Thursday, March 8, 2012

Yoga of Sacred Ritual

Yoga of Sacred Ritual

Sacred Rituals- Enactment of Heart Presence in Human Life

Sacred Ritual- Human beings throughout time and across the planet have held sacred rituals. Sacred rituals are distinct from other rituals in that they are not magic, nor motivated by the desire for power or manipulation, but to integrate meaning and purpose and to open our soul to conscious connection with the Ultimate, the essential Unity that holds the universe into being. Sacred rituals give expression to this inner consciousness of the soul, and in community celebrate and encourage even greater opening. Sacred rituals are often done at the following  times or occasions:  of important passages, of great human need or crisis, during the rhythms of the year, to celebrate blessing and thanksgiving, to seek healing of soul and body, and to give witness to important commitments of and between persons. 

Sacred ritual in the post-modern era sadly has largely been diminished or lost as an essential human practice in many societies. The extreme individualism and narcissism of our time and our culture inclines persons to see little use or validity in sacred rituals. This is so primarily because we lack faith in conscious connection with the Divine in daily life and are inclined to see ritual as the dead and cold property of religious institutions. Sacred rituals also are ways we re-state or re-enact our commitment to accountability to the Reality that is at the Center of life, as our culture seems to avoid commitment to that central relationship or any other that flows from it. 

Whether we realize it or not, our lives are held together by rituals, patterns of behavior that become familiar patterns. Too often they can become unconscious and bereft of conscious meaning. They are the warp and weft of the weave of our lives. In them, knowingly or not, we reaffirm the purposes of our lives and the values that are the foundation of our activity and relationships. The spiritual journey is a path of healing from the wound of separateness,  the wound of our lack of conscious connection to the Ultimate and all the alienation and unhappiness that flows from it. Those who wish to awaken spiritually began to discern the patterns and rituals of our living in a conscious way. Thereby we can bring a creative intuitive response to our sacred rituals to express and empower this soul healing rather than rely on institutionalized forms alone.

Essential Elements of Sacred Rituals- Some of us have had experience with sacred rituals and the liturgies within them through our involvement with one or more of the spiritual traditions of the world. To the extent that the symbols, words, and forms may have had meaning for us they can be integrated into our own lives. Common elements of sacred rituals involve some but are not limited to the following: 
  • An altar or center of a circle is usually the focus of attention for participants. The center may have a sacred fire or candle. The center or altar is the symbolic meeting point between human and Divine, between material and spiritual order of reality. 
  • Present on the altar or at the center, are placed appropriate symbols of the Divine and human presence in the ritual as well as symbols of healing, purification, commitment, and blessing, depending on the ritual's purpose.  
  • Participants place themselves facing the center or altar in reverential posture, often bowing or making other reverential gestures as they enter the space. 
  • Rites of purification entering the ritual space are frequently begun with the intent to leave behind "ordinary" consciousness and enter a deeper level of focus of awareness. Use of incense or smudging is one way of ritually expressing this.
  • The participant detaches from superficial concerns that circulate in the mind, to bring consciousness from an identification with the habitual surface mind content and into the awareness of true being or true spirit, in Heart Presence. 
  • Chanting an invocation is often then intoned alone or in a group by the ritual leader with a bell, or gong or other sound instrument, to further facilitate that shift in consciousness. 
  • What follows then is the liturgical content of the ritual, involving readings, prayers, and invocations, songs, or music, which can be brief, lasting minutes, or lengthy, lasting days or weeks intermittently, depending on the nature of the ritual. 
  • At the conclusion of the liturgical order, there is then a transition towards a conclusion of the ritual during which the purposes of the ritual are summarized and the commitments of the participants reinforced and validated. A concluding chant, song, spoken voice, or movements then bring the ritual to conclusion.
  • Participants then leave in a specified way, individually or as a group, making those reverential gestures of bowing or holding of hands or other body expression that are determined appropriate.

Liturgical Content of Sacred Rituals- From its Greek origin, liturgy, means "the work of the people." The expressions of the sacred then are not imposed from without but arise creatively from within us, even if we may use expressions that arise from diverse spiritual traditions. The process of creating these expressions of the sacred tasks in our lives -healing, commitment, forgiveness, encountering important passages, meeting risk and danger, uniting our lives with others, saying goodbye to others, and giving thanksgiving and blessing and others- is one that involves profound depth and attunement to the deep spirit in the Heart. It also calls forth artistic skill and freedom to give the full richness of expression. This creative process is most satisfying and fulfilling. The process itself is a deep meditation on the important moments of our lives. If the rituals are daily ones that are repeated daily, they can call forth refinement as we attune ourselves ever more to the Divine's movement in us. Sacred rituals are not the property of organized religion, but the inner creation of the spiritual nature of each person.

