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Sunday September 26, 2004: Personal: Failing at Rituals


              The other night, Ann (a friend from Cleveland) and Lynn (her grade school friend) came to our small town for the Fall Festival and stayed for a late dinner at one of our local restaurants. Ann remembered I lived close by and gave a call, so that I was able to hop over and join them for an hour or two of terrific conversation.  (While Ann is currently a realtor, she's done professional photography and is responsible for the photo used on my ABOUT ME page.)

             Ann had been a member of my ex's yoga group when we first met, though it's our current relationships with V.G and the divine that remain a focal point. Friday was an unexpected treat. Among the many things we discussed was ritual, a discipline I find fascinating-- precisely because I've failed so miserably when trying to follow tradition.

             My ex is the type who has done his yoga routines every day, without fail, for thirty-some years.  He has done round after round of japa on his mala beads (think rosary for you Christians). I've talked in an earlier entry about the Hindu belief that hundreds of thousands of rounds of chanting the same mantra are supposed to build a neural pathway to non-dualistic areas of the brain. To get through the vast number of repetitions required, the aspirant chants as often as possible, repeating words as fast as possible. It's a numbers game and I'm told there is spiritual strength that slowly builds with each set of repetitions.     

           Halfway through our marriage, my then-husband helped me make up my own mala strand with one hundred and eight beads; for a brief while, we would sit in bed at night and each do our rounds. By the end of the first week, I'd already wandered away from the traditional method, into my own form of japa. In less than a week, I realized my new technique was making it impossible to complete a single round.

             I was supposed to chant om/aum with each bead. My husband could rapidly run his fingers over the beads, turning the mala beads around when he hit the marker (the completion of one round, marked by a right-angle bead and a tassel), before beginning his next round. I would center on om/aum, on letting the power of it fill my space of my mouth and spread, reaching further and further until it filled my entire body; I would focus on om/aum, listening to the vibrations and following them outward into space until I was aware of a universe humming with the sacred sound; I would center on om/aum, seeing the word pulled out over time as I tried to stretch a single word onward without interruption, maintaining the awareness as a pure and unpolluted focal point. I never got more than a fourth of the way through the first round before I lost awareness of body and beads and chanting, before I sat in silent wonder of higher realities.  What point was there to completing the round?

              I ended up with a similar problem saying the Lord's Prayer. I was brought up being taught the traditional way to say the Lord's Prayer, but could I leave well enough alone?  Of course not.  I began drawing each fragment into my being: Our Father (I pause until I feel the implications of our and father and the relationships that exist between myself, the divine and the rest of creation) who art in heaven (I feel the awareness of higher worlds removed from petty emotions of lower human nature, the purity of dimensions that are true and eternal), hallowed be thy name (I think of the reverence and devotion and power that comes from having a word to connect to that awareness, the joy I take in saying that name, in being able to send love and devotion, in feeling divine presence)......By the time I finish, I have made a brand new and powerful commitment, binding me to the divine, pledging my very being with the passion of love awakened to its fullest.

              Here's the problem: I can never get through the Lord's Prayer in less than twenty minutes.  To sit in a church service and have everyone repeating the Lord's Prayer is the very act of frustration for me. I cannot hold the words, I cannot feel the words; they all rush by, too fast to inhale into my being. We sit, we stand, we sing, we pray...it all runs by too fast; I cannot find a connection with God during church services. Even if I believe each religion holds spiritual truths, I find myself questioning how anyone can find God within a church setting.

             For a long time, I mulled over community and religious rituals and why they were important to people.  Eventually, I began seeing the value of group unity.  For a specific period of time each week or each year, this or that group would come together, focusing on a common belief and the importance of that belief to their lives.

            Once I figured this out, I quit trying to find God in a ritualistic service.  I began focusing on the group coming together, the way group consciousness builds and supports the individual. I found myself relaxing when I visited church or synagogue or temple, ignoring the service and focusing on the love of people for their God.  

             I will never be a ritual person. I will never belong to an organized religious group. It just doesn't seem to be in my nature. I have chosen a lonely path, and a small part of me envies those who have a spiritual community which gives physical and emotional support in this world.  Occasionally I feel like a small child standing in the cold and looking in a window at a warm and cheerful party.  When I begged and pleaded once with my inner guides to be given a specific path to follow, the only comfort they could give was to explain I would belong to all and to none. It wasn't what I wanted to hear.

             Yet, the other night I found delight in joining Ann and Lynn, if only for an hour of conversation. They stand at the edges of their individual religious paths, and we found comfort in the underlying beliefs that keep us all outside mainstream dogma.  It was a wonderful evening.  One should never underestimate the power of groups -- even in the smallest of gatherings.      

Posted on Sunday, September 26, 2004 at 08:46AM by Registered CommenterThe Skeptical Mystic | Comments1 Comment

Reader Comments (1)

The Lord's Prayer really changed for me when I studied Emmett Fox's interpretation of it. It used to be ritualistic for me as well, but once I started really thinking and focusing on the meaning behind each line, my consciousness shifted and more meaning was added to my relationship with the One. Of course, old habits die hard and I still find myself whizzing through it at times, even when I'm alone.

Thank you for the reminder.
September 26, 2004 | Unregistered CommenterLyman

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