Last week, my family made our annual trek up the canyon to a small grove of bristlecone pine trees clinging to the edge of a cliff. That cliff overlooks the beautiful Virgin River Valley, including the Zion Narrows, in Southwestern Utah. Bristlecone pines are amazing trees, thousands of years old, gnarled and warped, appearing half-dead, withstanding the high altitude, wind, ice, and extreme temperatures. I can’t help but have a profound respect for these trees who keep persisting, keep living, keep watching up on these cliff tops.
As we approach the grove, it’s a ritual of ours to take a private inventory of our hopes and intentions for the year. We record our thoughts, prayers, and dreams, and then we turn them over to these strong, old-soul trees to carry our wishes through tough times. This picture is of me, sitting up in a large matriarch tree, giving over my wishes to her. This annual tradition got me thinking about rituals we do as individuals, couples, friends, and families.
In my mind, a ritual differs from a tradition in that it contains some level of ceremony, even if it’s a small amount. A ritual is an action that is somewhat meaningless in itself, but when wrapped in intention this common action takes on special meaning that has the ability to change us and our perception of reality. There may be nothing supernatural about it, but it provides us with the opportunity to make a change in our thinking and alter our reality.
I know many of you have religious rituals. Temple attendance, baptisms, weddings, the sacrament, fasting. These are rituals that have been handed down to us in our religious tradition we were born into or adopted as we converted. What I’m curious about are other rituals you perform outside of those prescribed by religion. Ones that were invented by you, your family, your friends. The little intimate rituals that come from our practice as believing beings, as social beings, as people who like to attach meaning to our actions and visibly show what we feel inside and commit ourselves to something better.
For instance, have you ever let a balloon go up into the sky, watching it lift away a burden or care that had been weighing you down? Have you ever lit a candle when a loved one was struggling? Worn a ring or bracelet as a reminder of a promise you made, or your dedication to a cause? Grown a rose bush in someones memory? Made an annual pilgrimage to a cemetery? Said a poem that connects you to an experience or individual? Retreated regularly into a special spot in the wilderness to pray? Are there ritual words you exchange with the one you love that signify a renewal of your love, be it once a day, a year, or every 10 years?