The Elements of Ceremony

I was gazing out my window when the idea hit for my second blog, Today’s Walk Outside. It wasn’t until a year later that I realized the depth of my new plan. I wasn’t just looking to get outside and share my experience with those who also enjoy the outdoors. I was actually trying to correct a malpractice, one I hadn’t known existed.

I had been, at 45 years old, dragging around a nagging feeling that I was not “doing enough.” Yet, at the same time, life had granted me a chance to set up residence in close proximity to a natural landscape, something I’d dreamed of for decades.

The Elements of Ceremony

Guilt crashed into prosperity. I couldn’t explain why, but I felt as if my promise to walk every day, in all kinds of weather, was something I was supposed to do. It felt like my chance to say “thank you.”

First, I planned a strategy. Then, I bought a domain name, setup a WordPress account, searched for the right plugins and theme, developed a user interface, and drilled down to what I thought was a core message for my blog. For months, I walked every day.

But I still wasn’t satisfied. My walks were invigorating but aimless. I did get to witness the woods in its ever-changing form, but an emptiness remained unfilled. Energy wasn’t flowing; it was just getting stuck in my chest. And writing the blog became just another chore.

So I took a break and thought about it for awhile. After exploring the thought-provoking writing of others such James Swan, I realized what was missing. I had been trying to capture energy from Nature, but Nature also needed energy from me, energy that I had been withholding in silence. I needed to expand my hunger into something more meaningful, something more ritualistic. I needed to acknowledge that my walk was my ceremony.

What is ceremony?

It’s difficult to define exactly what ceremony is. Books and articles HAVE been written about the specifics of wedding ceremonies, funeral ceremonies, healing ceremonies, or ceremonies to celebrate religious holidays. But I’ve been unable to locate any authoritative guide on ceremony in general. Since ceremonies typically evolve from ancient traditions, how do I create a new one? I’ve decided to answer the question based on the pattern of elements found in almost every one:

1.) Something is honored. It’s often something greater than ourselves, such as the feeling of love, the miracle of birth or death, or the belief that a god or creator exists. It can also acknowledge the best of ourselves, such as when a medal is awarded or an achievement is reached.

2.) There is a physical action. You kneel, hold hands, clap your hands, dance.

The Elements of Ceremony

3.) There is musical expression. The most effective is when all participants create music together, such as a hymn in church or a jam among instrumentalists.

4.) Visualization is encouraged. Whether through prayer or simply closing your eyes and imagining happiness, in every ceremony there is “tuning in” to positive energy through imaginative imagery.

5.) An offering is made. Flower petals at the feet of the bride, food on the party table, wine for everyone, a memento laid in the coffin: through giving we prepare for the power of receipt.

6.) Intentions are stated verbally. “We are gathered here…”

7.) Gratitude is expressed.

8.) Place matters. Ceremonies are often held inside human creations designed to instill a sense of awe and respect, such as a cathedral, where thoughts are carried upward like notes of a melody. Better for me is a natural place with an undeniable draw, such as a body of water or a mountain.

The Elements of Ceremony

How elaborate each element is depends on the situation and the parties involved. A princess weds in a regal fashion. An Eagle Scout accepts his silver medal with only his guardians and mentors present. A monk chants alone.

My next step is to figure out how to apply the elements of ceremony to my daily walks in order to fulfill my quest to honor nature in my own way. I share such a private endeavor so that you might find ways to add something that’s been missing from your life, too. Suggestions are welcomed. Please stay tuned.