A thick white cloud squatted low over the Toronto skyline on Monday night, but there was no moon to be seen. In honour of the starting point of October’s lunar cycle, my friend hosted a new moon gathering. I know what you’re thinking: Emily has come home from Australia and gone off the deep end. Yes, this post involves meditation, ‘Soul Card’ readings, and candles, but bear with me.
While I believe that natural energies impact human emotions and behaviour (witness Exhibit A: my own autumnal listlessness), I usually don’t put much faith in crystals, astrology, tarot and the like. Generally, I think that the lessons we draw from these media have more to do with psychology and our power of creative interpretation than they do with magic, destiny, manifestation, or any inherent predictive capacities.
But the quickest way to my soul is through my stomach, so after second (OK, third) helpings of the delicious pot-luck dinner and a fun round of Dixit (a game whose pedagogic value deserves a post of its own), I was game for a little lunacy. Up to this point we’d been laughing, drinking wine, sharing dating horror stories, and casually getting to know each other. At a certain point in the evening, we changed the lighting, set a new intention, and consciously shifted the energy to begin our new moon ritual…whatever that is.
Five of us settled in a circle around some candles and our host guided us into a few minutes of meditation. I admit I’ve never been very good at meditation. During my Masters, I took a course with holistic education expert Dr. Jack Miller. For part of our credit we had to meditate daily and keep a journal. I sincerely tried, but mostly the meditation project taught me that I was able to fall asleep pretty much anywhere and in any position. I’m proud to say that nowadays I can stay awake, and have been trying to work meditation into my routine with moderate success. Last night, with my focus hovering around the flame, something subconscious came up and tears started to flow (just like in the gorgeous Sigur Ros video below).
Bringing our focus back to the circle, we discussed our intentions for this lunar cycle – whether it was a commitment to being more grateful, less egotistical, or more present. We spoke honestly and listened supportively. We identified and discussed the connections between all of our intentions and the challenges we might face in actualizing them.
Next, we drew three ‘Soul Cards’ and interpreted what they had to say about our group’s question: how will the connections we made tonight be manifest in our lives over the next month? It was an interesting exercise, and we came up with all kinds of meaningful answers and lessons inspired by the cards’ evocative images.
Finally, we returned to a silent meditation and a few little rites, including collectively blowing out the candles to end the event. I noticed the time and was anxious to get my car off the street before midnight, and as I stood up felt a shifting energy in the transition out of the ritual space.
I gave a couple of my new friends a ride home and we debriefed the evening. For me, what was so striking about it was not the content or the method but the act of coming together to declare this time and place sacred. The rituals were fake – we fumbled through them making it up as we went along, but the depth of emotion they evoked was real. Considering it was my first time meeting three of the four others, the sense of connectedness that this ritual facilitated was remarkable.
After all these years, I finally get what Professor Miller was trying to do in his class. Meditate on this idea: ritual is an important part of life and education.
All teachers have their daily classroom rituals – writing the agenda on the board, ending class with an exit card, using certain phrases to get the class to quiet down. But I’m talking about something different here – “ritual” in the way I’m thinking about it today is not interchangeable with “routine.” We all have tons of mindless routines that shape our days. The key difference between routine and ritual is mindfulness and intention.
I’m thinking of ritual more in terms of an intentional space bracketed by ceremony that invites students to take some time out of mind. I’m imagining cynical, self-conscious high school students giggling and rolling their eyes initially, but maybe just for a minute, on some subconscious level, making meaning through their participation in the ritual. Like I said, I’m no expert in this area, but I am thinking about a few key elements:
- a concrete shift from the normal classroom setup (sitting on the floor, changing the lighting, moving desks, putting on music)
- a clear beginning and ending rite – be it silent meditation, an affirmation or recitation, a pattern of movement
- moments for coming together as a group combined with moments for retreating into our private selves
- something visual or tangible as an object of focus, a source of inspiration, or a talking point
After focusing for so long on the critical and analytical elements of learning, I’m making space in my pedagogic philosophy to value ceremonial acts, nonrational thought, and intuitive knowledge.
I hesitate to publish this post because I’m usually more grounded in theory or practice; I usually don’t just throw rough ideas out there before really thinking about them or trying them out. But one of my insights during the new moon ritual was that my perfectionism has been limiting my creativity. I’ll have a creative idea and then spend hours googling to see whether someone more talented, more established, or more authoritative has already done it. I google the creative impulse away.
I’m sure lots of scholarly words have been written on this topic but this time, rather than over-thinking it, I just want to put it out there. Y’know…into the universe.