Soul Window

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soul_windowTall, dark, beautiful and belligerent-looking, Nan Hall Linke’s doll is a maiden who became a warrior.

A psychotherapist with spiritual focus, Linke has no trouble imagining such a metamorphosis.

Her interior world is ripe with dreams, symbols, archetypes and adventure. Through leading and teaching group classes in ritual, she helps others to quest: coaxing, encouraging, even goading people to open doors inside themselves.

Like her students, who sometimes return class-after-class, Linke views ritual as a way to transcend reason, access the spiritual and bring change. So she easily accepts the doll’s transformation as related by the dollmaker.

The doll reminds Linke of her own journey. She is a guide on a literally purple path of spiritual growth.

That purple path, a thick roll of plastic meant for crafts projects and outdoor tablecloths, sometimes winds through Linke’s sun-kissed garden and patio. Tentative pilgrims sit on it. Seekers stalk unnamed goals on it. The weary rest and reflect before starting anew.

But start again they must.

“When people sign up for a ritual class, the thing I always find amazing is that half the people have the same issue,” Linke said. “I just put out a sign-up sheet and say, “if you’re interested in a ritual class.’ Then we have the first class, we start going around the room and everyone says why they’ve come and its like: Echo, Echo, Me, too. Me, too.”

As she teaches, Linke likens ritual to “the soul’s thereafter,” a longed-for arena freeing the psyche to plumb its depths so the person may intuitively follow where he or she feels led.

Ritual is a “response to the search for meaning,” Linke told one class. “It’s a reverence for risk, change, surrender, obedience, sacrifice and mystery. It also deals with the possibility of resurrection and grace.”

Her perspective is reflected among many contemporary thinkers.

Christian theologians highlight the value of the church’s transforming rituals. From the community emphasis of Holy Communion to the joining of two individuals in the marriage service, ritual weaves through church history and practice.

Among Jews, the home-based rituals of such holidays as Passover are enjoying a rebirth as non-observant Jews embrace them with new fervor. Other religions from Hinduism to Islam are experiencing similar rejuvenation.

African-American churches hold rites of passage for young boys to strengthen their sense of responsibility at manhood. Women’s groups revamp and rewrite traditional religious ritual to find new meaning in patriarchal traditions. Evangelicals convert to Eastern Orthodox churches, seeking God’s mystery and majesty as symbolized in the tradition’s worship.

Even people with little or no religious ties are finding new meaning in ritual. In San Francisco and Houston seekers walk labyrinths, reenacting ancient searches. In Philadelphia last weekend, black women marched to affirm their solidarity. There are books on rituals for sacred living, walking for reflection, painting to unlock creativity and meditation to access inner silence.

“At its most intense, ritual leads us into worlds not realized and becomes sacred,” British director and writer James Roose-Evans argued in Passages of the Soul, Ritual Today (Element, $19.95).

Writer and lecturer Thomas Moore pondered why people are so enchanted at the prospect of setting out in a canoe, a small rowboat or a great ship in his book, The Re-enchantment of Everyday Life (HarperCollings, $25). “In some deep way, we are living out a ritual that has strong ties to Jesus in the boat with his apostles, the Buddhist on the raft of religion, and Odysseus on his sea voyage home.”

In her classes, Linke urges students to appropriate ritual for growth. “It’s a process that maintains the integrity of what is sacred in our lives. It’s an alchemical vessel change. It’s nature’s pathway for healing loss and creating wholeness. It’s what we call healing play for adults.”

Yoga teacher Moira Martin took her first ritual class with Linke seven years ago. Soon afterward, she returned to college to finish her bachelor’s and master’s degrees. She confronted personal loss when her mother died.

In each instance, ritual was a path to change and freedom.

In classes with Linke, Martin made a compass, a magnet and a clock, emblazoning each with what became holy symbols in her life. Later she made dream pillows, painting haunting faces, abstract images and landscapes on them. She now sells them and makes them for friends.

“Ritual is a way to take you from being stuck into change,” Martin said. “A lot of them weave together creativity. I think ritual sort of honors that part of me that hadn’t been honored before. It started out as fun, and it started out as play, and it became something much deeper.”