Home Altars are common in other cultures and geographic regions. Altars are the symbolic meeting place or integration of the mundane or "ordinary" into the sacred. It is appropriate that altars have a space of their own, whether a room, or a part of a room, or corner. Placement of sacred objects and symbols on the altar helps us to refer our consciousness to the sacred within the Heart, or spiritual center of the human person. Pictures, icons, statues, of spiritual personages or loved ones, may best fulfill this purpose. With the rotation of seasons, aspects of the natural world, and its changing face, may also grace our altar, sticks, stones, feathers, shells, and other gifts of creatures, and animate or inanimate nature. Their importance is their sacred ritual meaning to us. We discern that ritual meaning from within, in an intuitive mode. Altars should be well kept and revered as the center of sacred ritual in daily life.

Daily Sacred Rituals have the purpose of re-shaping our consciousness, by bringing us home to the central purposes and central commitments in our lives. Persons of present American culture seem afraid of repetition, afraid their minds will become bored or not entertained in repetition. In fact throughout time spiritual traditions have used repetition to engage or occupy the mind so that soul awareness can sink more deeply than the habitual identification with the mind traffic and into the spaciousness of the Heart. Hence poetic scriptures, chants, readings, offerings, and gestures, as an adjunct to silent meditation are the liturgical content of daily practice of sacred ritual. Brief sacred rituals around meals remind us of the life of plants and possibly animals that have been given so we can live, and to cherish with thanksgiving the life we have been given, within the circle of life. Sacred rituals before bedtime allow us to sink into our interior refuge of spirit in the Divine so that we may experience interior safety and security before letting go into sleep. Altars and symbols of the Divine at locations around our home can remind us of the central Relationship in our lives, and keeping reverent space in a separate room or corner of a room for our meditation space facilitates and nurtures the consciousness of sacred space.

Rites of Healing usually involve a coming together of friends, family, and community to focus healing love energy on the person or situation in need of healing. An example of this might be the Navajo "Chants" which often go for days. The person in need of healing is placed in the center of the healing circle. Whether in silence, or in singing or chanting, or dancing, or sacred art,  an offering of healing energy, love, and intentionality is made. (the Navajo people in a manner similar to the Tibetan Buddhists offer a sand painting, a healing mandala for the ill person and those present to assist in an integration of the higher spiritual energies for the purpose of healing.) Shamanic practitioners go through extensive training in guiding persons and groups through liturgies of healing. The liturgy itself has the goal of opening the illness to the invocation of spiritual energies from the Divine to assist the person in fulfilling their higher purpose of completing their spiritual journey on this plane of existence.

Rites of Commitment are vital in human life. They tie our commitments to the eternal and to the larger communities of humans and other beings. For that reason having them witnessed by the universe around us, and by our human communities in life, as we pronounce our vows, our promises, our desire to give of ourselves to higher purposes in life in a way that transcends time and space, is also vital. Commitments can be to relationships, such as friendship, espousal, teacher-student, to deepened spiritual practice, or other. Such commitments are sacred and call for accountability and support for those in our lives. 

Rites of Forgiveness are a way we honor the freedom to release from past hurts and injuries and enter the freedom to full life in the present. They are a gift to ourselves to release from all need to try to deny or reverse what has happened, or to exact any form of retribution. We free ourselves from the cycles of injury and revenge, they are ways that victims are empowered from remaining victims, and to learn and grow stronger in life. The ritual "leaving behind" of the residue of past tramua, injury, or injustice can be liberating of our higher energies in this life.

Rites of Passage or Goodbye help us to bow to the impermanence in life.  We thereby honor every experience, every stage of life, every relationship and attachment that has come and gone, and every phase of growth. We can give thanks for the gift received, to release from the residue of attachment whether it be of desire or aversion, and to move into the freedom of the present  moment having given reverence and gratitude for the gifts of relationship given. 

Summary: The Earth Witness Mudra is the posture of the Buddha touching the earth with one hand  and reaching upward to the sky with the palm extended. This is an iconic spiritual expression of Incarnate Expression of the Transcendent Ultimate here in the realm of human daily life. Sacred Rituals are one important way of bringing to conscious expression what is, in truth the fundamental spiritual task of the human journey, to individuate and express the Divine within the human and the "ordinary." To awaken and live this truth is the spiritual journey. Sacred ritual is a vital and creative artistic expression of the spiritual journey. The Buddha/Christ within each of us with one hand touches the earth and receives the gift each moment of incarnate life. With the other hand, palm extended and open, we make an offering of our unique melding and mixing, the temporal human earth and the transcendent Ultimate life-breath extending upwards, releasing and offering all into the All, the  Essential Unity from which all things arise and all things return.

