I like to go back to the same places again and again, doing the same things over and over, until my feelings are embedded in the landscape. The spectacular clear water of Pretty Colour Lake, for instance, holds many of my brooding thoughts, my sad moments, my dreams and crazy ideas. Hundreds of times over the last 46 years, I've walked the trails by myself, deep in my own thoughts, or circled the lake with a friend or family member important to me. Some of my earliest childhood memories are of the traditional fall leaf-gathering picnic with my family and Picnic Family at Pretty Colour Lake, and those memories hug me when I walk by myself.
I have a group of friends — the ones I call the Wild Women — who are equally fond of rituals. We sometimes gather for a full moon ceremony. We've celebrated marriages and divorces as well as births; we've many times burned tobacco ties in the ritual of release. We go off to the mountains together the same weekend every year, to a place where we have a chance to walk a labyrinth, which is a walking meditation. I have other friends I go to a monastery with, and they too share my respect for tradition. Twice each year, we go to the same monastery, that cluster of buildings high in the hills, bringing with us the same food, the same books, the same faults and issues and struggles. And I love the rituals of the monastery, the group of monks gathering for prayer seven times each day, every day, all year long. I love the incense, the chanting, the psalms.
I have celebrated both winter and summer solstices with PlantsWoman, who always has a bonfire for a solstice, and whose rituals include storytelling. My extended family has so damned many traditions that holiday gatherings are days long, filled with rituals that extend from musical performances to fishing for popcorn balls behind my parents' couch. And in my home, we've created our own rituals, like the candle ceremony for birthdays, a ritual in which we gather in a dark room with candles and each say something nice about the person who is having the birthday. Some of my rituals are borrowed from the native people in this area, some come from my own upbringing as a Catholic, a religious tradition that is steeped in ritual, and most involve some kind of natural element, especially fire. I do so love to burn things.
In a book I read recently, Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, I came across a wonderful description of what a ritual can do.
"We do spiritual ceremonies as human beings in order to create a safe resting place for our most complicated feelings of joy or trauma, so that we don't have to haul those feelings around with us forever, weighing us down. We all need such places of ritual safekeeping. And I do believe that if your culture or tradition doesn't have the specific ritual you're craving, then you are absolutely permitted to make up a ceremony of your own devising, fixing your broken-down emotional system with all the do-it-yourself resourcefulness of a generous plumber/poet. If you bring the right earnestness to your homemade ceremony, God will provide the grace."