“Rituals are so powerful because they provide structure for the full spectrum of our emotional lives: the births and the deaths, the union and the disintegration. Without them, we live a few octaves short.” ~ Courtney Martin
The global pandemic of Covid-19 disrupted many of our customary rituals. We were unable to crowd around dinner tables; sing together at concerts or places of worship; squeeze into a packed hall to celebrate a graduation, dance at a wedding, or honor the end of someone’s life. Because these communal rituals provide so much of the architecture of our lives, their absence has been felt as deep grief — a profound longing for those things that give our lives rich meaning and connection. At this midpoint in the week’s practice, we wanted to allow space to name and grieve what was lost during the pandemic through the diminishment of our beloved rituals. And through that naming, there’s an opening to remind ourselves what we most cherish and value in our lives.
- Begin with Gratitude. Begin with what is now, we hope, your opening ritual of centering on the breath and completing the phrase: “In this moment, I’m grateful…”
- Name and Commemorate. We invite you to bring to mind one of the rituals whose absence or diminishment you’ve grieved during the past few years. There may be many, but try settling on one for today’s practice. Bring to mind the specific things about this ritual that you’ve deeply missed. Was it the sense of belonging? The music or dancing? The remembering together? The touch or embodied gestures? Take time to go deep and name the details — the colors, textures, sounds — of this ritual you’ve missed. Consider commemorating these losses: perhaps with a eulogy, a letter, a candle, an altar, a piece of music, or a good cry.
- Reflect. As you allow yourself to name and grieve this loss, how does it also make clear what you cherish and value? When you embrace the poignancy of holding both what you’ve lost and what you love, what arises in you? How does this awaken you to what truly matters?
A Meditation on Grief with Jack Kornfield
We invite you to share your reflections below.
Enjoy the full seven-day Tending the Rituals of Our Lives practice.
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One ritual I miss desperately is attending church. While my faith tradition has opted, like many others, to move to virtual services, for me the ritual aspects are communal in nature. Sharing the touch of a hand or a hug with old friends. Singing the songs in harmony. Holding space for those who wish to share joys and/or sorrows. The smell of the building, the sound of the people settling into communal space… those are hard to replicate via teleconference. In fact, it’s so dissimilar that I just don’t participate. It’s too “weird”, and too raw of a reminder what’s missing. Many of my rituals are solitary, but this one is communal, and I deeply grieve the loss.
My reflection reminded me how much I cherish being with those I love. Even though I cannot be with them (due to COVID), I can still cherish the memories of the times we were together.
I had an interesting response to the one loss I focused on: the undermining of the US election that culminated in the Capitol riot. I feel the US government mishandled the pandemic causing unnecessary loss of life and then our leaders refused to accept the election results. Lost a sense of trust in a good enough government. Lots of emotions to unpack. But I’ve begun to feel hopeful that there are more positive political narratives and future for us. I especially have empathy for people of color who have experienced this all much more negatively.
What I grieve and cherish is being with my family who are far away. I miss their collective joy and enthusiasm for living life fully. I miss talking, playing games giving foot rubs sharing a beer watching the sunset. I’m grateful I’ve seen two of them individually and hopeful we will be together again in the future sharing the sunset
Grief and ritual together reminds me again that many times sorrow comes suddenly and ritual paces my response. Good news is more often gradual (in my experience, at least) and ritual unlocks that goodness so I can realize it more fully. Said another way…grief needs time and goodness needs discovery. Ritual delivers as it is needed.
Today is Ash Wednesday and I miss the ritual of receiving the ashes with others. “We are dust and to dust we shall return.” I prefer to say “stardust” because my 98 year old uncle often says, “We came from the stars and it’s fine with me if I return there.” That’s his way of saying, “We return to the light.”
Thich Nhat Hanh offers a version of the Buddha’s Five Remembrances in the Plum Village Chanting Book (Chanting from the Heart: Buddhist Ceremonies and Practices).
If you cannot attend an Ash Wednesday gathering, contemplating each of these five remembrances can be a substitute. Dr. Larry Ward in his book “America’s Racial Karma: An Invitation to Heal” says he begins each day breathing and contemplating these versus, giving five to seven breath cycles to each verse. This ritual is a powerful reminder hat we are all connected by our mortality. We are dust and to dust we shall return.
I am of the nature to grow old. There’s no way to escape growing old.
I am of the nature to have ill health. There’s no way to escape ill health.
I am of the nature to die. There’s no way to escape death.
All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change. There is no way to escape being separated from them.
My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground upon which I stand.
I also like the following prayer: “Dear holy one, mark us for all to witness that we are connected by our mortality. Impermanence, mortality, ashes, dust: this is the truth of being human. Remind us that this truth is what connects us. Remind us, also, that from love we come and to love we will return.” Rev. Lora Brandis, Braver/Wiser Weekly Meditation 2/17/2021
Intense. Very hard truths. Somewhat comforting. It reminds me not to struggle so much with the inevitable.
But still, very hard truths.
Thank you! This is very helpful.