Part Three of a three-part series of articles on a collaborative experiment conducted in 2020.

In Part One of this series, I outlined the broader context of the Experiment; in Part Two, I shared about how the ensemble explored the idea of ritual, and shared an experience of creating our own rituals.

In this article, I provide the two rituals that our ensemble created; and reflections on the experience and impact of these particular rituals. Each group took a different approach to capturing the details to guide the ritual – this difference remains in what is presented below, to reflect the diversity of style.

 

The ritual ‘recipes’

RITUAL 1

Initial thoughts – shaping the ritual
Ideas we play with:

  • Confucian – having a movement and something that we do and something that we all do has a beauty in it
  • Embodied practice – stand on that which you are grieving
  • One person burning Incense for everyone – past that is going away
  • Create your own shrine that you step into – four objects
  • Create a psychologically safe space, esp. through a recitation of shared statement. (The ‘base note’ of the statement to be maintained all through the ritual). The intention is to create a collective space that allows for radical expression of individuality.
  • A moment of reflection, where individuals can experience / feel the loss and grief that they’ve experienced in this year.
  • A moment for individual acknowledgement / ritual (possibly with a symbolic element) to acknowledge feelings / loss.
  • Collective acknowledgement of individual experience.
  • Closure / ending

Ritual Activity

  1. Create ritual space with 4 objects, piece of paper & pen in the middle
  2. 1 person burns incense. (Acting like a high priest)
  3. Step inside the ritual space created.
  4. Write your grief (What loss are you choosing to grieve today?) on a piece of paper.
  5. Stand on paper.
  6. Close eyes and breathe.
  7. Notice sensations or feelings arising in your body
  8. Good memory > What is the gratitude?
  9. Transform the piece of paper however you want, knowing that the grief is still there but it changes
  10. Bow
  11. Step out from the ritual space
  12. Bow

 

RITUAL 2

Co-created with Helen Palmer, María Recaman, Anja Hennig, Sam Shlanksy

 

Initial thoughts – shaping the ritual

Ritual elements we choose to work with: Place; People; Sequential moments; Intentionality; Removal/taking something off (physical)

Ideas we play with:

  • Acknowledge what has been
  • Create stories of what is coming
  • It takes some preparation
  • You can stay and grieve, or decide to move forward
  • The first step in healing
  • Decomposing leaves are dug into the ground; harvesting death for future birth
  • Recognise the loss (“leaves”) – express what was (either real or plan / wish that didn’t eventuate in 2020)
  • Wash – be a bit more clinical clean about the approach
  • Prepare to till the soil – prepare for what is coming / what is next
    • Food mindfulness (seedy grapes or mandarins (grapes are expensive here!)
    • This is the seeds for X, Y, Z (Love, Hate, Hope, can be more specific like the 12 concrete wishes for the new year in some cultures)
    • Select the seeds for harvest – conscious learning moment and letting go. Move to what I want to happen

Examples of what happens in other rituals:

  • Burning papers
  • Burning the effigy (paper human figures)
  • Eating 12 grapes (making wishes for positivity)
  • Burn “winter” (a fire wheel) – celebrate new life
  • Wash in Islam (wuduh)

Ritual Activity

Will need:

  • Two pieces of paper on which to write (about A5 size is fine)
  • Pen/pencil for writing
  • Container of water and some soap for washing hands in
  • Towel to dry hands
  • Piece of fruit that contains seeds that can be removed; fruit which can be eaten
  • Container of water for drinking from

Part 1 – Recognise the loss

“Take 5 minutes to consciously remember what 2020 was supposed to be. Remember the plans you made at the beginning of the year, what your hopes were, where you wanted to go, who you wanted to see, what you wanted to accomplish. All those plans that did and didn’t happen in 2020.”

“Write a list of Did and Didn’t Happen on different pieces of paper.”

“Put the papers aside, as you acknowledge what was and was not. We can stay in the “what ifs”, or we can move forward. We choose to move forward.”

“Now it’s time to cleanse in preparation for what is coming, as we start taking action for the future.”

“To prepare our body and mind to move forward, we cleanse our hands. This symbolises the removal of the burden brought by all the plans that didn’t eventuate in 2020.”

“As you wash your hands slowly with water and soap, sense the temperature of the water; take note of the scent of the soap.”

“As you dry your hands, set your intention by reciting the following: “Anything I lose, will come around in another form”.”

Part 2 – Prepare to till the soil

“To move forward, we name our wishes for something to happen or to change. Those wishes can later be turned into more concrete plans, if we desire.”

“Take the fruit that contains seeds, cut it open into pieces, and remove the seeds. The seeds represents what you wish for you to happen as you move forward. For each seed, make a wish. For each wish, imagine how you’ll feel, what or who you’ll see, picture that in your mind. Then set each seed aside.”

“Once you’ve set a wish to each seed, proceed to eat the fruit in a mindful way. As you put a piece of fruit in your mouth, focus on the emotions and sensations on your body.”

“As you chew envision your wishes: what, when, where, who, and importantly, how it makes you feel.”

“When you’ve finished with one piece, and before moving to the next, recite the following: “I till the ground in preparation for what is to come”.”

