There is a wonderful quote by Somerset Maugham; “It’s easy to be a holy man on top of a mountain.”
How utterly true is that? I think often if I could just control my manic mind, I could find my reservoir of
peace. Well, guess what? That is just not going to happen when I’m late for work, while I’m changing a
diaper or just generally in a snarky mood. But what can happen is I can practice to enable making my
way toward that oasis in myself as often as I can remember to do so. Life as we know it is just not set
up to help us with this task so it is really up to us to forge ourselves there (or as my friend Russ
always says, “color me there”) and give our internal selves a hand in creating those mountains and
letting our inner holy men sing.
I am such an advocate of ritual, not necessarily tradition, but ritual that lets us have a chance to be or
at least act holy. Sometimes things aren’t sacred and you just have to make them so and this process
when you take your whole self to it and through it can make the living part, including the being late to
work and the changing diapers more part of the entire gig and not something to tick off, like one’s
palm-pilot version of your life.
At one stage many years ago, when the onslaught of both my spiritual and professional pursuits were
demanding too much from me, I started, first thing in the morning, lighting a tealight, in my kitchen. It
was a simple and modest affair, with this sole tealight on my counter lit by the same lighter I used to
start the pilot for my morning coffee. Just this gesture became purposeful in its repetition and its
simplicity. Eventually it took on a dignity of its own. When I lit the candle I used that moment to
remember that the light was me and that I used my talents during the day to honor and share that
light. It served as such an anchoring effect that the business of my day became more manageable and
so much more purposeful.
Later I moved to Australia and outside Sydney, actually way outside Sydney, in the bush in an area
called Wollombi, I found a group of dedicated people, a community or ashram of sorts who practiced
an ancient Vedic ceremony called Agni Hotra.
These lovely people built a custom wood structure of a specified polygonal shape with an opening in
the roof, room enough for 10 people to sit on the floor around a rock platform, which held a square
copper pot. The ceremony requires dried cow dung (I kid you not…from organic cows) and clarified
butter or ghee. At the moment of sunrise and sunset the fire is lit, a Sanskrit prayer is chanted and
several grains of rice are tossed into the fire. The alchemy of the chanting and the burst of energy that
happens at these liminal times of day is incredibly purifying and has been known to heal people, plants
and animals alike.
But the point of this tale is that the pilgrimage to perform this ceremony with others who honored
themselves and the benefits of doing this for the earth was so moving for me that I started performing
it myself. Now that I have moved back to the states, organic cow dung is difficult to get hold of, and in
some cases is some expensive “shit”, but worth it. I have since conducted the ceremony on balconies
in Sydney and Tokyo as well as in my backyard in Phoenix, AZ. It is a gesture so outside my normal
routine that this in itself makes it feel holy. When I chant and burn cow dung I am transported to a
place when seers did the same thousands of years ago and I tap into the intention of honoring
something not only larger than myself but more mysterious.
Inviting ritual into your life with even a small gesture will slowly begin to center you in your life.
reating a personal ritual is easy. Remember the important thing is to discover what is important for you
to honor and make it a ritual. The gesture could include candlelight, a prayer, a specific place either
inside or out, could include water for purifying or incense for celebration, or could include textiles or
icons obtained in faraway places. Nothing is, unless you make it so with intention.
If you have an extra minute read this delightful story of a man whose ritual entails feeding monkeys.