Five ways to celebrate the ceremony of life
Ceremony. The word brings up a flicker of images. A husband and wife, placing rings on each other's fingers. A priest, holding robes high at the pulpit of the church. A gathering of witches, chanting spells over a bubbling cauldron. A baby's head, dipped in water as he is given his lifelong name. Over the years, my practice and understanding of ceremony has been a journey in itself, from the more traditional or religious forms of recognition or reverence I grew up with, then morphing and expanding through the earthy, rich experiences of shamanic practice and into new-age celebrations of manifestation and formlessness. From the Maya to the Shipibo, the Toltecs to the Blackfoot, ceremony comes as a sacred and intentional offering - a moment in spacetime in which we can honor, change and celebrate.
For me, a ceremony is a combination of a few key aspects in a plethora of forms: the creation and maintenance of sacred space, the holding of an intention, and the offering of gratitude. All of these elements come together to allow us to contemplate, feel or connect on a deeper level than usual. Ceremony flows in and out of my life like the sea… used to recognize special moments, to open and close trainings and retreats, or to call in some particular energy or intention for a stage of life or experience. It can create or dissolve, preserve or shift. To me, ceremony signifies something sacred; a precious expression; a celebration of something meaningful, with the intention to promote inner clarity and freedom for all involved.
As I continue to peel back the layers of this infinite lotus of life, my experience of ceremony has shifted again into its most subtle forms, revealed in moments where sacred ritual slips underneath the fabric of life and infuses moments with divine celebration. Ceremony is a place to explore, to experience and to feel the mysteries of the divine as it comes in a place in time. Ceremony is a safe and defined space to delve into our journey towards meaning and truth, where those entering it have a shared intention for connecting to and serving, reverently and respectfully, a higher purpose. In this sacred space, we use gratitude to reconnect ourselves to all the elements we are honoring in the ceremony - allowing us to feel the magnitude of what we are and what we have.
So how do we bring sacredness to a moment? Whether a space is outlined in the physical world in a cathedral, ceremony circle or yoga studio, or created energetically - making a place or moment sacred means making it safe and pure enough for work to be done both internally and expansively. Whatever our intention, whether we use song, dance, meditation, or fire, gratitude is the bond that links it all together with the wider whole. Expressing and feeling gratitude is a process that systematically unifies us with everything we are grateful for.
When we start to understand ceremony in this way, worlds unfold. A ceremony can be simply a way of treating an energetic space - a situation, an event, a group, an emotion, a moment in time - in a sacred way. It is a place where we are invited to merge with something deeper than ourselves.
'But,' I hear you think, 'isn't this the kind of state we would like to forge throughout all of our experience? Doesn't all of our life deserve such reverence?' In the light of passion for the magical festival that is life, here we celebrate five ways in which we can bring the sacredness and safety of a ceremony into our daily lives - and in doing so reveal the beauty and wisdom that lies shining within every day.
Five ways to celebrate the ceremony of life:
1. Ceremony of Nourishment
In our modern rush of living, eating has become synonymous with 'taking in nutrients;' something that, while true, also often causes us to somewhat miss the point of our consumption and neglect the ceremony of it in favor of convenience. Eating is as much a social and spiritual event as it is physical - a ritual that traditionally glues us together as community. Whether we are gathering with friends or family for lunch or sharing a fabulous thanksgiving dinner, the coming together of loved ones to eat is as important for the ceremony of it as it is for the nutrients, if not more. Drinking tea is another ritual of carefully prepared balance and mindful consumption - from Chinese Puer ceremonies to the Mate of Argentina not to mention the ritual tea time in every one of my British fellows' homes. Nourishing ourselves like this honors the shared connection with the earth and the flesh and blood that we all share as human beings coming together.
So how can we create sacred space for our food and drinking habits? We may find that we do it already - at least for the big events that deserve candles and celebration. But even the most standard of meals can become a ceremony, with a combination of sacred space, intention and gratitude. We can use our plate of food or cup of tea as a moment to ourselves or to connect with others - an opportunity to close our eyes, breathe deep and wash ourselves clean from the inside out.
Prepare your space and give yourself some time. Take pride in what you prepare and sit down to it with reverence. Enjoy a deep breath in and allow the first bite to be slow and full, or take a small slurp and baptise your tongue with the fragrant liquid. Take in the smell, the sight, the beauty of what you have, and feel that sacred space billowing out from your heart as you mindfully consume.
The journey that the food made to our plate, the journey that we each made to the table, and the coming together of a million different actions - from bees pollinating to truckers driving - can all be honored in the ceremony of eating. Celebrate the connection that blends you with fruits of the earth, the eternal mother, and feel the opportunity to reset and revive.
2. Ceremony of Earth Rhythms
As we welcome in the next phase of the moon, we may on some subtle level feel a change - in our own energy, in that of others, in the potential of the new moon sky. As we shift across a solstice, we feel the deeper movements of a planetary system coming into a different alignment. When we observe an eclipse or a meteor shower, we become aware of the magnitude and power of the natural system we all live within. Ancestral traditions such as the Maya based their entire civilization around these events, and the calendar they created is more accurate than ours. Honoring these natural rhythms can help us to connect at a much deeper level to the huge system of spiralling astronomical bodies that we are inherently a part of, bringing us perspective, union and the wisdom of the earth itself.
