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“What is the secret of the grail?” Asks the omnipotent voice in an Arthurian legend. “You my Lord! You and the land are one!” Is the reply. This was something of a holy grail experience for me, and there he was, right in front of me...
Good ceremony has clear intention, organised or free-flowing actions, elements that open and close a threshold that by so doing, focuses the attention of the participant(s) and allows space beyond the desired outcome to touch the unknown and or spirit beyond. It is the bridge between intent, actions and a prayer, an invitation let’s say, to the beyond. And beyond the simple idea of a ritual in the sense of a repeated series of actions, ceremony can lend itself more to the moment to define itself, the ingredients and focus flexible according to the wisdom of emerging needs and awareness. Ceremony can be a personal or group invitation to intimate connection, to the essence of something where agreements are often inferred or remembered at a cellular level, and a marking of a special time; the significant occasions of our journeys. A simple ceremony can be the offering back of gratitude, for anything, a moment of prayer aided by a candle, a drum, a pouring of waters. Making something ordinary become important, become sacred, become everything, and worthy of our best and present, loving attention... The Kogi or Cogui or Kágaba, meaning “jaguar” in the Kogi language, are an indigenous ethnic group that lives in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in Colombia. Their civilization has continued since the Pre-Columbian era, the last descendants of one of the greatest civilizations in Latin America. (Source: Wikipedia and BBC).
Every year they would come down from the mountain and do ceremonies on the beach, singing, dancing, praying to remember the earth and contribute to things remaining in some sort of balance. ‘Nice,’ I thought, indigenous people doing their thing, ceremonies etc. Gave me a good feeling, some people caring about the world but their way bore no real relationship to me.
An evening in early summer 1990, I’d turned on the TV to watch a documentary on the Kogi Indians from the Sierra Nevada mountains in Columbia. Interesting I thought, calling themselves the elder brother and carrying a message for we of the west, the younger brother. They had noticed that the ecology of their place high in the mountains was changing, largely they perceived, due to poor handling of natural resources and general lack of ecological awareness by younger brother. They felt the need to send word, a message to humanity.
It was the following evening. My partner, myself and a friend had hired a village hall and invited a few people to come and ‘free dance’. A kind of unstructured, un-led 5 Rhythms. Our friend who was a kindergarten teacher, had made simple card animal masks. At one point I put on the mask of a snow leopard to fool around with.
Not only did my movements change, my body felt different. I started to occupy different spaces inside myself, interact with the outer space differently. Suddenly I stopped, awake in an instant to what I’d seen those people on the beach were actually doing. The music, the rhythms, were supporting me in some way along with the mask to connect me to something ‘other’ then my habitual experience of self. The combination had unexpectedly given me permission to feel and behave differently without my critical mind interfering and modifying my behavior. That’s what they were doing, getting into a state, uninhibited by self-identity, praying not just for themselves, but for the world, the people the animals, plants and natural forces. Suddenly I had a ‘glimpse’ of being indigenous, and what that ‘thing’ called ceremony could be about.
Now Kogi Indians don’t come down from their mountain often, only perhaps to do such important ceremony. So if you meet one it’s pretty rare unless you go Sierra, very high up and through inhospitable terrain, and are invited. Anyway, by unexpected chance I did meet one, at the Ojai Foundation in California, where Way of Council originated. The man was travelling with a companion to try to reach more people with their message, the message first relayed by the documentary I’d seen in 1990. How interesting is life, for now 2017 and twenty-seven years later I’m a Council facilitator, trainer and mentor, simple ceremony the essence of my work and practice. I’ve seen how societies and communities are inseparable from their environments and the loss of that connection to place has left a sense of community seeking itself, but having little or no roots to hold it through times of adversity and change. In council and other times I have seen the power of ceremony return the connection and re-establish the grounding needed for consistent, long-term integrated, land-based communities. And now this moment, was something of a holy grail experience for me. There he was, right in front of me… And…
He didn’t speak! A surprise and quite a disappointment. His companion talked, presented, showed photographs and charts, while he, Manu, said nothing…
I surmised after some time that perhaps he hadn’t spoken because there hadn’t been offered a ceremonial space to communicate, rather we sat in rows and had a lecture. I’ll never know, but he did in fact ‘speak’ to me, for the next day in my meditation he came into my mind, with some very clear instructions…
1. What are you truly grateful for and how do you express that?
2. What everyday thing is it that calls you to care for or make special?
3.How could you use ceremony to inspire, support or connect yourself and others in our work?
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