop their own interests and passions. But first we have to do these things for ourselves, for our own fulfillment. It is our interest that must drive us and not the prospect of fame or fortune or acknowledgement from others. And, yes, the idea of helping others is a good reason to pursue something but you can't help anyone else until you first help yourself. You have to pursue your interests and your passions for YOU first. Once you've established yourself to yourself - once you are consistently performing this task or exercising this talent or putting forth your knowledge - then you can provide help, inspiration and guidance to others.

That leaves me back at the beginning. Back at the idea of ritual. For me, the constant floundering has caused many different, interesting side effects that I'm only now beginning to fully understand and I find that I have to focus on just one or two things instead of the vast sea of ideas I've hunted since I was a little girl. That's frightening. I'm always afraid of making the wrong decision or on missing out but I'm starting to understand that if you don't make any decision, you miss out on everything. Sometimes you have to start walking in a direction to find out that you should be going another. Standing still you'll never know one way or the other. This fear of missing out gets joked about on social media and in commercials but it's real and it's debilitating. It's a fear of losing control and of finding yourself in a situation for which you don't have the answers.

So here I am, standing at a path in the woods. Do I go left? Do I go right? Do I head down the center? Or do I sit down and continue to stare into the trees, hoping the answer will manifest? Obviously, the last answer isn't going to help anything. I've got to take a deep breath and head down one path and be at peace with that choice. And, the funny thing is, who knows where that path may lead? It may cross with the others, or with ones that I never would have considered had I not taken those first steps.

And as I walk, I take in everything around me. I use these moments as grounding into this direction and each time I set out on the path, I'll remember what brought me here, what helped me take these steps to begin with. Perhaps it's a simple as lighting a candle before writing or sipping tea as I work. Perhaps it's doing something the same time every day or wearing a particular hat while I garden. Whatever it is, it roots me to the here and now and helps me remember that this path is the one I'm on right now. After all, I can only be in one place at a time.

Wish me luck! And if you find yourself standing at the same path-ridden wood, know you're not alone. Here, take my hand, give it a good squeeze. We'll walk side by side - you on your path and I on mine.


Wednesday, March 6, 2019

IWSG March 2019 - Write to Find Your Truth

Good morning and welcome to the March edition of the Insecure Writer's Support Group. Together we gather on the first Wednesday of each month and air out our insecurities to the writing world. Or, if we're feeling particularly secure, we hope to offer up encouragement and hope. Most of the time, the posts end up a bit of both.

Do we write to find our own voice? Or do we write to give voice to the stories within us? Is there even a difference between the two?

I'd wager it's both. We write because we have something to say, yes. We write because there are stories we want to tell, characters who want OUT of the confines of our heads, and places we wish to explore that aren't necessarily real. But most importantly - and feel free to disagree - I believe we write in order to find ourselves. Our voices are raw and wriggling and are desperate for recognition. Even if that recognition comes from our own ears.

For years I wrote out of a compulsion to be "famous", to write something that would change the world and everyone in it. Can you say Delusions of Grandeur? Of course there's no telling what lies within us until we actually pen those stories and give them breath. The important thing, however, is not to chase after the elusive, green faerie of Fame but to write down our own True Thing.

What is that? Well, I don't really know. I don't think we can know until we spend a lifetime of digging it out. Even then we may never know but I believe that if we keep at it, if we keep writing, day after day, even when the words don't make sense, the characters revolt, and the memory of your grandma's apple pie keeps lacking something in the baking. We've got to keep at it, keep pounding on the keys and scratching pens across paper. The point is not to attain perfection. We're not looking for the author equivalent of Nirvana here. No, we're simply seeking the moment when we can type The End and know without a doubt that what we wrote is the best example of our own truth that we can put to the page.

That Truth looks different for everyone. For some it's found in the guise of historical romance or scientific treatise. For others it could be science fiction or horror. And for those brave souls who write memoir, it's found in the memories of their own lives and the lives of those who surround them.

Whatever you write, wherever you are on your writing journey, I encourage you to set aside some time to just write, to find your voice, whatever that may look like. Give yourself the freedom to explore new genres or write about that embarrassing camping trip you took when you were sixteen. Don't be afraid to take time in order to do this either. That's something that has held me back more than procrastination or lack of skill. If you are afraid to take the time to find your voice then you will always come to the laptop limping and you will never find that deep well from which you alone can drink.

Oh I'm not saying to give up on your dreams of publishing glory. We all have those. What I'm saying is to give up the illusion that you MUST have something to market NOW. If you do, awesome, sweet, groovy. Start submitting it and give it wings. But if you're like me and you've floundered and blubbered through idea after idea without coming up with anything more than a half formed garden filled with rocks and worms, take heart: you'll needs those rocks to build up the raised beds. And the worms make the soil fertile and will help the roots of those tiny seedlings take hold and get oxygen and take up more nutrients. The worms aerate the soil and allow the roots to spread. Don't begrudge the worms, Dear Heart. They are there to help you dig.