Resolution, RITUAL, Revolution
It’s nearing the end of January. The dawns are so deep they break to ink blue. Stars are sharp. To say nothing whatsoever of the cold.
Only that it’s a hard kind of season. It’s a difficult time of year.
Resolution, Ritual,Revolution. Now that 97% of the human population has trashed, dismissed, or diminished their New Year’s Resolutions, I want to talk about them.
This is the second piece in a three part series by Karin Carlson.
There is so much more to life than our ideas about ourselves.
We need rituals, after so much talk of resolutions. Rituals dabble in the taboo and make it sacred. Ritual approaches the ordinary with a sense of humility and revelation.
Ritual leans in; change and healing follow. Then, and only then, do items on lists start to check themselves off. They fall off surprisingly and without effort, a kind of domino effect. What was vague becomes clear. What was ignorance becomes wisdom. Like photography, resolution has to do with clarity. Resolution is a side effect of healing, not the means.
As I write this I’m watching the sun rise, flamingo pink and throat red. Everything but the light is freeze blue, hard white. The juxtaposition is sharp. By the time the light reaches a diagonal, it will be molten gold, a lava on window panes, hot honey on houses. A siren wails and an ambulance rushes to the hospital. I’m working on my own love, my own marriage. One of Martin Luther King’s books lays spread-eagled next to the coffee cup.
I can’t ignore reality.
Nor can I deny beauty. Nor can I handle even one of the greater questions of our time. In the face of all that, I need something to hold me.
I need something to hold me because I am not strong.
Ritual makes an offering of the self rather than an imposition of the will. Rituals invoke our heart with all its vulnerabilities. Vulnerability has power. Ritual notices the beauty of deep winter even as it shivers in the face of it. Rites acknowledge need, accept uncertainty, appreciate human effort and sing earthy wisdom. Ritual sacralizes the taboo, the profane, the frustrating, the quotidian; and what else could we do with such things?
What else could we possibly do?
Ritual is the mysterious work of hope and healing. Their mutuality. Their human and ordinary realness.
But healing looks so very different than a yearly pep talk or ultimatum. Change often takes years to unfold. Decades. Generations. Sometimes this is so hard. It is so tiring. How can we take on such tremendous problems without losing hope?
Like many of the deeper questions, this one has two apparently contradictory answers. It’s paradox.
On the one hand, we only have the courage and capacity to do such things when we remember that they are bigger than us. They are generational, historical, and communal. We have to do our part. It’s important that we realize we are part of a movement. It’s possible to see with the eyes of the not yet born. Our work has been handed down directly from the ancestors. Then the difficulty of the present doesn’t matter. Our frustration isn’t the whole of the story. When we do this, we are uniquely able to notice the beauty of things without their beauty being tarnished by the shitty context in which they happen.
And on the other hand, we have to take care of ourselves. We have to learn the lessons implicit in our own lives. When we do this, when we explore personal healing, we find a beauty and a grace quality to life that we’d never suspected before. We find parts of ourselves we never knew existed. Parts of our self we couldn’t get rid of become our standing ground. If we don’t leverage our own life lessons, we re-iterate them.
If we don’t have both levels of healing we suffer.
If we only think about ourselves, we eventually become self destructive. We’ll roil in diet mentality. We’ll self-improve ourselves to death. We’ll never have enough qualifications, or degrees, or respect.
But if we only ever look at the big issues, we lose ourselves. We’ll get depressed. We’ll burn out. Everything will be heavy. No one will want to be around us because we’re self righteous and annoying. And we’ll develop conflict and resentment because we can’t claim the problems of the world as our own personal destiny. They don’t belong to us. They aren’t ours.
Ritual is the only thing I know that draws these polarities together. A yogic truth, if it is one, suffuses through all the layers of reality. It has to be true at the subtle level, as well as the most scientific. It has to be both a universal truth, which can anchor us; and it has to be an intimate – almost embarrassing- personal experience, which floats us.
Ritual lays the spirit on the altar, using whatever altar it can find. Dust motes in a column of sunlight, say. Or clumps of black grasses, shrouded in snow. Ritual is seeing breath crystallized in bluey light and ego decrystalized into something not yet finished, nowhere near done. To watch the ego decrystallize is hard, and such a relief.
Ritual redeems us like a coupon.
Love, it says, is possible. Even though we doubt. Doubt, it says, is workable, because we still love.
Ritual heals us. Which is what we’ve needed year after year. It’s what we all, need. It’s time for us as a society to focus on healing. There’s no task of greater importance and no undertaking that could be more profound…
To be continued in the final piece of the series.
Karin was an anthropologist, a barmaid, and a journalist before she bottomed out. Yoga saved her; she figures it might help others. Karin’s teaching in jails, crisis centers, and church basements became a non-profit in 2007. Based in St. Cloud, MN, discover and practice with Karin online in her Collections for Gather Yoga or at returnyoga.org.
Feature Photos by Karin Carlson, Hunter Newton, Christian Seeling on Unsplash