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Meaning making...when it feels like there is no meaning

This past October I was invited to a coming of age ceremony with a Dinè family we know. My two daughters, my husband and I traveled to the Black Mesa on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona for the weekend. We arrived late on a Friday evening, after a long day of travel, first by air from New York to Phoenix, and then an 8 hour drive up to the home of our friends. They live way out there, about 2 hours from any commercial center, in an ancient juniper forest up miles of dirt road - completely off the grid. They have no running water, they haul water from a spring a mile away. Until last year they had no electricity, but now, thanks to a daughter who works for the Department of the Interior, they have a solar panel setup that brings them lights in the evening and Wifi.

The coming of age ceremony is a traditional ritual that's performed when a girl becomes a woman, when she gets her first menses. Now she has the capacity to create life. This ceremony takes place over 24 hours. A traditional Dinè medicine person is hired to come sit up for the all-night prayer service. He/she sings the creation and migration stories of the Dinè people. Through the night the family members who've gathered encourage the girl how to be strong, to sit up, to have courage and a strong heart. Her grandmother massages her and washes her hair. She grinds, for hours, dried corn into flour the old way, with a flat stone and a ground stone tool like a rolling pin. The rest of us women and girls collect the flour she grinds and make a corn cake batter in large buckets with water heated from the fire. She runs a mile down the road heading east and back again - as fast as she can - with her community following behind her. She receives encouraging words all along the way. She is 11 years old, an awkward shy gangly girl/young woman, dressed head to toe in traditional clothing and the turquoise jewelry of her family. She has a hard time sitting up all night, at moments she's resistant like any 11 year old I know but mostly she complies and stays quiet and present. Her two older sisters have had this ceremony too and they sit with her, helping her.

There are many aspects to this gathering and I'm not the person to delineate what each part means. What I am struck by is the gathering of the extended family in celebration of this rite of passage for this young woman. What a difference from the way my own passage was met. The boys have their ceremony too, which takes places when their voice starts to change. I am told there is also a ceremony for the first laugh, and for the first steps of the child.

It occurs to me that this a culture that truly celebrates life, all aspects of life. How the fabric of the culture gets woven around the child as she/he/they grow, how the traditions are reinforced again and again in celebration. It's incredibly uplifting for all who are a part. It brings the family together in tradition, it creates meaning and a sense of place - a sense of belonging to something bigger. It's also a preparation for all the responsibilities of being an adult and awakens or inspires something deep within the bones. For me - as a non-Native person - I feel a deep yes to this kind of honoring for this incredible capacity of the female body to create life.

Meaning making. Ceremony. A yearly succession of rituals that instill a sense of stability and place. In our predominantly industrial, consumerist and technological world, these are practices we can learn from. I don't mean to say that we should imposter ourselves back into traditions that we don't come from or fully understand. But I know from my own life experience that I've received profound benefit from simple daily rituals that remind me of what it means to be human, to stand between heaven and earth, deeply rooted and open to the cosmos above.

When I wake up in the morning, I pour a glass of water and head outside - face East and make a prayer for the new day as it awakens. The prayer is like a conversation with the water and the dawning of the light. Thank you for another day, thank you to have a home, to experience health and well-being in my body. Thank you that my children have a good school, that we are safe. Thank you for my husband, for our love. Good morning to my mother and my father. Thank you for my life. I add in prayers for those in my community that are needing support at this time, a dear and old friend just diagnosed with a brain tumor, another teacher/mentor in treatment, a sister who's now cancer free. And then always a third part to help me change the things I can, accept the things I can't and to have courage and discernment in the process. Then I drink the water. This prayer orients me for the rest of the day.

There are other rituals we do as a family. We put food out for the little people, the spirits and our ancestors as a way to give first before we feed ourselves. We give gratitude for our meal, asking for the blessing to do good things on behalf of the earth for the nourishment we are receiving from her. We light candles and make prayers. We regularly participate in the ceremonies and rituals of the indigenous and native families as we're invited, to continue to learn from these ways of life that are hidden in our own indigenous past, and to understand how to weave these teachings into our life.

The Daoist practice of Qi Gong is a part of this. It's an orienting and moving practice that plugs you into the vitality of the Universe, the embodied sense that we are all related and all connected. Like meditation, it's not theoretical or abstract, it's a body sense-awakening/making and it works when you regularly practice.

The collective healing experiences I offer with breath work, acupuncture and sound are tune-ins with the season and the cycles of nature. The points we use are specific for the seasonal moment, focusing in the fall on balancing and nourishing the lungs, the winter on restoring the kidneys, the spring on moving the liver Qi and blood and the summer on harmonizing the heart fire. (Click here to read about the points of autumn are relevant to you). The mastermind women's groups of the fall and the spring are tuned to inspire and aspire respectively, to stimulate the creative fire and clear out creative stagnation.

With each seasonal cycle, I offer a place and space to gather here at our home in the Hudson Valley. This season is one of my favorite rituals. Dia de Los Muertos - Day of the Dead. We come together to honor those that have passed. We come together to talk about death, to honor this part of the cycle. We come together to grieve, to celebrate what once was. Who couldn't benefit from this? Wouldn't you want to be remembered in this way after you go?

What are the ceremonies and rituals you practice that support you in create meaning in your life? How do you honor the cycles of life?

If you find yourself at a loss for meaning and purpose, if you wonder what you'll do when the kids leave home, if the news of war and chaos creates dark spaces of despair for you - what are the practices you do to cultivate the light, to bring the light within. If you're in chronic illness, if you are fighting for your life - how do you uplift yourself? If you're lost - how can you relate to this disorientation as a process of reorientation? What in your community culture, in your values, in your home place can serve as a reminder to you that you are never alone, that there is wisdom that lives in your bones and your being, that there is a place inside you that has never been wounded, never suffered, never been traumatized - a place we can all connect to that is beyond the mind and the emotions. A place we can touch into with ceremony, ritual, meditation, Qi Gong - these ancient practices that are so needed for our contemporary times. We all belong here on this earth.

The wind is singing and it's waiting for us to hear it. Are you listening?

We're in this together,



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