Last night I felt my soul saying goodbye to a special person in my life. I let my tears flow and I stayed with the wave of sadness that brushed up along the shore of my consciousness a few hours before. I’ve had enough encounters with spirit these past two years to no longer deem something a mere coincidence. It’s all interconnected. I fully believe that, down to the smallest detail. This morning I reached for an unscented candle. One was already by my bed, but it was scented and because of that it somehow didn’t feel appropriate. So I lit this other unscented candle, one with a feather stuck in it. The heat from the flame sinched* (lightly burn…it seems it’s not actually a word but it’s the only word–made up or not–that feels fitting) the feather and the scent reminded me of summer afternoons at my grandma’s house when she plucked the feathers off the chicken she would later prepare for dinner, the chicken I never wanted to eat. I started playing Krishna Das’ Mere Guru Dev on repeat and let my body move as slowly as it wished. Every other breath I’d see the flame from the candle and smell the feather, every other breath I’d be reminded of my uncle, my grandma’s son, and I would see memories of him tending to the plants in her garden.
About and hour and a half later I received a call letting me know that my uncle passed about an hour before. The timing of this morning’s ritual and last night’s imagery was not lost on me. The choice to light this other candle with the feather that would burn and bring forth these memories was no accident. The symbolism goes on and on even as I type this out–and I am deeply touched. That’s what it means to have a spiritual practice, at least for me: to open yourself up to be deeply touched by all of the coincidences, signs, interactions, and circumstances. To have a spiritual practice is not to sit on your meditation cushion chanting anything, it is not to attend yoga class and twist deeply into your body, it is not to perform any set of devotional rituals…it is simply to try your best to remain open so that you may be deeply touched by what life offers, the good, the painful, and everything else along that spectrum.
But there is a space for ritual within a spiritual practice, it’s just not what creates a spiritual practice. Ritual gives us ground, it lightens the burden of deciding what to do or how to do it. This song, Mere Guru Dev, is part of my ritual today, its hymn is slow and warm like my uncle’s warm belly laughs. In the Romanian Orthodox tradition when someone passes you ask the priest to read their name aloud during the sermon and you light a candle for them and place it in the “deceased” section of the candle stands. A simple ritual, one I’ve never really appreciated until this morning. Ritual gives you something to do, something that’s already been done, something that connects you to those who’ve gone through what you’re experiencing before. Ritual reminds you that you are never alone. It was no accident that I spent the next hours after hearing about my uncle passing teaching yoga classes where I could connect with loving hearts, it is no accident that at the last minute I signed up to attend some yoga classes with people who are very special to me right before heading on a flight to visit my grieving family, it is no accident that I’m not living alone in an RV as I planned but rather sharing a space with a lovely person and a cat who’s created a big ol’ space for herself in my heart. It is no accident because what I need to learn most is to receive support, to remember that I am not alone, to practice opening up to be deeply touched by it all.
With so much love and trust,
[link to the song: