Lately I have been noticing that there are an awful lot of traditions going on around me. Whether it is an elaborate wedding, a trip to the grocery store, or a question about how someone’s day was, there are endless moments where it feels like the symbolism of what an act is supposed to represent is relied upon by the person more than the actual feeling involved in the act. Sometimes it seems that we expect the tradition to take care of its own meaning without any effort on our part, and this, to me, is a problem.
Take weddings, for instance.
A fine idea. A beautiful event, even. Lots of people, all dressed up, present for the occasion of two people publicly committing themselves to each other in the name of God. Often times, delicious food and free drinks. Not a huge problem, but a very huge bill. All so that a human can express their intention of not letting their love fade for another human.
Then there are holidays. Who’s family’s house are we all going to go to, how many people do we each buy gifts for, who is getting me a gift so that I can get them a gift, etc. Delicious food, free drinks, huge bill. All so that humans can spend time with other humans that they are closely related to.
The problem I have is not with the traditions or rituals themselves. It is with the meaning that we put on them, or forget to put on them. It is the easy tendency to slide from our original connection to deep meaning and significance that we feel within ourselves into a numbness that amounts to just trying to do the right thing to fit with the protocol, expecting the meaning to take care of itself.
The thing about rituals that makes them powerful in both life-enhancing and life-destroying ways is that they remove the need for active thinking. This is sometimes how we feel closer to God, or the Spirit, or the Universe. We recite a mantra and feel that unity with everything around us because we have stopped making things up and have fallen into a trance. This trance can help us to remove the duality that our minds constantly create and help us see that things are all connected.
Or, it can make us feel numb. It can make us feel nothing. It can help us forget to logically think and allow us to go along with the motions. We can do so in the name of the tradition. We can buy an expensive gift and assume that this is a display of real love. We can have a fabulous wedding and assume that we have done all we could to foster our connection with our new spouse.
Weddings and holidays are two huge traditions, but the ones that have been really coming to my attention lately are the smaller ones. Micro-traditions, if you will. For instance, asking a question. This is an act that we are taught from a young age. If you want to know something, ask a question! However, something that many of us seem to have forgotten is that receiving the answer is part of that particular micro-traditon. The feeling of being open; of hearing the answer. You cannot leave that part out.
Same thing with spending time with another human being. Or walking the dog. Or taking a shower. Or making love. These things are all micro-traditions, but how often are we using them just to numb out the real feelings? Just to follow a protocol that we are comfortable with so that we can stop the act of feeling meaning? Are we adding all the ingredients except yeast for bread and expecting it to rise?
Some (most) weddings end in divorce. Some holiday gifts are bought while you are feeling spiteful. Some questions are asked with no intention of hearing the answer. Sometimes you can spend hours with someone and never even truly feel their presence. There are countless micro-traditions that get carried out every single day without the right ingredients. Even if they are carried out to perfection, they sometimes do not lead to the desired result of happiness. This doesn’t mean that happiness is unattainable, it merely means that no tradition or recipe is going to get you there.
My wish for myself is to pay more attention to this tendency. To actually feel what it is like to walk the dog, without having that me a tradition that I take part in daily without thinking about it. I want to never forget that without yeast, the bread isn’t going to rise. Without feeling, the traditions are not going to create the magic that we hold them to. And even with everything in place, there is no way to guarantee a future of anything. There is only a choice you can make, right now, to choose what is real to you.