From The Old Into the New - Rites and Rituals, Part 1
This photo shows sheet music of some of my songs (my favorites over the years) on a weathered upright piano in a country house in Topanga, CA. In 2017, I spent a few days here after the ASCAP conference in Los Angeles. This is a great space, you can feel the history here. Many influential 1970s musicians, including Linda Ronstadt lived and worked here. There is a hoop swing in the middle of the living room (see below)! Playing the stripped down Serpentine arrangments felt so organic into this environment.
"The ability to be in the present moment is a major component of mental wellness." - Abraham Maslow
Today is New Year's Eve 2017. Another year, another 12 months, 52 weeks, 365 days, 31,536,000 seconds have gone by. Think for a minute where were you a year ago? Who were you? Even a second ago, you were someone else. In the past year, I relocated back to my hometown after 11 years out of state, found myself in a new career, met two of the most important people in my life, visited new places and revisited familiar ones, and have gone through more changes than I can count. Every instant our cells are changing, our thoughts are changing, our circumstances are changing. Physical aging is caused by our cells replicating worse and worse copies of themselves. It is said that every seven year your cells all replace themselves. In a sense, you are a new "you." If you think of it this way, you are at least 10 different people in an average lifespan.
When I'm feeling comtemplative and sentimental like this, I find it helpful to visualize my former self sitting next to me at my left side while my future self is sitting at the right. When I visualize my past self, my present self, and my future self as exisiting in the same space I can clearly visualize the path from where I've been to where I will be. I encourage you to do this. Our lives are lived in time and when we do not observe ourselves as ever-changing beings, our lives continue to float down the river without us, Life only exists in the present moment. There actually is no past or future.
"Be Here Now." - Ram Dass
This is one thing that ritual, rite, and music have in common. Music is a temporal art and a living art. It lives in time. It beats in a pulse and breathes in the silence between sounds. You can observe a piece of music in a score, but music is brought to life in live performance. Rituals and rites, many of which use music, function in this way. They allow us to observe the present while building connections to the past and future. These connections are not just with the past, present, and future menifestations of ourselves, but also with those of others. Through rituals and rites, the ancestors speak, and we are able to touch future generations.
Ritual is a method of communication that affects both our internal (mental and spiritual) and external (physical) selves. We often define ritual as a "sacred activity." Sacred, meaning what is dedicated to a god (or gods) or anything in their power. When we embrace the sacred, we embrace our power. We embace the power of the present moment. Sri Swami Satchidananda calls this giving yourself the gift of "The Golden Present."
This next year, I am going to compose a series of posts where we explore rites and ritual across time periods and culture. Beyond music and chant, we will explore "The Way of Tea" or Chado, the Wheel of the Year, religious festivals and ceremony, marriage, birth, and death rites, as well as ways we can build ritual back into our lives in the 21st century. As the above Maslow quote states, being in the "now" is crucial to our overall wellbeing. Let us embrace the gift of "The Golden Present" in 2018.
"For me, if you're not living in the present, you're living in
illusion. But how often are we worrying about things that have yet to come, how often do we beat ourselves up for mistakes.
"If you're living in the present, you're living in acceptance. You're accepting life as it is now, not as how you wish it would have been. When you're living in acceptance, you realize everything is as complete as it is." - Alan Watts