I am delighted to share another beautiful submission for the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Meg Watson’s reflection initiation & ritual:
After 72 years of life, I am finally beginning to understand how important it is to have rites of initiation. I wrote before about two of the rituals I perform each day, i.e. making my bed and washing dishes. But as I was remembering a conversation I had with a friend today, I suddenly began to understand what rites of initiation are really about: they are meant to make life sacred.
I was thinking about how I was raised, not with rituals but with tasks, and how I resented the tasks. They were burdensome. I made my children feel the same way. There were beds to be made and rooms to be cleaned and other household chores to be done. Get that? Chores! How uninspired the word!
What if, as I heard a mother tell me long ago, some “chores” became rituals of accomplishment, recognition that the person had achieved the level of accountability and respect that meant they were allowed to perform some rituals on their own. For example, this mother told me that the first stage of initiation for a child entering school was to learn to pack his/her own lunch. This was a sign of a certain independence and maturity. For me, when I was growing up, my mother packed my lunch as well as my brother’s and sister’s. We would never have conceived it a part of our maturity to be allowed to pack our own lunches. My children were the same; naturally, I carried this same responsibility down from my mother. This was my job as a mom. What I didn’t realize until most of the children had grown and I was working full time was that it should have been a badge of honor to be allowed to pack their own lunches. So when I didn’t have the time to do it for them any more or they didn’t care if I did or not, the job fell to them after all and they didn’t really know how to do it, at least not well and not with any sense of accomplishment. It never had acquired the status of sacredness or privilege that it could have had.
So many other parts of life could be made sacred in the same way. Suppose I want my child to learn to make her bed and do it out of a sense of joy. I say to her, “Come, let’s go make your bed together.” Then she and I perform this ritual together, she learns the skill and we have the joy of sharing this time together. We make this a ritual that we do every day. Then one day I say to her, “Well, my dear one, I think you are big enough to make your bed all by yourself. Would you like that?” I leave her to do it and when she is finished she runs to me to show me what she has done. I look at it and marvel at her accomplishment, no judgment in me at all, simply the joy of what she has done. This becomes a ritual that is right for her age, one which has instilled within her the feeling first of having shared it with me, of doing it together, and then of doing it herself as an independent activity. It becomes a part of her day, one that flows naturally out of her own experience.
In this way I as a parent can begin to help my child find the joy of ritual in the mundane stuff of everyday life because that is where true joy lives. And in this way, we come to share the sacredness of daily life. Chores and tasks no longer exist. But before I can teach this to my child, I must own it for myself. I must reorient my being towards a vision of the sacredness of my own life. Surely I cannot teach my child what I do not recognize and practice myself.
So I must begin now to train myself to see each ritual that keeps me grounded in reality and that fills me with the joy of life. And that takes practice and thoughtfulness, or as the latest buzzword says, mindfulness. This means slowing down; if I intend to teach myself these rituals, I cannot rush through them helter-skelter. I must center my attention on them and cherish them, and that goes against everything our modern culture holds as valuable. So maybe I have to give up a lot of what modern culture values. Hmmmm . . . not a bad idea!
Meg Watson is retired, living in Colorado in domestic tranquility, with plenty of time for the contemplative life. She is a spiritual director and mentor who is delighted to share whatever truth comes her way and to listen to whatever truth others have found.