Don't be scared! I am not about to recommend dancing naked in front of a fire (unless you're into that sort of thing) or sacrificing a goat or anything like that. I know that the term ¨ritual¨ can be a charged one, as it has many types of associations with it. However, when I refer to the word ¨ritual¨ it is referring to a set of consciously taken steps, done in a particular order with a certain purpose behind each step. Each step builds on each other in such a way that it creates a path to accessing a larger ideal or experience.
I will give an example. Let´s use the process of making a cup of tea. Everyone has seen this process, and some of you may even do this on a daily basis. Making tea involves some version of the following: First you boil water, then grab a tea bag or gather loose leaf tea leaves, then you add the hot water to the tea, then you let it steep, then you pour the steeped tea into a mug, adding honey/milk/sugar/lemon before or after as you prefer.
Is this a ritual? Nope!
As of now, this is simply a process, perhaps even a daily habit… but you could make it a ritual, and cultures such as Japan and China still perform complex tea ritual ceremonies. What makes the Chinese or Japanese tea ceremony a ritual is that there is an explicit intention for the ceremony and each step in the preparation and execution of the ceremony has a distinct function that leads the group towards that overarching intended experience. The intention of the ceremony is to create a harmonious and intimate connection with architecture, landscape gardening and Japanese artwork in all of its forms, as well as create a connection with the essence of the tea and with each other. There is no action taken, nor a word spoken that does not serve some purpose in creating this intended experience. For example, the actual preparation of the tea doesn’t start until the host brings in the tools and cleans them in front of the guests before using them. The cleaning of the tools is aesthetically done with concentration and highly graceful movements. The way in which these movements are performed is of great importance, as they are intended to continue the creation of balance and harmony within the ceremony.
The good news is that you do not have to become an apprentice of the Japanese or Chinese tea ceremony in order to create a ritual out of the process of making tea! The steps are already there, now they simply need to be imbued with purpose and focus. If you wanted, you could create your own daily tea (or coffee) ritual. Later on in this post, I will outline three simple steps to creating a movement ritual that could be applied to this effort.
So now that we have a bit of basic info about what makes a ritual, what is different about a movement ritual?
The point of doing any type of ritual is that it prepares you and provides a path to being in the ideal ¨state of mind¨ or ¨space¨ to experience something desirable for you or the world at large. The steps taken in a ritual organize your awareness, so that you are completely drawn into a particularly focused attention. As in the tea ceremony described above, there is typically some aspect of physical action in most rituals, but movement rituals specifically emphasize the use of body movement as a means of evoking that larger ideal or experience through the act of embodying certain qualities that are essential to being able to experience your desired intention.
One poignant example of a movement ritual is a specific shamanic ritual. Yes, this will bring up more stereotypical ¨dancing around the fire¨ images of ritual, but stay with me! This is interesting stuff...
In many shamanic practices, there is some form of movement ritual involving dancing as a particular animal for the purpose of accessing the power ¨medicine¨ of that particular animal. Some of the preparatory steps to these rituals involve costumes adorned with animal skins, claws or feathers, meditation practice, drumming and singing/chanting. Because of the steps taken in these ritual dances, those who are moving as animals often experience feeling as though they are actually becoming the animal (rather than just mimicking the animal). This is the desired experience because, according to shamanic beliefs, it means that the animal's spirit body has accepted the invitation to help that person by offering the person its powers and guidance. The person then must continue to engage in rituals even after the ceremony in order to keep the animal ¨pleased¨ so it stays within his/her body.
Have you ever tried a movement ritual?
You may be practicing movement rituals already, but just haven't thought of them as rituals. For example, you may do a morning yogic Sun Salutation practice. This can be a movement ritual! Each part of this asana has a purpose building towards a larger experience of honoring and greeting the Sun, as well as feeling energized for the day. All of the movement pieces in this asana have a unique contribution towards this purpose. Simply engaging in this practice can bring you energy and positivity for the day, but you can also add complexity to the ritual that could deepen your experience of the overarching intentions. For example, utilizing a mantra or saying a certain affirmation during each breath of the Sun Salutation could deepen the ritual experience. Purposefully choosing to face the direction of the rising sun, so that you are physically positioned to ¨greet¨ the sun also can deepen the ritual experience, and even more so, getting up and engaging in the Sun Salutations at the time of sunrise again adds to the depth of the ritual making it potentially even more powerful.
If you don't currently have any movement rituals in your life, I highly recommend creating your own! Here is an idea of how to develop your own movement ritual. You may find your own organic way of creating a ritual for yourself, and if that happens, then by all means go with it!
Create a Movement Ritual in 3 Easy Steps
Step 1-Think of something you would like to experience in your life. For this example, let´s say you are creating a movement ritual to experience more gratitude in your life.
Step 2- Keep the idea of gratitude in your awareness, and, without thinking too much, do a few movements that you feel relate to or capture the idea of gratitude.
Step 3- Repeat these movements, and notice if each movement has a certain unique quality in and of itself. For example, maybe one movement is opening your arms out wide, and so ¨openness¨ becomes one of the steps to feeling gratitude. Perhaps another movement is bringing your hands to your heart, and so another one of the steps becomes ¨connecting with the heart.¨ Before you know it, each of these movements take on their own purpose that contributes to being able to access gratitude.
Note: It may take a few times before the ritual really solidifies itself. You may find that the movements flow better in a different order. Or, perhaps you realize that a particular song comes to mind when doing your movements, so you decide to play the song while doing the movements, and thus, playing the song becomes one of the steps in performing the ritual. Remember, as long as each step has a known purpose or intention, then it is fair game!
There are a couple of keys to movement ritual (well, ritual in general really). The first is that you must be completely focused and committed to the purpose of each step as well as the overarching intention. If you are doing one of your movements, but thinking about what you are going to have for breakfast, this greatly diminishes, if not extinguishes, the power of the movement as ritual. Secondly, a ritual must be repeated consistently. The idea is that when you are engaging in a ritual, you are walking a path that ends with you being in a space where you are prepared to experience your intention. The more the ritual is repeated, the more worn the path, and thus the more powerful the access to the state of mind where you can connect with that desired experience. This is why ancient rituals can be so powerful. They takes us down paths that are well established and known to lead to profound states of attention. They are passed down through the generations of their tribal lineage specifically for this purpose of passing on a road map to important and profound states of existence.
If you are interested in more established forms of movement rituals, feel free to contact me. I facilitate all kinds of movement rituals including shamanic ceremonies and Authentic Movement for both group and individual practices.