Tag Archives: ritual

What do you pray for?

For the past few  weeks I have been walking the Camino de Santiago. This ancient pilgrimage route runs the width of northern Spain taking you to the Galician cathedralimage where St. James’ bones are reportedly entombed.  Walking the whole  500 miles in one fail swoop has been on my bucket list after walking it in halves three previous times.

Lighting candles for others, and your journey, in the myriad of churches along the route is a common ritual. I have been holding a set of loved ones in my thoughts along this path and lighting candles for them has made sense. I appreciate that a friend recently sent me  an article on the value of prayer for secular and religious people alike, and of just holding gratitude for those around us in this manner. One of my mentors, Angeles Arrien, asked that we honor her after her death  by lighting a candle each month for a year on the 24th, the day she passed, and send along a prayer. I will complete that tradition tomorrow.

But, what do you pray for?

There are prescribed prayers in all the spiritual traditions, but what am I to wish for when praying for another? Walking hundreds of miles, you have time to think and this has been a point of deep consideration. I found I initially want to pray for health for those who are sick, that friendships are mended where suffering exists there, or that someone will get a good job. These wishes fall apart quickly when I think about how I am playing god as I start to guess how another’s life should turn out next. I am the conflict lady who likes to remind, at least herself, that we need discord to grow. Often my initial prayers were selfish requests to keep those I love with me in a way that makes me comfortable.  My  candle prayers, with hours to consider them, have needed to get away  from specific solutions into the essence of what I want to send out to another.

Drawing from the Taoist and Buddhist play books, I found that what feels responsible is to wish for another’s well being. What form that will take is not my call. I started to modify a  Buddhist metta prayer that goes, “May you be filled with loving kindness, may you be well, may you be peaceful and at ease, may you be happy.”  Praying for well being, may not mean someone is cured of an illness necessarily, or a friendship is rekindled, since well being may come through these  challenges. Sending thoughts of well being to someone who is no longer in physical form seems to fit better too.

What does this have to do with leadership and playing life well, which is blog’s theme?  I can easily get focused on form when coaching or teaching another. It is a constant temptation to hope for what others should learn or how they should behave.   Not only  arrogant, I close down possibility when I get into specific solutions. Yet, if I am holding a more detached  yet engaged wish for their true well being, I am much better at my job.  This begs the question, how might we live our work as an effective prayer?

A Call to Presence

My winter held a unique tour of the spiritual traditions. I attended a neuroscience workshop at the Upaya Zen Center before working with Presbyterian ministers/trainers, then on to a workshop on indigenous wisdom with Patrick O’Neill. Last, as you read earlier, I supported a conference of primarily Muslim participants in Morocco. That’s my version of wonderful season!

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This special tour deepened my understanding of cross-tradition beliefs. I began February sitting in meditation twice a day, which included hearing the following advice sung each evening, “Let me respectfully remind you, life and death are of supreme importance. Time passes swiftly and opportunity is lost. Let us awaken, awaken take heed. Do not squander your life.”

The minister trainers all engaged in communal prayer multiple times a day ending in a short, but profound service. Indigenous practices include the use of morning prayers and drumming, and of course, every day in the Arab world was framed with 5 calls to prayer over loud speakers beginning before sunrise to sunset. Study the world’s religions and you must study ritual.

Rituals very practically call us to stop a busy mind and be in the moment. Cultural anthropologist Angeles Arrien described this cross-cultural goal as “Show up, choose to be present.” We don’t want to squander our lives and ritual is our crutch to make this a habit. Whether it is breath, a service or bowing with our head to the ground, the religious traditions figured out that a daily requirement of committed ritual can help us get back to the here and now.

When we understand how precious each moment is, we can treat each breath, each moment, as a newborn baby.
Michelle McDonald

I had a long layover in Minneapolis as I returned from Morocco, which gave me 5 hours reconnecting to my childhood haunts. A ritual walk around the lake near my growing up house with a friend of 39 years called me to show up where I now stood and notice from where I had come. Some rituals may be prescribed by our cultural traditions, but we can develop others to support our wellbeing.   For some it might be saying “I love you” while looking in the eyes of a child or spouse every night before sleeping. For others it might be appreciating the sunrise and sunset each day. IMG_3513

What might bring you back to the present? Where might you commit to making a simple ritual your daily centering habit? Life is short, let’s play this well.

