Monday, March 30, 2009

Do We Need Ceremony In Our Lives

The desire to have ritual and a sense of belonging in our life is one of our main drives and is often overlooked. The lack of ritual is a cause of many problems in our lives.

We each have an inherent desire for ceremony or religion of some type in our own life. We need ritual to feel balanced. An absence of religion is not an absence of religion. It is only the absence of an organized religion. Many times we will create our own rituals without knowing it. People seek ritual in their life and many times if they cannot find it they withdraw and this becomes a type of ritual in itself.

Desiring ritual in our lives is not the same thing as desiring a supreme being in our life. Those are two different aspects even though many times having a supreme being in your life leads to rituals. Even people who do not believe in a supreme being seek ritual in their lives. The absence of a mainstream religion can be a ritual in itself.

Three words to consider are religion, spirituality and ritual. Ritual is interchangeable with ceremony. I will call it a ceremony here.

Ceremony can take many shapes and forms without people realizing that it is a ritual. Take someone who never fails to watch Monday night football. Each Monday they will get out their favorite food, beverage and many times even wear special clothing. It may be a hat, a jersey or even certain clothes they consider lucky. They may include a certain group of people who gather to watch the game. Even if they do not gather a group each week they will still follow the same ceremony each time they watch the game.

As with any community with the joining of outsiders to the group there is always a screening process. You wouldn’t invite someone who hates football to come and watch football on Monday night. Leaders within the community or group approve or disapprove new members. If you watch football at a friends house and you want to bring someone else you always ask and get approval first.

Within the community and during the ceremony there are requirements for accepted wear. If you are watching a football game many people will wear their favorite jersey or what they perceive as their lucky clothes.

There are accepted greetings between members of the participants in rituals that are not the same as greetings for non-members. There are also consequences for withdrawal or betrayal of the community.

Some other examples of ceremonies would be youth sports and the culture that surrounds it, joining of social sites on the Internet, belonging to a musical group, following a famous musical group, the huge annual ceremony when people gather to watch the Super Bowl.

Another example of this would be the drug culture. The clothing, the signs used for greeting, the way they fill a pipe when it is used, the preparation of the drugs, the acceptance of others into the group and the consequences if you leave or betray the community. Although it can be argued that the chemical dependency plays an important part in this but ritual also plays an equal part.

One of the reasons that drug rehabilitation often fails is not only the chemical dependency but the dependency on the familiar ritual within the community. When people are rehabilitated there are not ceremonies and the sense of belonging to replace the ones lost. Because of the lack of community after rehabilitation in conventional rehabilitation that is the reason that spiritual groups or groups like AAA with their weekly meetings have a better success rate at rehabilitation then others.

Even homeless people have a community and ceremonies in their life with a hierarchy who oversees them. The ritual and hierarchy will change with each area that they travel to or by where they live within an area. There are accepted rules of behavior and a sense of belonging. Go to the camp of the homeless in a major city and you will quickly see the community and if you’re accepted you may witness some of the evening ceremonies which are maybe as simple as gathering to talk and drink.

Some of things that rituals have in common are:

A process to join the group

A sense of belonging

Rules to follow

What is accepted and what is not accepted behavior.

What to wear and bring when attending a ceremony

A sense of betrayal when someone that belongs to the group no longer conforms

A leadership within the group even when it is informal and not clearly defined

Acceptable and non acceptable clothing

Vocabulary that is just for the group

Status symbols

The need of everyone to do their part

All this is to replace the loss of the sense of belonging to a village or community and the rituals that go with the community. Not many generations ago we were members of small communities with all the rituals that go with it. Even in big cities older people speak of the sense of community in the neighborhoods that they grew up in. They speak of the elders that would sit outside each evening and talk, of the festivals within the community and much more.

Ceremony and ritual are part of our makeup and we continue to seek it out even if it is something as simple as applying makeup or shaving in the morning. We call them habits but many of our habits have become rituals in themselves.

To not acknowledge that we need communities and the rituals that go with the community just as our ancestors did leaves a sense that something is missing.

Each of us has to decide what the ceremony in our lives will be and where to find it. What is right for me is not necessarily right for someone else. When we learn to foster a sense of belonging within our families and group of friends and recognize the need for ceremonies our lives and relationships can began to heal and grow.

Not having the sense of belonging and ceremony leads to many of the suicides in our societies especially in youth.

What I wrote here is what I have been taught and come to understand over the last few years while watching the resurgence of pride in our Native communities. Seeing the change that programs like what is doing, teaching our people how to have pride in our community, heritage and ceremonies is helping to bring healing to people.

You do not have to agree with me and that is your right. These are words that have come to me and I wanted to share with you.