The year cycles into winter, into the darkest time of the year, filled with holidays in most cultures. Cyclical celebrations are anniversaries. They are recurrences of notable events. Commemorating birthdays, wedding anniversaries, and holidays is almost a universal experience. There are always dates and times that have been important to us, and when they return we may wish to honor them. A cyclical celebration can be just for the joy of having attained one more year. A ritual for a birthday or the anniversary of someone’s death can be a time for us to reconnect. It is a time when we can recognize the depths of our emotional roots.
Emotions are a vital facet of being human, and they play an important part in rituals honoring cycles. The word “emotion” literally means “outward movement,” which is apparent when we attend to the process of our feelings. Emotions allow us to move out of and beyond ourselves, as we experience when we fall in love. The rhythm of the seasons reminds us that we are in relationship with more than just other people. We are in moving, growing relationships with the life of the planet itself, with time, and with something more. Most religions have major holy days at seasonal turns, and cyclical rituals help us to honor and understand patterns that are larger than ourselves. They can assist us in beginning to grasp the mystery of existence, the movements and rhythms of powers beyond our control.
Power in our lives springs from becoming more conscious and increasing the relationships among the things we have learned, so that we may apply our new knowledge. At New Year’s, or on the Winter Solstice, many people review the year—what they have accomplished, how they have changed—to help them set goals for the coming year. They return to the past year in a conscious way to help them in their future journeys in life. This rhythm of review, learning, and yearning moves something deeper in us that religious holidays touch upon: the myth of the Eternal Return. As we move through life and become more conscious of who we are, we enact this myth of returning to the beginning of time in a conscious way. Much as a child moves from undifferentiated awareness to discrimination between self and others, we as humans have moved mythically from the original One at creation to differentiating between parts of that One (into our separate selves). As each of us becomes more independent and self-aware, we gain the ability to unite with others.
In this consciously chosen reunion, we can begin to contemplate the mystery of origin and feel or recognize the presence of powers larger than ourselves. This presence may be felt in the relationship celebrated at wedding anniversaries, the vitality of nature honored at seasonal festivals, or an aspect of God that is the focus of a religious holiday. This presence is an integral part of cyclical rites. Allow yourself to touch the power inherent in relatedness that is available to you this winter; allow yourself access to the light returning within you.
Adapted from The Art of Ritual by Beck & Metrick.
Renee Beck, LMFT, has been working with dream, ritual & symbolic systems for over 40 years. She has a private practice in Dreamwork & Transpersonal Therapy in Oakland, & helps folks create Personalized Rituals. Contact her at 510-387-0341.