 

Devil trees and leadership

Over the holiday break, a contingent of our family stood on a hill overlooking Panama City. As we took in the view, our son Cameron remarked, “It’s all about perspective, isn’t it? I might suffer a terrible death. From a personal perspective that would be catastrophic. In this city, that might make news. Yet, from a historical perspective, that is nothing. How many millions have suffered the same? It becomes nothing.”

We listened to the sounds of the city and watched women hanging laundry out of windows below. We surveyed the skyline, a building fashioned to look like a corkscrew, and the ocean etching a border.

Senya, Cameron’s sister, then encouraged us to contemplate that cities, or systems, like this were rocking and rolling, moving and shaking across this country, across Central America and beyond. She brought up the struggle of actually comprehending how interdependent actions were madly occurring all around us and that we were somehow affecting the melee, even as observers from above. How many people were hanging their laundry at that exact moment? How many were laughing, crying or walking to work? How many were watching like we were? How did each of those actions mess with another?

I appreciated this conversation and how it shifted my perspective in those moments. I was remembered a Jewish proverb that reminds us to place a piece of paper in each of our front pockets. On one we are counseled to write, “I am unique in all the universe,” and on the other, “I am nothing but dust.” The art is to know which piece of paper to fish out when.

I was brought back to Cameron’s initial statement four days later floating down a creek in a small fishing boat, or panga, near Bocas del Toro, Panama. Our captain and guide hailed from the local Nôbe-Buglé tribe.  After pointing out caimans and sloths, he added, “and that tree over there is called a devil tree. Some people will go make offerings in front of trees like those to call out the devil to get things that they want — jobs, a girl or money.  On Good Friday they wait to make their request and spirits will appear sometimes in the form of a monkey to answer them.”

He had my attention. I have been long fascinated by how trees play a role in cultural practices. In Thailand, you can pray to a tree to save your child from illness or to get a job. If rewarded, you return to the tree and give it gifts. Apparently, tree spirits are feminine as when traveling in the country, I witnessed a number of trees awarded very fancy dresses.

In Crow culture, trees might be adorned with prayer bundles or gifts if prayers are answered as  you can see in the included photo.  

And, Deidre, how are you going to  connect this to leadership?

Harkening back to Cameron’s statement, leadership is all about perspective. For example, how often does your average Westerner walk past a tree without notice? How many of you reading this knew about the potential importance of trees and tree spirits within these cultures? More importantly, how often do I remember that what is standard to some is sacred to others?

Leadership calls for humility. I know well that my personal perspective is not the only one on each situation, yet I need constant reminders. Too often I want to barrel ahead ignoring this fundamental fact.

Like the death example above, what might be a catastrophe for me could be interesting news to another, or have no significance at all. As simple examples, take the cutting down a tree or filling in a wetland. Therefore, as leaders some of our most critical tasks must become sharing, gathering and shifting perspectives.

And so, I am walking into this work week with the mantra, “It’s all about perspective.”

The Business of Endings

Serve your wife, children, father, and mother, and treat them as if they are very dear to you, but know in your heart that they do not belong to you. – Ramakrishna

When my son and I addressed his high school graduation announcements this week and started to receive others, I found myself ruminating more about celebrations, rites of passage and community. As I wrote earlier, cross culturally, ceremony is used to facilitate moving us from one phase of life to another. Our community helps by showing up at the celebration to witness our change. Also, even though an event might focus on one family member, it also can support transition for others. For example, puberty, graduation and marriage rituals signal shifts for both the child and the parents while funerals publicly mark changes within not only a family, but also within a community.
So, I’m feeling pretty comfortable that closing celebrations are important for both celebrant and their family. But, I’m noticing they also cause some stress. First, we have to face an ending and a new beginning, which elicits fear of the unknown. The ground shakes a bit underneath all our feet as we recognize that we haven’t yet practiced this next phase. We’ll figure it out, but it requires figuring! After years of teaching and conflict resolution, I try to take special care around endings. Be it the end of a workshop, a business or a phase of life, a structure that has given us comfort is being taken away and that causes disequilibrium.  Being gentle with oneself and those around seems in order.

Celebrations can not only throw us off by making us face by an ending, but it can also be stressful figuring out just who to invite! Not only do I get to confront where I now stand, but also who actually should stand with me. I’ve come to think of my community as organized in concentric circles with me at the center. At a macro level, I’ve got an inner circle of family and friends that surround, then a mid circle of acquaintances and an outer circle that is comprised of other’s in my “tribe” be it of a town, country and then the greater human race (or all living things depending on one’s viewpoint).

