RITUAL; traditionally some kind of ceremonial act, whereby a series of actions are performed in a periodic or prescribed order, often done in a community or as part of a group performing a religious act or perhaps a purification.
The only kind of ritual I recall being part of is a traditional North American SWEAT, a kind of ritual steam bath for prayers and healing performed by elders of the Metis community in Alberta, Canada (my Great Grandmother was Metis Indian and my mother still retains a strong connection to this part of our heritage). It's hard to put into words, but there is something so subtle and yet inexplicably powerful about joining together in ceremony - whether it's to cleanse and let go, to call something in - or to simply be in the presence of others performing a sacred act.
Upon reflection, it's been quite some time since I was last a part of any kind of ceremony, and until my recent trip to Bali this month, I had completely lost touch with the importance of ritual and ceremony. So when I arrived into the lush hinterland of Bagus Jati ready to immerse myself in 10 days of personal Sadhana with Janet Stone - every day, every act and each moment became a ritual in and of itself. But the road to ritual is by no means an easy one...
On our first evening together, we were told absolutely NOTHING about what to expect over our time together...except to be on our meditation cushion in the yoga shala by no later than 630am. After two and a half hours of meditation, pranayama, kriyas, and some asana - both my mind and body were not so sure this 10 day retreat thing was such a good idea! I was WAAAAAAY out of my comfort zone.
Following our first practice (and a BIG breakfast) we were schooled on the ancient morning routines of Ayurveda - a practice called DINACHARYA. A type of daily self-care routine said to improve overall health and well-being and practiced by yogis for thousands of years. While I am familiar with some of these morning practices, I had no previous experience completing them in ALL upon rising...never mind having to finish well before 630am while navigating one bathroom in a triple share villa! Plus we were asked to refrain from talking until after asana practice.
• Rise at least 20 minutes before sunrise
• Splash cool water on your face
• Drink warm lemon or ginger water
• Bowel motions
• Tongue Scraping
• Oil Pulling (teeth cleaning)
• Neti Pot (cleaning nostrils)
• Nasya Oil (hydrating nostrils)
• Abhyanga (a circular kind of massage on the joints)
Initially, there was some resistance (or perhaps reluctance) as my sluggish, strong Kapha self prefers a nice long linger in the morning but much to my own surprise after the 3rd morning, I didn't even need to set an alarm, I was well rested, awake and ready for my morning ritual to begin after my roomies finished up their allotted ritual/bathroom time.
From day to day we stuck with the same schedule, not knowing what we would exactly be DOING, but sticking to the routine regardless - meeting after breakfast for SATSANG - a Sanskrit word meaning to "associating with the wise". During this time we spoke our truths, listened to stories, we sang mantras and sometimes we even danced. All of it was exhilarating and so deeply profound. In fact, unless you were there - it's really quite difficult to express with words.
Twice during this 10 days, the regularity of our routine was interrupted in order to take part in yet more ritual; first of all to climb the volcanic Mountain of Batur, rising from the earth at a fairly modest 1717m - this mountain holds sacred significance for Hindus, who along with throngs of tourists make this pilgrimage each day. Our flashlight procession began at 330am under the cover of darkness and I had no idea of what truly lay ahead...the gradual incline became more and more steep as we scrambled over rocks at what seemed to me like warp speed - and the higher we climbed, the more I wanted - or needed to - just slow down and several times I really just wanted to stop altogether. Climbing mountains is nothing new for me...I trekked in the Himalayas for 35 days - but there was a serious battle taking place in my mind about whether I could and would actually get to the top. Nearly at the top, I didn't want to go on - but the guide was encouraging, I got out of my own head, took my time and ten minutes later I was standing at the summit. A sweet feeling of pride swept over me as I basked in the glory of my efforts...I also shed a few tears of joy.
Watching the sun rise from Mount Batur it became apparent that so many times in my own life, what appears to be a really tough struggle can in fact be a really beautiful lesson - that all the effort makes the view even more spectacular. I was comforted to know that it was not just me that struggled with the climb up...that most of my friends also thought it was an uphill battle of mind over matter! And because we climbed in silence, we were truly able to witness our thoughts and feelings that fluctuated in our mind. The trek down was somewhat gruelling on the knees but provided a panoramic view of the crater below as well as time to contemplate and reflect on the experience as a whole. Following our sunrise sojourn up Mount Batur, we spent the afternoon resting - I believe the traditional Balinese word for this is called "massage".
Our regular morning ritual and practice resumed the following morning, but once again we were thrown a spanner on the second last day of our time together, when our morning practice was once again a ritual - but again of a different kind.
The Pura Tirta Empul is a Hindu temple built around springs that hold spiritual significance. Both Hindus and tourists alike arrive here, not to wash, but rather for a self-cleaning ritual called MELUKAT in Balinese. Holy water is referred to as TIRTA with three different Tirta - one for cleansing evil spirits, one for prosperity and one for purifying body and soul. First we prayed, then chanted mantra, and cleansed ourselves in the tirta, one by one.
During my time in Bali I allowed myself to slowly unravel, breathe more deeply and let go of the some of the expectations and anxiety that for so long had been suffocating me. Although I have cleansed in these waters previously, this time it was different. The gestures, words and actions that we practiced as a collective group held a much deeper meaning than ever before; my own watery nature made this truly feel as though my soul was being cleansed. There was a somewhat sombre feeling as we departed the water temple, knowing that our time together was slowly but surely coming to an end.
Let's be honest in the scheme of things 10 days is really NOT that long, but it was long enough to make an impact and help me to realise and even reconnect to a ritual of self-care in a way that feels much more grounded in purpose and less of a chore as the result of some mundane routine. While this is often easier said than done, it does initially require some effort and a willingness to change, or at least try. Just like the yogi practitioners that came before me - I believe the energy of the morning is potent time in in which to awaken new and refreshed each and every day to a ritual of my own design.
Ritual and ceremony symbolises so much more than just routine, it's what I would probably refer to as a devotional type of practice. A kind of devotion and honouring towards myself and at the same time honouring those I journeyed with along the way - family, friends and fellow students. Honouring the precious time away from my family and friends as so much more than just a break...it has altogether been an entirely new beginning.