For as long as I can remember there was an altar or ritual space in my home growing up: in my mother’s closet, on my grandparent’s dresser, in my dad’s bedroom. Each person had a version of sacred space they would return to daily to contemplate, meditate or cry at. Nothing elaborate or ornate, nothing rich or fancy, nothing ostentatious or preachy. They hosted the basics: incense, holy texts, and pictures of Hindu deities, Jesus, Star and Crescent as well as loved ones present or lost. Each person had their own version of ritual as well involving Catholic, Islamic and Hindu prayers, mantras or incantations. There were also “straight up” conversations that happened between these adults and their ritual space. Lastly, quotes and words of affirmation from great authors or sages like Kahlil Gibran, Parahamsa Yogananda and Sir Francis of Assisi danced on the walls.
I recall the strict rituals of morning movement (gentle preparatory shoulder and neck circles and slow forward bends) followed by bathing, dressing and mantra/meditation. While my home life was nothing to cartwheel about, the rituals were a form of solace amidst much chaos and a form of peace to deal with the nature of mental health, health, and ancestral trauma that moves through many post-colonial and Western households. Periods of one parent working, racism, fights and arguments were simultaneously engulfed by a hope that there was something greater guiding us.
Quite frankly I found it all very confusing as being amidst three major world religions had me questioning why on earth the adults in my life were so pained. I couldn’t understand why on earth “God” was not listening. How come all of this prayer still yielded all of this strife?
I rebelled against said expressions of faith throughout my teens as I found them mute and ineffective. “Work hard, save hard, make that money and never marry someone who was abusive whom you don’t get along with” was my mantra. Also, “get therapy, get help if you’re effed up and take responsibility for your shitty patterns so you don’t project them on other people”. Yes, I was young and stubborn and thought I had it all figured out. I reasoned that this practicality would be my safeguard through life. To a large part, I was correct. But when my sibling passed at 17, I felt grief and an emergence of repressed pain and trauma that was impossible to rationalize myself out of. To be practical about. To be assertive and study through. I was stunned, dummied, duped, and my brain had a fissure that would not easily heal and that all the logic in the world would not carry me out of.
Here came therapy and the importance of ritual. I began consulting with the Chaplaincy leader at my high school who provided love and counsel. I began an intensive set of therapy with a youth clinic at a hospital. At age nineteen I began a more formal study of Yoga asana, Yoga science, Buddhism/Mindfulness that has continued for the last two decades. Within my studies, I began to understand quantum physics and the science behind mantra, meditation, breathwork, bodywork and repatterning thoughts. I encountered many authors who explained ‘prayer’ in a way that deeply resonated with me.
The difference was this: prayer had to be felt, not just dictated. It had to be experienced, ritualized and believed. It had to be personal, conversational and non-didactic. It had to include the expression of you.
Prayer, affirmations, intention setting, mantra, etc., etc. are all the same however the experience of them is unique to you. Like a sunflower needs to be watered differently than an orchid, so too is your expression of ritual in your life. This boils right down to the Atheist whose personal value system and ethical code guide them. Call it Nature, Creator, the Universe, God, Allah, Jesus, or Jehovah – one’s rituals are safeguards to the structure of your life.
It is why Cognitive Behavioral Therapy made waves: what we tell ourselves is often how we experience the world. It is why Mindfulness infiltrated the Western Therapy World: because talking alone does not soothe and repattern the physical and emotional memories held in our nervous systems, body or soma.
It is why exercise has become a form of Godliness and why the law of attraction is a new religion. People need some form of: ritual of the mind, ritual of the body and ritual of the ‘spirit’/moral compass to thrive in life. This holistic approach is capitalized and rebranded as “new” however we as a society are simply trying to reinstate that which our colonial past tried to erase as pagan. The Indigenous peoples of our lands as well as our ancestral cultures held this holistic wisdom: we benefit from ritualizing our lives in a holistic and creative way deeply personal to us.
This month’s ‘ask’ is to rejuvenate your rituals this September. I have always thought of September as the new year because this is when school starts in my hemisphere. For yourself, your families and/or your tribe – co-create easy and sustainable morning and evening rituals to fall towards during moments of triumph and moments of strife. Be sure to consider the following: physical, mental, emotional and ethical/spiritual/ cultural.*
We are busy people so it is ok to break these up into different days of the week, however, remember less is more and consistency trumps vigor.
Here’s mine! I wish you a healthy and prosperous September.
- Noticing when I’m harsh with myself (fat phobia, not enough, feeling flawed)
- Extending compassionate words to myself
- 5 Breath Meditation each morning before I get out of bed welcoming what I want from the day
- Virtual HIIT Class I attend 2-3 per week
- Music/dancing while doing chores/cooking
- Walking outdoors
- Practicing non-judgment of self/others (ahimsa)
- Being kind
- Avoiding criticism of others/self
- Monthly virtual therapy/EMDR
- Sit in nature – water, plants
- Mindfulness/Mantra Therapy
- Quality time with family and friends
*Chart inspired by Indigenous Medicine Wheel and Self Care Plan within University of Toronto’s Indigenous Trauma and Resiliency Program 2018