Now, within each of those circles, there are further gradations. Like within the inner realm, there are the friends you would call without hesitation at 3 am versus the buddies you would ring up happily up til 9 pm. Among your family, there is the sibling with whom you shared a room and the distant cousin you met once. Thus, the former of each example probably would be placed in a closer circle than the latter.

In our culture, we usually invite portions of our inner circle to coming-of-age ceremonies. However, since we don’t clearly know within which sub-circle everyone belongs, this can create messiness. Invite too many and appear to be trolling for dollars (or maybe it always looks like that with graduations!), or don’t send enough and offend a family member.  Also, although I believe ceremonies are important, I would be hard pressed to appear at every event to which we have been invited, or to send a gift for that matter. 🙂 So, choosing who to invite and how to respond also creates disequilibrium.

As one friend commented when we spoke about attending celebrations, “There were two events about which I still question if I should have attended. The first was a gathering of friends around a woman who had suddenly lost her husband.  We had recently become friends and I wasn’t sure she would have wanted me there to comfort her. The second was a funeral of the mother of my daughter’s friend, should have I gone? It’s not always clear.”

So, with 18 school days left, the cap and gown have been tested in the kitchen and the announcements were sent. For the lack of a better guide, we followed the Golden Rule and mailed to those from whom I would expect a similar notification. I’m thinking I will use the same when deciding how I should respond when invitations appear. Meanwhile, I find myself full of mixed feelings; including great joy for the future that lays ahead for my son and some anticipatory sadness for his absence at home next fall.  Endings are indeed important and sometimes tricky business.

Celebrating Each Phase of Parenthood

Graduation and wedding season will soon be upon us. Time to dust off the wingtips and maybe cough up some dough for an appropriate gift. A sometimes uncomfortable (could just be the shoes) experience, I know that many in my world wonder why we should partake in these events. Yet, looking at these and other “closing rituals,” my advice would be to tie that double Windsor and show up if it makes sense. 

Humans struggle with comprehending that an experience or a relationship is over. Our propensity to create stories and habits seem to play into this difficulty. For example, if I ask you about your family or your work, you are going to tell me a story. I might tell you that I am a mother of three, married for twenty-four years to an attorney and live in Bozeman. It may be true, but it is still an interpretation of my reality. All the “facts” I provide color how I thus perceive myself. Tell the story enough and it becomes a habit even though some of its details may have changed.

When I am coaching with parents, I notice that sometimes the stories about our children reflect a long-passed reality. For example, we may be treating our offspring as though they were young when they needed our minute-by-minute concern. However, if they are now adults, they would best handle their personal affairs. 

But, who wants to let go of good thing? Our brains sure don’t! That I am “a young mother just starting out” is usually preferred to “I’m a middle-aged woman alone.” I want to hold on to the good stories as long as I can. Yet, ask adults whose parents refuse to let go and treat them like ten year olds. When it’s time, it’s absolutely time. There are times when we need to consciously shift to a updated description of where we stand and thus to a revised way of conducting ourselves. In letting go, we open ourselves to new and maybe even better possibilities. 

Celebrations like graduations and weddings push us to move on. When we overtly acknowledge an ending, we are more apt to face facts and adapt. I believe this is a leading reason why funerals and mourning rituals are the most highly celebrated of all rites of passage around the globe. Even if we admit our loved one has died, the publicly act of celebrating this ending with our community makes it harder to act otherwise.  

If your child is not the one graduating or getting married, showing up is still valuable. Rituals “stick” when they are witnessed by others. When I’m waffling on going to a celebration, I remember a favorite essay from the National Public Radio program “This I Believe”  by Deirdre Sullivan entitled, “Always go to the Funeral” (click here to read or listen to this piece.) Ms. Sullivan explains, “I believe in always going to the funeral. My father taught me that. The first time he said it directly to me, I was 16 and trying to get out of going to calling hours for Miss Emerson, my old fifth grade math teacher. I did not want to go. My father was unequivocal. ‘Dee,’ he said, ‘you’re going. Always go to the funeral. Do it for the family.'”

And so, this summer I too will pull the dress from the dry cleaner’s bag, slip into the pumps and know that whether I am the parent or just the friend my appearance at each event is worth any discomfort.