Composer and pianist Anita Kruse discovered ritual linked her to her dreamworld, childhood and inner creativity in her first class with Linke five ears ago. In her first class with Linke five years ago. In her first ritual, she sewed multicolored fabric and other items onto a blue jean jacket, creating a ceremonial garment.

“This ritual was about the things I had lost,” Kruse said. “There were seven. For each, I got fabric to represent it.”

While Martin found ritual helped link her to Irish ancestors, Kruse felt herself recovering something much older, a distinctly feminine sense of the sacred. Reared in a military family, she never felt grounded in a place. Ritual linked her, strengthening her musical skill and creativity.

“It just heightens everything,” Kruse said. “It made everything more conscious. A lot of our creative energy is in the dar. Once it’s expressed, it is in the light. Until then, it’s there. It’s waiting. Doing rituals brought everything out of the dark.”

Linke, trained in traditional psychotherapy and in the approach of C.G. Jung, teaches that ritual comes naturally to children. They collect things, bury things, throw things up in the air. Work, play, school, even sleeping, may involve ritual for a child. Following natural instincts, a little boy refuses to go to bed without a beloved toy. A little girl insists on wearing a certain outfit on a particular day.

“When I first taught this class years ago, I titled it “The Ritual Process: Healing Play for Adults’,” Linke said. “The reason for that is, in childhood, we haven’t moved from our healing sensing, intuitive selves into the religion of thinking which we develop when we go to school.”

During each four-week ritual class, Linke is amazed at the paths students choose. Many begin with a few symbols of their quests and a hazy idea, or no idea, of where seeking will take them.

Sitting cross-legged on her patio atop part of the purple path, Linke smiles as she recalls the memories.

One student with a number of advanced degrees longed to understand where they might lead her. She laid the degrees in front of her, one after another and used them as a path in her ritual. Another imagined her financial struggles as though she were running a marathon. She tacked money all over her shoes in her ritual.

“I am in awe at what comes out of people, “Linke said. “They make a leap of faith to come to the class. They sit there for three weeks and say, “I don’t know what I’m going to do, I don’t know what you are talking about.’ and I say, ‘Just wait.’ And they show up on the fourth week with all this stuff and all this energy, and their lives are never the same.”

Umbilical Cord Rituals

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The task of leaving home psychologically takes a lifetime.  For some it begins before the age of 5 as we make early decisions about ourselves in the context of our life so far.  The family has a never ending effect on our sense of self and our revisions of our identity, needs and direction.  Human beings are like programmable instruments.  Our primary processing systems of sensing, intuition and feeling  and the data they take in affect our behavior all of our lives, allowing us to  react to what we have experienced unknowingly.  When we begin to use language and develop cognitive capabilities, we override the sensing, intuiting and feeling systems in an attempt to please others and maintain connection with those to whom we are attached, often leaving important parts of ourselves behind, and much of our potential hidden, even from ourselves.  The character armor of the false self begins pushing others parts of ourselves into the unconscious to be discovered later, if we are fortunate.  The archetypes of the persona become woven into the fabric of our being, to be unraveled later, again, only if we are fortunate.

As newborns, we are attached to our mothers by an umbilical cord.  It is intended to nourish us when we are unable to receive nourishment directly.  Sometimes parents, well-meaning but ignorant, interject ideas and rules into our memory which do not apply to us, but are rather projections of them.  The late, great James Hillman urged us to look at each child with the question “What have we here?”  This the first task of a successful parent, preparing us to survive without them.  In a world of symbols, rather than words, a smile from a parent, a reassuring embrace and soothing words mean everything to the child.  When I first went to an Adult Children of Alcoholics workshop decades ago, the participants were asked to make a circle and the facilitator went around the room, stood behind each participant, and made an affirmative statement while putting a hand on each person’s shoulder.  In disbelief I watched each person burst into tears, as if  the seed of an  unmet need had suddenly been planted in our hearts.

Two rituals emerged from this experience.  The first involved a letting go.  The second involved creating a form of what was lost in two forms.

The letting go ritual involved the use of symbolic umbilical cord.  In the past, this connection was easily seen with a telephone cord (no longer used) or an extension cord (still in use).  In this ritual, the name of the parent who was seen as a person who was connected in an inappropriate way to the adult child was written on the cord, alternating with that of the participant.  The cord then was cut into pieces and then burned collectively.  We all did this ritual together so we could move forward together.  One of the people correctly knew that her mother’s tongue was what connected her to her mother’s hurtful words, so she wrote on and cut up and burned a cow’s tongue.  We all got it and never forgot the power of a parent’s words.

