Dog Park Diary 120602

Bare Bones Biology 110 – Ritual Communication

How many people claim to “hate” ritual? And how sad for them. What would we have without our rituals? The answer that first jumped into my head was: “Without ritual we would have chaos.” My second thought was that chaos itself is apparently just a different form of organization that we don’t fully understand and in that sense is akin to ritual. I thought about the book entitled Chaos, written by James Gleick, an elegant book, that in essence describes the discovery that chaos, rather than describing disorder, actually represents a more universal, sensitive and intricate kind of order.

There could be no life without organized interactions among all the components of life. Whether the elements are emotional — anger and love and compassion — or physical — earth, air fire and water – or perhaps carbon, oxygen, nitrogen and hydrogen and their kin — or more likely all of that – life consists of overlapping systems of order, and ritual is one of these. Ritual is a part of life. It just is.

Any thing that just is – and we can’t change it – the best way to work with that thing is to learn how to use it well – rather than to despise it, fear it or deny it.

Why is ritual important in our lives? I don’t really know; probably it is a part of our inherited human makeup. It’s not only humans who grow rituals. My dog Bitsy knows when it’s time to get up – a ritual that was set in our pre-dog lives by the old cat who wanted her breakfast at 4 am, and I don’t remember how that began, but it has been so ever since, though the cat is gone to her reward. Four AM is the waking time in our group. Or 5, depending what time of year it is.

That’s one kind of ritual. Another kind of ritual has come down to us from our cultural backgrounds and serves as a safety net for the community. It tells us who we are, where we came from, and where we are going, and it binds us together on the journey. Ritual is a way to recognize ourselves as human beings, and join together as human kind. Ritual is a way to be together for a species (us) that needs to be together with others of its kind because that’s just how it is. It’s how we biologically are made. Like horses, or cows, or dogs, but not like, for example, Paramecia or perhaps desert tortoises. I don’t know any desert tortoises, so probably that’s not a good example, but most humans are made to commune with our common herd, and ritual is one of the best ways to educate the young and preserve our communities.

One of the greatest benefits of community is the ability to pass knowledge from one generation to another. “That’s where the snakes live; or don’t step on that plant; or don’t run across the road.” We ritualize these things because it’s better to know by learning than by stepping on a snake, or a poisonous plant, or running under a car. In this way, the community rituals protect the individual members of the community for today and also for tomorrow, long after the first person told her children where the snakes live and then told the story to the whole community so it would live through the generations.

If our rituals stop serving us in that way, then we as are in deep doodoo, and so is the community — because there can be no community without the contributions of the individuals of which the community is composed. The more complex the culture, the more we need help from the wisdoms of the past.

As thinking people, we have the choice to use rituals to help provide a better future, and for our fulfillment as individuals. Or sometimes we use ritual to cause harm and to deceive others, and we should all be aware of this reality — but isn’t that like abusing our own selves? Why would anyone want to do that?

Bare Bones Biology 110 – Ritual Communication
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Photo by Lynn, taken at Upaya

Recommended References:
Joseph Campbell Foundation Web Site:
Chaos, written by James Gleick
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