5 Ceremonies of Healing
Simple ceremonies that help heal emotional distress
Posted July 20, 2015
I teach at workshop and retreat centers like Esalen, Kripalu, Omega and Hollyhock. If you thumb through the catalogues for these centers and for other centers like them, you will be struck by how many emotional healing workshops are offered. Our mainstream mental health offerings—talk therapy and chemical-based psychiatry—do not as a rule concern themselves with the idea of healing. As a result people who are hurting—the millions upon millions of them—must look elsewhere for a path to healing.
One path is ceremony. By “ceremony” I mean any activity enacted with a particular purpose in mind and performed in a ritualized or formalized way. A given ceremony might be anything from lighting a candle to breathing-and-thinking in a certain way to something much more elaborate. Many of you no doubt already use ceremony in your daily life but some of you may never have discovered this healing practice. Below are five simple ceremonies of healing that you might try. I hope that they serve you and I also hope that they inspire you to create ceremonies of your own.
Sometimes we live as a weakened version of ourselves because life has beaten us down, because we’ve failed too many times and no longer trust ourselves to succeed, because we have trouble holding a clear vision of our life purposes and our most important intentions, or for some other reason or combination of reasons. If you are living a weakened version of yourself, enact a ceremony to strengthen yourself. For example, find or create a symbol of strength. What brings to mind the feeling of strength? A tiger? A tree bent by the wind? Or something “gentle” such as a flower or a child’s smile? Find or create your personal symbol, have it fabricated into a piece of jewelry, wear it, and then ceremonially touch it throughout the day, saying or thinking, “I am strong” or some other phrase that reminds you to live powerfully.
Get two small scatter rugs and place them a few inches apart. Stand at the edge of one rug facing the second rug and imagine that you are standing at the edge of cliff with a deep gorge between you and the second rug. Feel the depth of that gorge and how terrifying it would be to fall that far down. But as deep and as frightening as that gorge is, it only takes a small step to cross it. Take that small step across while thinking “Many fears are like this” and feel the comfort of arriving safely on the other side. A given fear may run deep and may have run deep for years and years—but enacting this ceremony can help remind you that there is no real danger any longer, that you can “step right over it” by using this ceremonial bridge.
Many people are functioning in the middle of perpetual chaos. They run all day, commuting, handling work-related responsibilities, picking up their kids, shopping for meals, and simultaneously dealing with everything else that life throws at them, from health issues to bill payments to family crises to the state of their yard. Who can stay centered or even catch their breath nowadays? What can help is the following. Take some time each day or a few times a day to enact the following ceremony. Get a snow globe. Shake it up. Then breathe deeply as you calmly watch the snow settle. As it’s settling, say or think, “I am settling” or “I am calming down” or some phrase of your choosing that helps you communicate that you feel more settled. You can enact this ceremony with an actual snow globe, one that you purchase or have fabricated to your specifications, or you can enact it as a “mind ceremony,” shaking up the snow globe and watching it settle in your mind’s eye.
Who isn’t filled with regrets? We regret the wrong paths we took, the time we wasted, the opportunities we missed, the ways in which we failed ourselves and failed others. The following is a very powerful ceremony that I often present at my writing workshops to help writers heal their regrets. In addition to the regrets that we all harbor writers harbor many additional ones: that they haven’t produced writing of a consistently high quality, that they haven’t written as often or as much as they should have, that they haven’t had the publishing successes they dreamed of having. I have them choose one of those poignant regrets, write it down on a sheet of paper, fold the paper, tear the paper to shreds, and toss the shreds in the air while saying or thinking, “I am through with that regret!” This is a ceremony that you can profitably repeat as needed, since our regrets tend to linger and return.
Sadness is often made up of a tangle of emotions, among them feelings of pointlessness and hopelessness. By focusing on one of these tangled-up feelings and endeavoring to heal it, we can begin to heal our sadness. Try, for example, to create a ceremony of hope to help heal your feelings of hopelessness. You might make a batch of “hope” cookies and, as you prepare the batter, you might say or think, “I have hope.” You might plant a “hope” garden and, as you water it, you might say or think, “I have hope.” You might create a “hope” altar and, as you ceremonially visit your altar, you might say or think, “I have hope.” Hope is the sort of thing that we regularly lose—and that we can also recover. You might try creating a different ceremony of healing for each of those tangled feelings—hopelessness, pointlessness, anger, boredom, worry—that weave together into your chronic sadness.
The idea of creating and enacting ceremonies may not seem like “your kind of thing.” But think of those important ceremonies in life, like exchanging wedding vows or raising your hand in a citizenship ceremony, and how powerful, beautiful and important they feel. They matter; they feel precious; they interrupt and punctuate everyday life in singular fashion. The ceremonies of healing that you create can serve you in an identical way. Give creating ceremonies of healing a try!
Eric Maisel is the author of 40+ books, among them the forthcoming The Future of Mental Health: Deconstructing the Mental Disorder Paradigm (Transaction Publishers, December 2015) and the recent Life Purpose Boot Camp (New World Library). Visit Dr. Maisel at http://www.ericmaisel.com or http://www.thefutureofmentalhealth.com or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.thefutureofmentalhealth.com