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Thursday, March 1, 2012

Yoga of Befriending All Beings

The Practice of Heartfulness
 in theYoga of Befriending All Beings-
Compassionate Life in the Communion Paradigm
"The Tao gives birth to all beings,
nourishes them, maintains them,
cares for them, comforts them, protects them,
takes them back to itself,
creating without possessing,
acting without expecting,
guiding without interfering.
that is why the love of the Tao
is in the very nature of things." -Lao-Tzu (6th c. - B.C.E.)

Charter for Compassion
The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.

It is also necessary in both public and private life to refrain consistently and empathically from inflicting pain. To act or speak violently out of spite, chauvinism, or self-interest, to impoverish, exploit or deny basic rights to anybody, and to incite hatred by denigrating others—even our enemies—is a denial of our common humanity. We acknowledge that we have failed to live compassionately and that some have even increased the sum of human misery in the name of religion.

We therefore call upon all men and women to restore compassion to the centre of morality and religion ~ to return to the ancient principle that any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate ~ to ensure that youth are given accurate and respectful information about other traditions, religions and cultures ~ to encourage a positive appreciation of cultural and religious diversity ~ to cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings—even those regarded as enemies.

We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world. Rooted in a principled determination to transcend selfishness, compassion can break down political, dogmatic, ideological and religious boundaries. Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity. It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensable to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community.”  

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Unitive Life-The Great mystics and sages of human history have proclaimed, as Lao-Tzu, that there is single Life, an Ultimate ground of Being in which all existence, all beings find their belonging, their birth, their arising, and their completion. These same Wisdom teachers and practitioners have also taught that human consciousness can be so awakened as to perceive and live within this One Life, in a conscious and intentional way.  This is where the spiritual path takes us, a merging, a joining, a “yoga” of total identification with the One Self that is the Unified Field of Life. The same heart resonance we experience in our spiritual practice of befriending our soul friends deepens and extends into an experience and a practice (actualization) of heart resonance with the Heart of the Universe as the singular force of love and purpose in our lives.

Quantum Cosmology gives us the same view stated in terms of theoretical physics, describing all existence as a unified field which arises from a Quantum Emptiness to take on form and become all things and all possibilities. This view also states that the essence of this unified field is Consciousness itself, where every aspect of existence, every being every particle participates in this field of Consciousness, each affecting and affected by the whole.  We are not alone. We are intimately connected with all of life and existence. What we do to another we do to our Self. The Golden Rule of ethics is rooted in the very pattern and substance of existence. Hence the compassionate life is not just an ideal to be lived up to, but a Truth rooted in existence itself. 

Global Ethic- The Golden Rule and a Charter for Compassion
Author and spiritual teacher, Karen Armstrong has articulated this truth of Compassion and our intimate connection with the entire universe in her project  and book on a Charter for Compassion based on the Golden Rule of mutuality of respect and loving kindness as a basis for a Global Ethic that all peoples can uphold and revere. In this journey in life we then encounter beings and fields of compassionate resonance. As we grow in our capacity to listen to the Heartbeat of the Universe that resonance expands exponentially, and we befriend all beings, all things, all that is, in this infinite Circle of compassionate resonance. That is how and why the personal journey of being a spiritual being on a human journey leads us within and then beyond our individual self into the Greater Self that includes all life, all existence, and all Consciousness.  Compassionate loving kindness is the fruit of the spiritual life.  We attune ourselves to a deep listening to the Heartbeat of the Divine Anam Cara.  We befriend and are befriended by the Universe.

Deep Listening-the Path of Awakening, the Path of Relational Healing
To be on the path of awakening, to be on the path of spirit, is to listen deeply. We listen deeply, not superficially, as we learn to turn our attention from the voices of the culture and the voices of the separate self ego-mind that have penetrated and too often polluted our consciousness. And we listen to the heartbeat of the Universe in our own heart. This deep listening happens as we cultivate an interior silence in our formal meditation practice. We lay our cheek on the breast of the Divine Beloved and there we find our home. There we hear the heartbeat of the One Life in our own life. This is the Higher Power that we can trust beyond any human power. This is home. 

