The first full ritual of our ritual salon focused on gratitude. It was November, the month of Thanksgiving in the United States, so that was an obvious connection. Gratitude seemed like a good beginning since it is something so universal that everyone has experience with it and can relate to it.
I also had these long strips of colored paper left over from my birthday in June (yes I hang onto crafty things). They were used for something I now call my "test tubes of love," which I'll share about in my next post, and I realized they would help me fulfill another goal of our salon. I didn't want it to be an experience people had at my house that ended there. I hoped that if my friends could take something home with them, they would be inspired to engage with that ritual/practice again. Or share it with others.
So as I sat with the strips of paper and thought about gratitude, I noticed a candle nearby and had this image of a hug. What if we could wrap ourselves, or something, in gratitude? What could serve as a simple visual reminder of gratitude? And with a little experimenting I came up with the ritual below.
With everyone seated in a circle, we called in the directions and elements (I wrote about this in my last post.) Then each person was given a candle, and chose a long strip of colored paper and a pin. Then we thought of three things that we were really grateful for. Easy things, not too complicated. But most importantly, looking for a physical response when we thought of or silently spoke these gratitudes.
I call these "gratitude foundations," things you can always go to that never fail to bring forth gratitude. For example, whenever I think of how thankful I am for my kittens (ok, they are fully grown seven-year-old cats but they will forever be known as "the kittens") I get so full of gratitude that I can truly feel it coursing through my body. The same is true when I think of Mother Earth — gratitude pours forth from me. And my hands — I'm so very grateful for the versatility, dexterity, and creativity that is expressed through them as well as being able to make my living with them as a former hairstylist, sculptor/artist, graphic designer, and forever handyman. Even on my darkest days, these three things never fail to generate powerful gratitude in me.
A gentle, quiet time ensued as everyone pondered and wrote gratitudes on the strips of paper. Once our gratitudes were written, we wrapped the strip around the candle and used the pin to keep it in place.
Side note: Creative perfectionist that I am, I had in my mind that everyone would just wrap the strip like I did, "writing side facing in, clean and simple around the center of the candle." But I did not give instructions other than "wrap your strip of gratitudes around your candle." A valuable and hard won lesson I've learned leading workshops is to create safe space to "let" people have an experience, not "give" them or "force" a certain experience to happen. So while initially my little inner perfectionist was like "Whoa," it was really exciting to see how some chose to wrap their candles differently – on an angle, double paper, writing facing outwards, towards the top or bottom. And really that's at the heart of all this — making ritual personal.
Once our candles were wrapped we lit them:
"As we light this candle encircled, surrounded, and embraced by our gratitudes, may its flame represent the light that lives within us — the flame that ignites, fuels, and enlivens these gratitudes which are also found within."
"We are grateful this day and every day,
For all we have named and all we have not."
"Let us gaze upon the flame of our candle, 'the flame of our gratitude,' and really allow it to fill us up, sink in, and create deep roots."
"May gratitude be my truth.
May my gratitude grow and deepen.
May my gratitude burn brightly within me
like the flame of this candle.
"As we blow out our candle, let us remember that the light inside that it represents never goes out. And that our gratitude lives within us and can always be reached by bringing our intention and attention to it, as easily as relighting the flame of this candle."
And then we blew out our candles.
"We release the directions and elements and offer our thanks for allowing us to invoke them and their role in creating this sacred space.
Thanks be to North/Earth, West/Water, South/Fire, and East/Air.
The way is open, the boundaries clear.
Let us take what we have learned out into the world.
Ashe/Amen/So It Is."
During our discussion about the ritual, most of the group said they had experience with gratitude journals but several people expressed surprise that they could actually notice a physical response when thinking of their gratitudes. No one had taken time or paused long enough to allow that to happen before. Others very much appreciated the simplicity. And all were thankful for the candle which they could take home as a reminder of the experience.
Then the creativity blossomed again as it did during the wrapping — ideas were shared of how they could continue this through the year, when they might add more strips to the candle, where in their home they would place it, and how it could be used for meditating and other home practices. The wheels were turning and the seeds were planted.
And Christmas was coming . . . already I felt something was needed as an antidote to the frenzied pace of the season so the next salon was already taking shape – not so much a ritual as a practice in mindfulness. But I bet you're still curious about those "test tubes of love." Stay tuned.