Mind & Body

The Rite Path

Since the beginning of time, rituals have provided a powerful route to healing. Discover how to chart your own road to recovery.

The Rite Path
Pin it Philippe Lardy

For rituals to be of any value, they need to be invested with your own truth, creativity and intention. If a ceremony feels impersonal or hokey, it won’t have much of an effect, so the starting point is always yourself. Lawson frequently tells the story of a woman who was about to undergo chemotherapy. She created a healing ceremony by gathering all of her close female friends, who then lovingly washed, braided and cut off her hair—a potent act symbolizing that rather than her becoming a victim of her treatments, she would instead be the one who was in control.

For Aleia Herbert, a graduate student in Washington, D.C., who was forced to go on bed rest for three months following a traumatic head injury, it was a breathing exercise suggested by a friend that helped her healing process. The exercise, created by Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, was deceptively simple: “Inhale healing, re-building, patience, joy; exhale pain, discomfort, anger, frustration.” This basic ritual was enough to transform Herbert’s self-pity into resilience. As you search for something that will be true to your deepest self, understand that “there are many paths to a similar goal,” says Jeffrey Sollins, M.D., an integrative health care specialist in Albuquerque, N.M., who encourages patients to figure out what works for them, be it meditation or walking the dog.

But keep in mind that what makes a ritual most powerful is precision. “Being as specific as possible is important,” says Sobonfu Somé, the author of Falling Out of Grace (North Bay Books), who leads workshops on rituals worldwide. “What is your purpose, and whom are you invoking? If you are too vague, the ritual takes you nowhere,” she says.

Rituals are as unique as the people who practice them. While there are no hard-and-fast rules as to how they should be done (alone or with others, indoors or out, long or short), the basic stages that follow can help you create your own healing customs.

Step 1 * Clarify your intention
Before you plan your ritual, hold the question of what you think it could or should look like for a few days. Let the answer come from a place that seems bigger than you. To help that answer arrive, clearly define your purpose: What’s your reason for doing this? What do you want?

Step 2 * State your purpose out loud
Voicing the reasons for your ritual—even if you are by yourself—is crucial. “When you give your intention a voice, you are committed in a way that engages your whole being,” says Lawson. “Once you have spoken and created a space that feels sacred, acknowledge whoever is present through a brief introduction or look.”

Step 3 * Make it tangible
This is the nitty-gritty stage of the ritual where you put intention into action, e.g., burning something that you are ready to let go of in a fire or physically burying something that represents a grievance. During this climax, you are fully embodying the sacred, immersed in a flow in which the thinking mind is not dominant.

Step 4 * Give thanks and surrender
Rituals always end in gratitude, so as you bring your ritual to a close, offer thanks to the energies you have called upon. Then surrender to the outcome. It’s surrendering that allowed Willow Joines to learn that what she could not control could make her stronger. “Rituals helped me navigate through my uncertainty rather than being overwhelmed by it,” she says. “Instead of paralysis, I found my power.”