My favorite umbilical cord ritual was given to me by my therapist while I was in graduate school.  After learning that the words of our parents remain in the cells of our body in the form of interjected words and feelings, he gave me a knob like the ones that were on radios before the digital age.  I was to speak out loud when I heard or felt these interjected messages the following:  “Which one of my parents is advising me today?”  Always, I knew which parent it was and I said out loud, while turning the knob, “I am turning you off”.  I then added “I am cancelling my reservation to where you are sending me”.  Later we found out through the development of Voice Dialogue Therapy that speaking to our internal thoughts out loud created an overriding download which allowed substantive change and healing.

Try either or both of these rituals with those whose guidance and unhelpful suggestions you still are influenced by.  A big clue is when you hear yourself say or think “I should”.  That is always a sign you didn’t think of it and it should be re-examined by your authentic Self.

Rituals for Changing Seasons

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Rituals for the changing of seasons were an integral part of societies from earlier times, a way to share and unite people in a common experience.  As light and temperature change, sense memories occur naturally and our tasks change with the moving of the earth in relationship to the Sun and Moon.  As Fall approaches and Summer ends, the long days give way to shorter days and longer nights.  This begins with the Equinox in late September when days and nights are equal in light distribution.  As temperatures begin to change, we feel and see the evidence of change everywhere.  The longest night which precedes the Winter Solstice has been celebrated in all cultures, and is ritualized in the performances of Revels.

With this shifting of the earth, sun and temperature, people have always gathered to plant and harvest and celebrate their bounty together.  It is a natural time to look forward with intention and backwards with understanding and release, just as the Janus figure in mythology did.  I suggest to my students that they claim their accomplishments and write them down so they can find symbols of their progress.  It is a natural time to release disappointment and regret, which can weigh us down like rocks.  When we look too far forward, it is easy to feel overwhelmed and anxious about the forward movement of life and time.  Many people feel “Stuck”, or depressed.  When we look backward we have always made progress, often in spite of ourselves.  As Vince Lombardi said when asked how he won so many football games. “I knew the game was won by inches, not yards”.  It is a great ritual to use a yardstick and write your progress down on it so you can remember.  When children are young, their growth is measured this way, and perhaps we should not abandon this method for measuring our inner progress. Years ago I had a student who felt “stuck”.  We encouraged her to do the following ritual:  get several bags of soil and a big bucket, where we buried her in the dirt and added some water.  As we all applauded, she got “unstuck” and was able to store the sensation long enough to move forward.

Another place we get overwhelmed is in our limited understanding of time.  There are two ways to measure time.  Linear time is called Chronos time, after the planet Saturn (Chronos).  It is finite and always creates pressure for us.  One of my great teachers John Rankin did a talk about the definition of “deadlines” as he literally deconstructed this term.  Timelines are better than deadlines any day.  The version of time which mirrors a timeline in called Kairos time, which is creative timelessness.  Many of us have heard the statement: “ the readiness is all”, and the truth of this statement is seen in how easily change occurs when we are truly ready.  The infinite and unlimited Kairos time opens our options instead of closing them, so be gentle with yourself as you approach the changing seasons, as time has no real meaning in the spiritual world.

My favorite time ritual occurred at one of my groups over 20 years ago.  Not surprisingly men love to give women watches, as Saturn was a male god.  One of my students got all the watches men had given her and took her car and drove back and forth over them and we threw them away and she came alive, as we all did.  Being in a group brings us into resonance in a form of natural magic called participation mystique.   As you approach the changing of seasons, please make a list of all you have accomplished in the preceding time period.  Give yourself a gold star and move on with confidence.  It is a good idea to write down all your disappointments and burn the list.  One year a student was particularly overburdened with loss and self-recrimination so she made a list of these feelings and events and got a rock to write on for each of the feelings and events.  I suggested she get a backpack and carry it around for a week and then throw each rock in a bayou.  There was a big smile of relief as she released the pain she had been carrying.  I wish you much joy and success as you begin your rituals for the changing of seasons.  You can also plant a seed of desire in a blooming plant and see the plant bloom and your desires flower.