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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