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The Power of Ritual

Two years after the fact, two years beyond unbearable pain with plan in hand, I drove to the tiny town by the lake. I didn’t know these women personally but they knew my spouse. I knew they cared deeply and they offered support. So with her boxed cremated remains and the paper bag of clothes cut from her the day of the accident, we began the ritual.

We formed a small circle around a fire with the intention of letting go, letting go of the bagged clothes that poked at me daily as it sat on my closet shelf. It was easier to burn than I thought. It was relief. I was letting go removing this daily reminder. The ashes set me free. I don’t remember the song hummed by the women, but I remember the comfort.

Then we trekked into the wooded land so I could find a place to spread her ashes. I didn’t know what I was looking for. I was feeling my way to the perfect place to let her go. This was once her land where she built her own house, trekked with her kids, ran with her dogs, and prided herself on its ownership.

I found a stream bubbling with comforting sounds. I was alone as the others fell back to give me privacy. I stood at the edge of the stream and noticed all the small rocks and stones smoothed by the agitating water. The movement of nature. Everything around me existed in harmony. It was a welcome feeling. I held the wooden box and imagined offering the ashes to the water. Did it feel right? I waited. My body answered with a forward feeling. I had permission.

Slowly I opened the lid, untied the plastic bag and let gravity take the ashes into the water. I imagined the ashes would float and sink and the movement would take them away. I was releasing. I said a prayer, closed my eyes and released.

What happened next took my breath away. Shimmering ashes under the water was the reaction I can describe. They sparkled. Some of the shimmering floated on top. More shimmering nestled among the rocks and the glimmering was astounding. I was amazed. Like diamonds. Her ashes came alive in the water glistening beautifully among the rocks and stones. It was a celebratory welcoming home -- my release and her release. I was moved to tears.

I have always coveted the power of nature. Rocks, stones and minerals have a simplistic beauty and steady presence beyond my understanding. I have been drawn to them since childhood, collecting shapes and colors. Stone collecting was one of the first subjects my new spouse and I discovered we had in common.

Mixed with the power of water, Mother Earth transmuted my pain into a comforting memory. I am grateful. The power of letting go released me.

Living in this pandemic, letting go is important. Sometimes I feel like I’m in a birth canal bumping along the tightening edges moving towards something promising. I let go many times in a day using my breath, using my awareness and trusting this journey. I have other choices of worry and concern, but these choices make my journey uncomfortable, tight, excruciating at times and fearful. I breathe, let go and surrender.

The meditative aspect of rocks and stones - Excerpts from Marian Kraus, photographer

“Native Americans viewed rocks as the bones of Mother Earth just like most of us are not surprised to see faces or animals in natural stone formations. They were among those who knew best about the symbolism of stones and rocks.
Steadfast wisdom, enduring perseverance and joyful awe; these are the affects that nature has on us. Yet, somehow we seem to forget this. We walk idly by the very things that remind us of the everlasting and the reliable. We forget that it is the physical world that allows us to survive and thrive. Consider how you might infuse your day to day life with reminders of the building blocks of your life.”

When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Participants’ Reflections:

  • Today is day 300 of our meditation practice. Thank you Covid. Wake up calls come in many forms.

  • Thank you so much for sharing such a beautiful and powerful personal experience you had. The innate wisdom of these women is that they naturally fell back and that you needed to be alone. I loved how it speaks to the natural incubation period that we typically need with very strong emotions. My experience with losing my spouse was such a sense of loss. I lost something and as it continues to transform, it’s not that I lost him, but that I found him in a new way. Your image of the ashes sparkling like diamonds in the water. It takes an incubation period to go from this to that. Sometimes society doesn’t allow that. Lamenting is a lost art in our culture.

  • I want to share something that happened yesterday that I attribute to being in this meditation group. I had run to the store and I got $40 cashback and I forgot to grab it from the machine. I was at home doing some things and remembered. I called the store and they told me I had to come to the store and show my receipt and if someone turned it in, it would be there. As soon as I realized I had lost it, I didn’t do what I normally do—beat myself up, curse the person that may not have turned it back in. I didn’t do any of that. Instead, I thought, wow, I could have been part of making someone’s day. That shift in thinking—taking an incubation period to sit and know that nothing is ever lost but found in a new way—has been very helpful to me. Thank you. Someone did turn it in. So someone else got to feel great about doing something good. But by that point, it didn’t matter.

  • I loved this reminder that when we are so in the moment, we can let go of the outcome. The outcome doesn’t matter if one does their plan B and accepts. Whatever happens is all for the best. It’s that win-win aspect of Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway training. If you look at everything as a win-win, we learn from everything, and the outcome doesn’t matter.

  • I loved the reading. The power of ritual is so incredible. It does help us move along. We infuse all that energy and emotion into the ritual, and then when we think back to the pain, we connect it to the ritual and it’s uplifting. It’s a great thing. Thank you for reminding us of that.

  • Last night, I saw the shadow of a tree on my living room wall. I had seen this last year as well. I had asked to see it again. It was so beautiful. I think shadows are so beautiful, I can rest in them. Trees are so comforting, you can sit under them. A shadow is peace, you can sit in it and rest.

  • I’ve had a conversation with my daughter about what I would want after I die. I told her what works for you. I told her that cremation would work for me, just spread my ashes on one of our favorite walks, like on the marsh. And she said you need licenses and things to do that. I told her to just put on an old coat with holes in the pockets, walk across the marsh and disperse the ashes. My thought this morning was that it doesn’t matter where, be it forest, be it ocean, be it marsh. But every time you go there, you’ll think of me.

  • Thank you. Thank you everyone for sharing. What you said about going through the birth canal being rocky, I took it as a rough process and then it became harmonious when you went into the woods with the women. Yesterday was a tough day. I went for a walk with my spouse in the woods and it usually helps. We started talking about death. When my mother died, I wanted her to have an open coffin and then be cremated. It was difficult for me that it didn’t happen that way. I like what the previous share said about leaving it up to the family members. As my spouse said yesterday, it doesn’t matter because I’ll be gone. I’ll be gone when I die. I don’t like thinking about this. But I like leaving it up to my family members. It’s a difficult subject. I appreciate you bringing it up. It’s important to talk about.

  • I do always try to take the historical look at things. I can’t help thinking that there’s meaning at all in the horrific times we are experiencing right now. It’s some kind of inflection point and it causes us to reexamine a lot of things we’ve taken for granted. We need to look at all of these things again and recommit in a way. It may, in retrospect, have elements of a blessing for us. If nothing else, the sheer existence of this group. I talk about this group and I believe the goodness spreads beyond our direct meeting in the morning.

  • I started this group with an intention. I believe intention is one of the most powerful forces in our lives. Creating an intention. Everyday we have an intention and how we focus it is our choice. It’s a word that holds a lot of energy. I think it’s a key word.

  • In the past months, I’ve been having more time and reminders thinking about the past. I think a lot of it comes from the shared experiences in meditation, touching on things, thinking about my mom’s ashes and how I scattered them on a path to a pond and in a dam. A year later, there were still some ashes there. I think it’s a blessing for all of us to think about nice and not so nice things from the past. Thank you.

  • Thank you. Thank you for joining me, for joining us. It is quite an experience every day, letting go, allowing what words come, cooperating, trusting. As you all witness, we all benefit from sitting in silence. It takes courage to sit with our silence. I see over and over people are afraid of their silence. We’ve moved beyond that hump. It’s a wonderful gift we give to ourselves, sitting in silence. Thank you for sharing it with me.

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