Ceremony is embedded in our bones. It is an integral part of our human inheritance. It has been woven through our DNA for thousands of years. And yet, it is lost in the culture that we currently live in. Of course, we have ceremonies: graduation ceremonies, weddings, celebrations of birth, life passages, and death. But the ceremonies that we have in our current way of life are secularized and stripped of their sacred essence.
When we step into ceremonial spaces, it evokes a way of being that is all-too-often forgotten in the way we now live. We perceive them as social gatherings where we are supposed to act in a way that upholds our ego-driven image. We dress according to the situation so that we may be seen by others. So that our egos may be fulfilled by an image that will be talked about and acknowledged in simple ways. Ways that maintain the status quo. Yet there is so much more to the intricacies of ceremony that we fail to acknowledge because we are not conscious of the ways that ceremony evokes the participation of the unseen world.
Whether we perceive it as purely psychological or as something beyond the stripped down trappings of the mind, ceremonies in our society have become more about pageantry than about acknowledging the grandiosity and mystery of life. We go through the motions because they are socially accepted but fail to drop out of our conscious mind and into the space of intuitive perception. This is the space of the heart. When we move from a heart-centered space we cannot help but to feel a deep connection to something that is greater than us. Something ineffable, indescribable, and yet somehow more real than daily modern life.
What so many people yearn for in our world today is that connection to ineffable grandiosity. It is something that connects us to a bigger reality, one that we are all part of but at the same time disconnected from after thousands of years of materialism. The split between the inner and outer world that has afflicted our world is a disease that has brought us to a place where our very existence as a species is seriously called into question. And yet we find our society caught up in the distractions of demented demagogues with bad toupees finding mass approval because they embody the rage of spiritually starved and morally stunted people. The public leaders of our world have become a farce that stares us in the face with a blatant disregard for the millennia of human evolution and development, and the masses follow them like intoxicated sheep without any idea of how enormous our potential is to create a way of living that would honor and uphold the continuation of life.
The absence of soul in our ceremonies is directly connected to this. Our base materialism has swarmed our collective consciousness in a way the stunts our ability and willingness to dream a sane way of living into existence. And yet we struggle on the daily to maintain this status quo. We struggle to become the witnessed and acknowledged epitomes of a no-end society that rages against the drive of life to keep living. There is a deep hunger that underlies all of this. It is a hunger than can begin to find satiation if we learn once again how to gather collectively in creating spaces for the Sacred. In learning how to be the leaders and participants of ceremonies that honor that which is bigger than ourselves we can begin once more to understand that existence is more grandiose than anything our material pretensions can aspire to. The fact that we are here is part ecstasy, part deep heartfelt weeping, and all Mystery. It is to this Mystery that we owe our allegiance and our willingness to lay down our egoic aspirations for the sake of future generations that will embrace and experience that same Mystery.
We start to unite in this way when we become willing to step into sacred spaces where we cannot define what occurs but we feel, in an indefinable way, that we are a part of something much bigger than our limited time in the flesh. This is not a question of faith, but of lived experience. That is the difference between these experiences and faith-based dogma. There is a tangible shift that happens in us when we are willing participants in sacred ceremonies. The thing is that they will not make us richer, more attractive, or more socially coveted. They will, if anything, strip us of our myopic ideas of self-importance and break our hearts open into an understanding that we are drops of water in an immense and ever-flowing river. It is a river of time, perhaps, upon whose shores are the brilliant eruption of life and the deep mystery of death. We waver between these shores more frequently than many of us ever have the ability to understand. But the river keeps flowing, as it always has. When we learn to be the conductors and participants of ceremonies that invoke the sacred we allow ourselves to, for a fleeting instant, experience the enormity of that river.
Mature cultures, the world over, have known this for thousands of years. We each have this awareness embedded in our bones. And yet when we mindlessly continue to follow what our materialistic culture has set up for us as standards for success we reject the opportunity to be a part of this larger sacred existence. For many people these words will sound incongruous, unintelligible, perhaps New Agey or insane. But for others they will be seeds that hit fertile ground and inspire a new way of seeing what we can collectively be. At a time when our materialism brings us teetering onto the precipice of extinction we must make a choice. Either we learn to step outside of our social indoctrination and begin to entertain the possibility that our existence is as much spiritual as it is physical, or we abandon the illusion of future generations and become content with rearranging deck furniture on the Titanic.
We are in desperate need of a spiritual revolution. The world that will remain for us to witness depends on it. The world that continues without us as witnesses is a given. This Earth has existed well before our first ancestors reveled at the mystery of fire. It will continue long after our most advanced technologies have collapsed and become nothing but litter on a landscape of stone. What we are being called to do now is to decide what role we have to play in maintaining our consciousness as a collective species into an indeterminate future. The reality is much bigger than Bernie or Trump. It always has been. And it requires that each of us accept the call to step outside of what we’ve been told and start finding the spaces where what is sacred speaks with a language older than words. Learning to consecrate Life once again is the task at hand. To do so we must begin an apprenticeship with ceremony.
In recent years this yearning for ceremony has emerged as an obsession with the plant medicine traditions of Ayahuasca and Iboga. The spiritually-starved masses of the West converge on retreat centers in Peru, Ecuador, Brazil and Costa Rica in search of healing, meaning, social status and the newest New Age fad. Like locusts people converge on cultures accustomed to exploitation after centuries of colonialist repression and ravaging. In some cases people experience deep transformations that change their entire perception of life and their place within it. In others, it is a social marker that denotes inclusion like a merit-badge into the privileged world of spiritual materialism. What many people fail to recognize is that the land they step on each an every day of their lives has similar opportunities to connect with the sacred. The places where ceremonies are held are just as critical as the mind-blowing visions evoked by the sacred brews.
In the path to the sacred there are no shortcuts. Instead, there is a lasting apprenticeship that will reshape a person’s entire life if they are willing. It requires courage, perseverance and a deep diligence for the subtle infiltrations of the ego. It starts by getting to know the land where we live. Learning about the first peoples of that place, and approaching them with respect and humility. It also requires that we begin the life-long task of seeking out those that came before us. The ancestors. Those whose lives, decisions, and sacrifices made it possible that we may at this moment tread on this Earth. Learning to live in a sacred manner demands that we actively take up the task of re-weaving a web that has been broken in many directions: to the land below us, to the ancestors behind us, to those that may tread upon this Earth after us, and to the indescribable Mystery within us. We cannot simply do this by appropriating the ways of others. However, we can learn a bit about how to proceed by witnessing those that have not forgotten how to maintain this web. While we have much to learn by participating in and witnessing the ceremonies of more mature cultures than ours, our task is to begin humbly attempting to rediscover our own. It is through this that we will cease our mindless destruction and once again be woven into the greater tapestry of Life living.
Photo: Balinese Fire Fight Ceremony - USA Today
*Originally published as Inlak'ech Transpersonal Coaching