 

Reflections on experience of these rituals

The reflections in this article focus on the experience and impact of the rituals we co-created. As individuals and as a group, we intentionally created a time-gap between the experience of the ritual, and reflecting on the effect of the ritual so that we might allow knowledge to emerge from a deeper source.

My experience of our rituals

As I entered our session for the two rituals, I found my mind was racing, and it was hard to settle straight into the activity of ritual. I recognise that I had approached our gathering, like I approached general online meetings: with a certain buzz about what was to happen and a drive to achieve some future state. I see now that when entering a telepresence space for rituals, I need moments and activities that transition me and orientate me to a non-driven activity. In the future I will take deep breaths to centre myself, to be fully present here and nowhere else – and most particularly to change the pace to a slowing down, rather than urging myself up as I come to the gathering.

Because our rituals were new and un-experienced, I perceived we had difficulty attuning to each other as being in a collective ritual space. The fact that our rituals were conducted in a digital online context, may have also contributed to an increased sense of speed, that we might not have had had we been physically present in the ‘real’ world. I’ve learnt it’s not enough just to make a temporal space – there’s something about setting the tone of a ‘different’ conceptual space, than is typical for an online meeting.

Ritual 1 was very simple. I liked the focus on just one thing to mourn.

I was distracted from being in the ritual (conceptual) space, by the starting the session receiving verbal instructions of the things I needed to set up. I would have liked this information beforehand so I could focus on the ritual itself.

I got a lot of value in making a physical space of a shrine at my place while on the video call. It was good to stand up rather than sit, and do physical movement with my whole body. There was something useful in the motion of stepping into/out of the physical space. It was also a nice change of pace to not be seen on camera and have a sense of physical privacy while contemplating my thoughts.

When we were asked to consider how we were feeling, I had a surprising emotion. I felt relief. What I had wanted to happen in 2020 was risky and challenging, and in the COVID-pandemic state of the present, it would have been more daunting to take such an action. 2020 had taken away the risk!

To evolve the ritual, I would add an action to close the shrine space, like disposing of the paper by burning it (or an inside-fire-safe appropriate choice.)

Ritual 2 was more involved. It was a good approach to evoke multiple emotions and thoughts.

I was unfocused by the volume of talking and prompting in the short amount of time. To evolve the ritual, I would increase the time, and/or reduce the talking. I suspect if this became a regular ritual, it would be refined down to the most essential words. It is often the case that ‘the first’ of something, has more than it might actually need to be effective.

Another aspect I would evolve in this ritual, is to use relative-time rather than absolute-time as prompter. We were given the time prompt “at the end of 2019” rather than “when you made your plans for the year”. The latter activity for me, was “the beginning of 2020”, and my brain processed the prompter literally and I found it hard to settle into the desired reflection as I was on holiday at the given time prompt and specifically not making any plans for the year. This could be a personal preference, and others would prefer something different.

It was good to create lists from two perspectives of Did and Did Not. This felt more encompassing of my experience of things lost, particularly those items that had no substance because they didn’t happen when I had wanted them to.

The two lists I created were on a single piece of paper that I tore in two to create two pieces of paper. The tear made formed like a yin/yang line. This was unexpected symbolism – and I was happy to embrace this.

Reflecting on both rituals
It’s nice to have tactile elements that invoke multiple senses (e.g. soap – smell and touch). An evolution of both rituals could add different things for multi-sensory effect. Music in particular could be a good addition – though it can be difficult to share a quality music experience over a video call.

A gentler approach to prompting language could be: “I invite you” rather than “I want you” to do something. And when there are words to be said together, some warning prompts like “repeat after me” or “let’s say together” can help the group synchronise to a collective speaking experience.

Impact of our rituals for loss

The impact personally of these rituals was multi-faceted:

  • I felt the diminution, but not disappearance of the grief. And that was a good outcome.
  • I gained a useful reframe of loss: Not all loss is bad loss.
  • I have an enduring memory of the creation and use of a sacred space, that I can mentally step in and out of when I reflect on the year.
  • I am reminded of the value in movement and to using senses to make self present in the processing of emotions – else I could have just kept it all in my head and been less able to move on from the loss.
  • I felt less isolated in my sense of loss; the collective experience gave me comfort that I experienced as an embodiment, not just a rational thought.

Bottom line – it was a very worthwhile experience.

 

Moving forward with these learnings, I set some intentions for myself:

  • To create an evolved version of these rituals as something I might perform for myself again, when something big doesn’t go as planned and loss is involved.
  • To get comfortable with leading a ritual in how I speak and act, in particular to find a rhythm/pace so that is becomes natural and not a barrier to using rituals in my work (one specific example is doing Acknowledgement of Country, an Australian ritual gifted from the First Nations people.)

 

That’s my personal reflections.

Listen to some of the participants share their thoughts on processing grief and loss in this short audio podcast (24 min).

This article is the final in a series of three. Here’s a link to the first article, if you’d like to read them in sequence.

Author
Helen Palmer is Founder and Team Development Facilitator at Questo. Like Winnie the Pooh, she ‘sits and thinks’ … and imagines how people can make a better life for others and themselves. She likes to share those thoughts with the possibility that they inspire and initiate meaningful change.

 

Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash


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