If you feel called to note a particular event, follow that urge in your most intuitive way. Whether your ceremony is as simple as taking a few moments to breathe with the solstice sun, or as expressive as laying out your full mesa (altar cloth) or making a fire, any way you feel called to celebrate and honor these rhythms will result in a deeper sense of connection. Try to feel what each phase means to you - if it is the moon, notice whether the new moon inspires feelings of nurture or inwardness, allowing you to gather your energy for manifestation as she grows, or that the full moon may open you up, allowing both bright shining of your heart and gentle emotional release as she wanes. Use these natural rhythms of our world to find rhythm in your own heart… and celebrate the universal dance we are all a part of.
3. Ceremony of love-making
Of all the ways of making ceremony, this one can be a veritable labyrinth of enjoyment, laughter and fulfilment. Making love is a natural part of being alive, something we do as much (or more) for celebration and pleasure as we do for the sacred purpose of bringing in new life. Making love is a creative expression itself - our sexual organs are symbols of creation in its most divine form. The pleasure and presence it is possible to experience during sex has the potential to connect us to something far bigger and more expansive than our own small selves. Being that sex is such a sacred act, it is not surprising that in our fast, modern world, many of us have skewed experiences of it that affect our ability to relax, receive pleasure, and connect.
Bringing love-making back to its divine nature can help to heal wounds on all levels of our being. This can mean many things for many people, and even if you are not sharing love with a serious partner, there is the potential to make it a ceremony if it is approached with reverence, joy and playfulness. One place to start is by giving it more time - rather than leaving it until late in the day, try setting time aside to prioritize love-making and give it the space it needs. Create space with thoughtful washing, candles or music and take time to connect with your partner through intentional conversation, massage or simply eye-to-eye connection. Experience the moment as a sacred union of souls and a nurturing of cores, during which you can both enter into a shared and connected space that is beyond both of you as individuals.
4. Ceremony of Healing and Nurture
As human beings in a big, scary world, healing is as much a part of us as growing. Healing can take many forms and can always be a ceremony. Healing means rebalancing ourselves - bringing our bodies, minds and souls into alignment with the greater whole. A healing ceremony honors ourselves and the life-giving principles of the world we live in,recognizing our need for connection to our own souls and to others. Simply marking the 'space' that we move in - a kind of mental or energetic moment that we carry, honored with simple recognition - we bring emphasis to the experience and allow it to move us in deeper ways.
Create a ceremony of centering, to draw your awareness into your core, realigning yourself with your breath and your power. Create a ceremony to offer healing energy to another, perhaps lighting a candle and concentrating on the life-giving connection we all have. Take time to nurture yourself with some self-care, restorative yoga, or perhaps even offering yourself a spa ceremony to celebrate all the reasons why you deserve the best. In any healing ceremony, visualize your healed and nurtured self, walking in strength and in gentle power, and see the shining web of connections that nourishes you and joins you with every other thing in your life. Celebrate the power we each have to be full, whole and vibrant beings in our most connected state.
5. Ceremony of Purification
Purification - Saucha - is a central practice of yoga and a key to health. We purify when we shower, brush our teeth or wash our hands, and we purify when we breathe. We purify when we practice yoga and when we run, and we purify in the shower after we do it. Even when in the bath or a shower, make a ceremony of it and use your powerful intention to allow purification to reach to new and deeper levels. For the more advanced practitioner, purification may take the form of an Ayurvedic panchakarma such as Neti pot or tongue scraping, or more subtle levels of energetic cleansing done through meditation or plant baths. Each of these becomes a ceremony when supported by the power of our intention.
My favorite form of purification has to be through connection to natural water. Water is the source of life on this planet - even though we are called Earth, what sets us apart from the rest of the universe is our Water. We are water people, and connecting to the source of our life in a natural setting carries a power with it that can be instantly healing. Find a natural source of water, such as a river, lake, ocean or even the rain, and make ceremony with it. As you touch it, anoint yourself, or even dive in, feel the pure crystal liquid washing over all levels of your being, cleansing stagnancy and life-dirt from the skin to the soul.
Life as Ceremony
However we are living our lives, we have the opportunity to honor it and to celebrate each moment as a moment worth living. Making our lives a ceremony means opening ourselves up to feel the connection the world brings us, to every other place that life flows around us, and to the natural power that we each have to heal ourselves and others on this earth. Every time we connect in this way, we are connecting to a flow that takes in the entire world and everything in it.
Remember the gratitude… life is a celebration. Make ceremony and celebrate this beautiful dance of existence we are all blessed to be in.
Jiya Julia Randall is one of the founders of international yoga school and retreats organization Kula Collective and a guide for empowered and conscious living.
Jiya is a deeply connected leader who roots her teaching in the healing energy of nature. Her teaching invites students to explore their own, unique unfolding, through profound awareness and trust in the wisdom of the Self. Through her studies with teachers and shamans across the world, Julia has developed a powerful sense of energetic connection and a strong set of philosophical and intuitive teachings, which she shares through creative hatha and yin yoga, sacred fire and medicine ceremonies, kirtan and healing therapies. Jiya is also a talented musician and sound healer, who seeks out native chants and medicine songs from around the world to complement her work.