|For I have known them all already, known them all:|
|Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,||50|
|I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;|
|I know the voices dying with a dying fall|
|Beneath the music from a farther room.|
|So how should I presume?|
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Eliot
The need for ritual is a basic human instinct. Though it varies from place to place performing rituals is a feature known to all human societies. Rituals may include complex worship rites, rites of passage, oaths of allegiance, sporting events, and may be as simple as preparing a morning cup of coffee.
The English word “ritual” comes from the Latin ritualis, “that which pertains to the rite (ritus). Much has been written on what rituals are and have been and there really is no limit to the kinds of actions that may be incorporated into a ritual.
Rituals simply help us stay connected to the infinite. Whether we use special words or gestures, whether we comb hair like the Spartans did before battle, whether it is done communally or in solitude, it comes down to performing some kind of structure that lets us feel connected to the universe.
Rituals add depth and drama to our lives and are important to enact as each action performed provides a focal point from outer distraction. By implacing ourselves into the moments of the ritual we are displacing, in some sense of the idea, chaos from our life. We are achieving attunement and bringing ourselves into a place of harmony. Preparatory activities induce a feeling of being in control in moments where we may feel uncertainty. Rituals may reduce anxiety or boost our confidence.
Anthropologists have documented rituals across cultures. Today we know that performing rituals help people feel less grief from loss, help people feel more confident when outcomes are uncertain, and all people perform some kind of ritual. Fathers take their sons camping or hunting yearly, or soldiers give a toast to fallen warriors on the anniversary of the dead warrior’s last day of life. Performing rituals can stem the feeling of regret from creeping up on us.
Before setting out to battle, warriors such as the Spartans or the samurai, would partake in farewell rituals. For the samurai as battle neared a warrior would drink a cup of sake, known as the Bushi-Nin Sake Ritual, with his comrades and then seek either victory or honorable death in combat. This practice was performed by kamikaze pilots during World War II.
Although their hair was shorter than the hair of warriors from other armies and not elaborate a common practice for the Spartans was to pay careful attention to their hair when they were about to risk their lives. They also wrestled before battle.
The Maori people of New Zealand performed the haka, a traditional war cry or war dance, before a battle to proclaim their strength and prowess in order to intimidate their opponents. Below is a haka performed in one of my favorite movies Once Were Warriors.
Gregory Gibson wrote an interesting little piece on it here. The Heke family are displaced and the central character Jake the Mus (muscle) is a displaced warrior who has lost the ways of his people. Because Jake forgot the ways and rituals of his people he can only find expression through violence. His violence tears his family apart. One of Jake’s sons Nig follows his father’s ways by joining a gang and the other son Boogie is close to getting there. In the movie Boogie learns to do Haka at the juvenile detention center. He begins to grow as a boy into a man.
Rituals are predictable, structured parts of everyday life. Rituals may be sacred or secular. Rituals might pull people together or apart. Rituals can help build connections, give a group its own sense of personality, and reinforces the group’s values. When a group loses a member the ritual can bring them deeper together. One of the most incredible sights to behold is the most sacred of the U.S Army’s changing of the guard ritual at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
There are some very basic rituals for morning, midday and evening such as brushing your teeth, having a cup of coffee or having power lunch with your team.
For I have known them all already, known them all:
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
So how should I presume?
One of the most interesting of all poems comes from the master himself, T.S Eliot, who wrote the Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. Prufrock is an emotionally and spiritually paralyzed man. He has no intellectual or physical inertia either, but why? The character is a man of thought and not a man of action.
He laments lost opportunities, he is haunted by failure, is weary, regretful, and frustrated. He is aware of his own mortality but does nothing about it. He is a detached soul who cannot identify with society because he rejects the structure of society. He is an outsider looking in.
Because he rejects his existence as false yet wanting to remain true to himself he has placed himself in an existential conundrum. There is no escape for men like Prufrock. Because he is detached from life it becomes his hell and nothing, not even love, can rescue him. Prufrock is an observer doomed to feel alone.
Rituals are a form of structure that makes life flow more easily. Write letters to a friend, or attend a ceremony. You must ultimately decide what rituals are indispensable to your life. One of the best things you can do is spend five minutes every day reflecting on all the things you have to be grateful for. Perhaps you enjoy a quiet cup of tea while reading the newspaper or take some quality time walking your dog. Spend time visiting your fallen friend at his police memorial every year. Whatever you choose to do, please stay connected.
|1. The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock|
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