Continued Thoughts on Ritual Improvisation

Yesterday, I went down into the Denton/Lewisville area – the area I used to live in – for a massage therapy session, and to see a movie. It didn’t take long for me to remember why I moved up here, a few miles from the Oklahoma border. The traffic, the teeming mass of humanity rushing everywhere, to be somewhere so that they could scratch an item off their list. It also did not take long for my anxiety levels to ramp up beyond belief. I have only been here in this new house for a handful of days, and I am already feeling at ease with my choice. Granted, my office looks like a bomb went off in it, I am still without a TV/Satellite connection (and not really missing it all that much), and I have two large cardboard piles in the house. But I am in no hurry to unpack too many things. A few things at a time – the essentials:  clothes, dishes, and books.

I have yet to map out a walking path through the neighborhood, but after I finish this blog post, that will happen. Not sure I will walk it today, since I have laundry to do. But it is far too long that I have been off my daily walking ritual. Plus, since I meditate while I walk – it will provide me the chance to reach out to the Spirits of Place and see how the landscape sits here. Life certainly is in a small state of flux, but I have learned that improvisation is the key. Which brings me to the movie I went to see:  The Martian.

Before going to the movie, I had a vague idea of how the storyline was going to go. I had seen a single preview, and then refused to watch any more. This was a movie, like Interstellar, that I wanted to really experience. And while I loved Interstellar, there were parts of the storyline that never really clicked for me. When I arrived at the theater, it was jam packed. Our seats wound up being on the far left side of the theater, up against the wall. Normally a pair of seats I would avoid. But, the seating wound up being ideal. I was able to lean against the wall and relax while I watched the film.

I am not going to spoil the movie for anyone, except to note that it delves into an area that NASA seemingly no longer wants to be in. Improvisation. Somewhere over its history, NASA has built in the idea that redundancy upon redundancy is the ideal way to go. True, redundant systems are necessary – particularly when things fail – and typically things DO fail. But what do you do when things fail, and the redundant systems disappear with it? You have to understand the basic premises of things to be able to improvise. You have to be forget what things were designed to do, and figure out what they are capable of doing. And to be honest, at times it seems that NASA has gotten away from this concept and become far too reliant on scripted processes, and stopping those processes cold when things don’t follow an expected pathway. Sometimes, you don’t have time for a committee to make a decision on what to do next. You have to rely on the issues set before you, make a decision and go. The Martian showcases this in ways it makes both serious, and light-hearted. I won’t spoil the movie beyond that – just suggest that you see it in the theaters. If, like me, you have not read the book (or like me were not even aware that there is a book) – see the movie first.

Kokopelli's Stone Circle at the New HouseOur own Spiritual Paths are like this as well. When we rely on scripted parts and roles, and insist that these roles be followed to the exact letter — we lose a sense of the Divine in that process. We cease using the scripts as a guideline to be followed, to keep us on track of where we need to be in the moment – and rely on them as an unbending gospel of how it should be. Sometimes, its better to set down the scripts – and open our thoughts, feelings and emotions to the moment. What does it matter what words you speak, as long as you put your emotions, feelings, and desires behind it. During Cerri Lee’s presentation on “The Art of Ritual” at this year’s East Coast Gathering, she made this exact point. It speaks to a grander perspective of how I practice my own Druidry – very improvised. More focused on intent, rather than words. But there’s a side effect to it as well….

During her presentation, I could feel myself following her thread of thought – noting where she was taking it, and knew I completely grokked her perspective. But while she was discussing it further, helping others to see where and how improvisation and dramatic presentation could enhance ritual experience, I decided to follow the thread in the other direction. Where was it flowing from? And its the exact opposite. There’s a foundation of how things need to be on a basic level. The framework, if you will. The bedrock upon which everything else is built. Which element is ascribed to which cardinal direction. When each cardinal direction is called. What element of the ritual happens when. Once these are understood and agreed upon, the rest of the ritual can be decorated and adorned with inspiration…allowing the Awen to embrace the role players, as they move forward with the ritual.

The movie The Martian follows some of this as well. To be able to improvise, you have to know two things:  how the process you are working with should work with the correct elements in place, and what other items can be utilized to replace the missing elements you do not have at the moment. I improvise my own solo rituals because it feels “right” and “correct” for me. But my manner of improvisation will not work with a group of people – all of whom understand the bedrock of what is being done. If I deviate too far from what is known and understood, my other participants do not have a common keystone that they can grasp on to. And they will be confused and not truly understanding what they are witnessing.

Its true though. Here in our modern lives, we do not improvise enough. When we are faced with a complex issue that does not meet any of the criteria that we would expect in this part of the process – we typically quit. We find an expert to come and fix our mess. Or we abandon whatever it was that we were working on and never look back. In the first case, I have someone that I can ask questions of, find some answers as to what I did wrong, how to fix it, and/or how to do it correctly. In the second case, sadly I have something that will never be finished. Gasping for metaphorical breath…

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