The enchantment of rituals

That was a sluggish morning. It was the last day of the year and I followed the New Year’s celebration in different parts of the world on the Internet. All the newspapers had the same news. Laziness and foul mood were ingrained in my guts. After breakfast, the Old Man, as we affectionately called the oldest monk of the Order, realizing my dejection, asked me to walk with him through a track in the forest on the mountain that shelters the monastery. For a reason I can’t explain, walking activates the mind, and I started to rant about the New Year’s celebrations and how unnecessary they were; after all it was a night like any other, with clouds or stars, and the sun inevitably would rise in the morning. The monk said nothing. Excited, as I believed he was agreeing with me, I asked him to voice his thoughts. The Old Man rapidly glanced at me, gave me a roguish smile and said: “I think you are being obnoxious, Yoskhaz,” and kept walking.

My annoyance only increased. Provoked, I asked him to give me a fair justification for the many celebrations people did worldwide during the year, in which it seemed to me people only wanted to eat, drink and dance. He continued with his typical slow but steady steps until we reached a clearing which afforded an indescribable view. He sat on a stone and said: “All celebrations are rituals mankind has developed since time immemorial. Some were developed in the last centuries, like Christmas, others just disappeared or are close to disappearing, like the summer solstice. Rituals are highly important in uniting men connected with the same interests.” I replied by saying that was not true, and using Christmas as an example, I said I saw people interested only in gifts and food, and forgetting the main reason of that event. He looked at me with eyes filled with compassion and spoke softly, trademarks of a personality that was concurrently meek and strong, and explained: “Even though Christmas is the date designated to celebrate the birth of a Master among us, it is so important it has the power of dividing History into BC and AC, and despite many people forget its core essence, Christmas celebrations are a family ceremony. It is, perhaps, the day that most families around the globe manage to gather. Relatives who have not seen each other for a long time or who live far away from one another get together. Of course quarrels may emerge, but this is an excellent opportunity to settle the differences of those who have enough love and wisdom to use the moment to bind the knots that have untied over life. The family, whether old fashioned or modern, is the powerful embryo of a society and a safe trench for the inevitable battles of existence. Therefore, somehow, consciously or not, it may be a magical ceremony capable of reaching the ideals of love and wisdom and change the future of many, according to the patience and compassion taught by the Master.”

Not satisfied, I said that perhaps he was right about Christmas, but what to say about the New Year’s Eve? A ridiculous celebration where people are delusional their lives will change for the best just because a date was established for that. The Old Man looked at me bewildered, at first, due to my irritation, and laughed heartily, very amused with the situation.  Then, in a serious tone, he said: “The world has the colors of your look. When your eye is good, the entire universe is Light.” He paused for me to remember a previous discussion we had about seeing beauty in everything and everywhere. Theory without practice is like the waste of sowing without reaping.

Then he continued: “Life is a huge cycle made by many other small cycles”, evoking another lesson that taught that existence is an endless journey with many stations. He went on: “A cycle only begins when the previous one ends. They cannot coexist, as both are learning processes that prepare you for what comes next. Then, the New Year’s ritual makes possible to retrospectively assess how much we have advanced in the past twelve months, and what is missing for that stage to be completed. In this ceremony we become committed to the transformation and growth of the most important person of our lives: ourselves, each one for one’s own self. This is what makes the ceremony important.”

I regretted that many people did not see it that way, and wasted the moment. To further provoke the Old Man, I said that many could only account the losses of the year. He arched his lips in a mild smile, and did not let himself be annoyed by my irritation. Very sweetly, he said: “Even though a year may be lost, there are only gains. Failures are important tools to enable future successes. Many people still need to face hardships to mature, in a painful journey that will reflect decisions taken in the past. Hence, suffering may be the medicine to heal the wounds of the soul. One takes advantage of the opportunities in the precise measure of one’s level of awareness, that sooner or later will expand in pace with the evolution of the entire Universe. At each choice we determine our own destiny by defining the hardships that will appear in the Path, in a course towards the honing of the self. All that brings transformation is magical, according to a philosophical definition. Thus, the New Year’s Eve celebration fulfills the magic of the ritual of transformation ingrained in the collective unconscious.”

When I was preparing my rebuttal, more out of stubbornness than logic, the monk made a soft gesture with his hands and said: “Listen to the voice of silence. Allow your heart to tell you the truths that your cultural and social conditionings block. Do not allow pessimism infect you. Let the colors of life brighten your gaze.” For I don’t know how long I was speechless. Silence and quietness little by little embraced me in an environment of tranquility that elicited the clarity of reason and the composure of emotions, fading the haze of prejudice and the veil of obsolete forms and allowing a different gaze. A smile came to my lips.

The Old Man, then, added to complete: “Rituals are enchanting as they indicate the stages of existence. The cycles set in motion personal advancements along the Path. The advancements reflect our understanding of the Unwritten Laws that appease mind and heart. However, we are assailed by haste and concerned with many unnecessary things, and do not enjoy the beauty of the scenery. It is not enough to know about universal love and wisdom, it is essential that we experience them peacefully and joyfully, each and every day, as an acknowledgement to all the flowers that adorn us and perfume Life”.

Kindly translated by Carlos André Oigheinstein.

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