Listening to the Song of Our Companions
The deep listening doesn't stop there. It extends into the every moment. We turn our deep listening to Higher Power, to the Divine Beloved in our human beloveds, listening for that same heartbeat in them, in the every-moment of every day. The daily practice of interior quiet and deep listening we have cultivated now is brought into the relational life and interaction with our love companions, our families, our children, our friends, our community and our world. And even more so, the challenge of deep listening is to listen in the interior silence and spaciousness of the Heart, beneath the busy and reactive mind, beneath the wounded psyche and emotional residue that circulates in our consciousness. A Deeper Voice calls to us, saying, "Be still, my love, and listen to the song I sing to you, in your lover, in your children, in your friend. For I am the Life that lives in all, and in Me you can rest your soul."

The Inner Quiet Communion of Listening
To listen this deeply means from the time of early morning when we sit in quiet, we bring our attention and our will, our heart presence and our offering of self, home to the Heart, the inner sanctuary of the Beloved. We return again and again, anchoring in our breathing, in our meditation word-sound to the interior quiet of the Heart, like a homing pigeon. This becomes our singular orientation in the every moment, the every day. This is the medicine of healing for the soul that has been too much with the toxins of the world, this is how we move from living in the Domination Paradigm to living in the Communion Paradigm. In the Communion Paradigm our connection to our deepest Self, our connection to each other, to our human and non-human beloveds is the singular reality. We can live this reality. 

How do we do this? We do it, as mystic Julian of Norwich says, by ‘seeking rest where there is rest.’ We will find no rest in our ego-mind. We will find only the division, within and without that comes from seeking refuge and rest in our ideas and ideals, in our agenda for the others in our life, and for the world. That is the world of the Domination Paradigm, the world of competition and conflict. We spend so much time and energy seeking control where there is none, rather than seeking the Home where we are truly home, where we can rest our soul. 

The Communion Encounter
In the every-moment life happens. We encounter each other. Too often we encounter each other in the reactive ego-mind and its wounds from the past, and its agenda for the future. And the repetition of the past, the conflict of competing agendas, the wounding of misunderstanding and conflict happens. Or we can encounter each other in the present, resting where there is rest, on the breast of the Beloved, sinking into our inner being as we listen, attend, and commune with the heart to the deeper presence of our human beloveds. Sometimes harsh words, insistent agendas, the surfacing of unconscious fears and desires will pull us off. When the disturbance arises, recognize it. Bow deeply again in recognition of who you truly are, who the person in front of you is, and make an offering of your deepest Self.  Return to the inner quiet and spaciousness of just being there, just being present, listening deeply, and dropping the agenda, the insistence, the emotional reactivity of the ego-mind. A pause to breathe deeply, to anchor in your meditation word and breath, will help you return to deep listening, rest where there is Rest. We can ask for that permission and return when we are ready to listen deeply and abide in the Heart when we encounter our beloved.

Ceaseless Bowing and Ceaseless Offering
This interior movement may be summed up in two simple sacred gestures, bowing with the namaste gesture of hands folded, and offering with the hands open and extended. We bow in the recognition of coming home to deep listening to the Beloved before us in our human beloved, in pure presence. In our open hands extended, we offer the best of ourselves to the one we encounter. We release from our identification as "me" in the thoughts, emotions, and agendas for control that are coursing through our consciousness, and in our open hands we receive the self-offering of the one before us. In this way relational life is simple, not easy, but simple. It is deep listening; it is deep reverence; it is deep love and communion. And our soul finds its rest and healing.

The Secret Garden of the Spirit - Doorway into the Universal Circle of our Belonging.
We live in a time where the small and falsely constructed circles of tribe, religion, ethnicity, and nation are breaking down. We also live in a time of rebirth of the ancient teaching of the perennial wisdom that our soul’s journey is a healing of the soul into our true spirit within, and therein into the Universal Spirit that lives and breathes and loves through us.  This healing was foretold in this vision by the Lakota Sioux Shaman, Black Elk, at the age of nine, even before the terrible suffering and devastation wrought in the invasion of European peoples to his land. 

 “Then I was standing on the highest mountain of them all, and round about beneath me was the whole hoop of them all, and round about beneath me was the whole hoop of the world. And while I stood there I saw more than I can tell and I understood more than I saw; for I was seeing in a sacred manner the shapes of all things in the spirit, and the shape of all shapes as they must live together like One Being. And I saw that the sacred hoop of my people was one of many hoops that made one Circle, wide as daylight and as starlight, and in the center grew one mighty flowering tree to shelter all the children of one mother and one father. And I saw that it was holy." ( Black Elk Speaks )