In continuing with my theme of STRESS and Living As A Spiritual Practice, I set out to write a blog post about movement. But then horrific shootings and the California fires, among other things happening in the world took over me. How can I write about such simple things like movement when grief, shock, trauma and mourning was living within me? Along with the recent election many people are sad, angry, afraid, and feeling helpless, yet others are happy and celebrating. On so many levels our emotional bodies must deal with all of this.
We must all be feeling a range of emotions that might have to be cast aside so we can get through our days, and this could quite possibly cause our bodies and souls stress we don’t even acknowledge. For this reason I am moved to share an experience that I had years ago that is helping me to deal with my wild range of emotions. First let me introduce to you Matthew Fox, the man that taught me this practice.
Matthew Fox is an American priest and theologian. Formerly a member of the Dominican Order within the Roman Catholic Church, he became a member of the Episcopal Church following his expulsion from the order in 1993. Fox was an early and influential exponent of a movement that came to be known as Creation Spirituality. (Wikipedia)
I read many of Matthew’s books years ago, and then studied with him at a conference in Mexico. It was there I experienced his “Cosmic Mass” of which the principles of the ritual have lived on in me.
Below is a paragraph from Matthew Fox’s website about the Cosmic Mass. There you can also learn more about the value of this ritual. For now, I am going to share my take away from the Mass and how I integrate the concepts of it into my life as often as possible.
Is this truly a Mass?
Of course it is. If you deconstruct the Mass, taking it apart and looking for its constituent parts, you will find that the Mass follows the Four Paths of Creation Spirituality: The Via Positiva or celebration of existence (Thomas Aquinas says this is the first dimension to Worship: To say Thank You for Creation); the Via Negativa or sorrow for sins; the Via Creativa, the blessing of wine and bread as the food of the Cosmic Christ; and the Sending Off which is the Via Transformativa.
When I experienced the Mass we were in a very large conference room at a hotel in Acapulco. What follows is a brief description of my experience, best I can remember.
There were no chairs or tables in the room in this huge conference room. It was empty except for four large visual screens, one up in each corner of the room along with powerful speakers for the music. It was staged something like a rock concert. Mr. Fox gave a talk first to prepare us for the experience. Then the lights went down and we began. In the first stage of the Mass there was vibrant beautiful music of celebration. We all moved and danced wildly while we viewed a slide show in the four corners of the room. Beautiful pictures of life, children, and nature - all colorful beautiful visuals - took us over as we moved with inspiration, gratitude and celebration.
After about fifteen minutes of dancing and celebrating the music stopped and the screens became black and dark. Mr. Fox took a moment of tenderness to recite a short reading and soon the screens were replaced with visuals of destruction, pollution, starvation, war, and death. The room became silent.
People were now sitting on the floor as we made the transition from dancing in celebration to sitting in the dark as we were given a space to cry and mourn. As I recall the experience, I am moved emotionally as it was so very special to sit among a hundred people or so and face the truth of our existence, to mourn together and allow ourselves to feel what we were certainly feeling on some level but had not really allowed it to surface.
Once the mourning and grieving space had cleansed our hearts and souls, we took some time to give blessings and prayers of apology. Then the atmosphere was shifted back to celebration. Beautiful visuals of possibility, peace, union, community, birth, renewal and a beautiful Earth filled our hearts with hope and love. We danced wildly again with a renewed spirit. We were transformed and made stronger for what is and what lies ahead.
The Mass took about one hour. We emerged internally transformed and wet from our physical cleanse, like we had just come out of a hot yoga class. Everyone was bright eyed, loving and lighter. We had met our feelings head on. We cried for what is happening to our brothers and sisters, the animals and the Earth. We now possessed renewed strength from our bond and a cleansed soul to move on. I remember Matthew saying that people are starved for ritual that feels real and deep to them.
To put it simply, here are the stages of the Mass in my terms:
As a prayer we give thanks for this life, ignite the feeling of gratitude for who and what we are individually and together grateful for. It is a simple acknowledged heartfelt, “Thank you”.
Then we face the sorrow that we feel for the destruction, grief (ours and others), anger, hatred, and fear for what might lie ahead. We allow our vulnerability and tenderness to surface, and to grieve with sadness and compassion.
Lastly, we move from our grief and send off a prayer of blessings, and then more celebration for what we have, and the possibilities that lie ahead. We emerge cleansed and strengthened.
When I read the news about people going up in flames with their families and loved ones while trying to escape, I can’t help but hurt for them. I let myself really go there and feel how horrific this must be. The idea is to look at the destruction and horror right in the face, to feel it and allow yourself to honor the grief and move it through you. Honoring the grief is a way of honoring life, because we are honoring the absence of what has died. I bring this up because so many of us, myself included at times, acknowledge how bad some things are, or must be, and then brush it aside or stuff it. Then we get on with our day, while not really going to the heart of our feelings and allowing them to surface.
When I was sick and in so much pain a few months back, I cleansed a lifetime of stuffed emotions, I had no idea were there. This made me realize that I had not really faced and felt many things in my life that deserved to be faced and felt. Now, when so called “negative emotions” arrive, I try to create a space to let them take center stage. I let myself feel the hurt or the fear, and then cast a prayer and look toward the light of a new day. Keeping a daily journal is a great way to process emotions. Tapping is another. Sometimes when I take a walk I merely express myself out loud (yes, I go by myself). Several years ago my singing teacher told us to sing our emotions as loud as we could - even if we are crying. If we needed privacy, which I surely did, she instructed us to get in our car….alone! The idea was to sing emotionally what is true for us until it feels like it is over and/or is out of us. This is a very useful technique.
Meditation is effective to calm us and bring us back to center, but it does not always move the emotions that may need moving.
Since our world is offering us a lot to pray for, as well as a lot to celebrate, perhaps you can create your own ritual to process your emotions. It probably does not matter how you do it, the important thing to do is to make sure you pay attention to your feelings and emotions. Be with them fully and move them through to the other side.
Many medicate with alcohol, marijuana, opioids, sex, exercise, work or food...whatever. It is fun to change the channel of our consciousness sometimes, but let’s not let some of these recreational or habitual practices override what might be lurking deep inside of us. Otherwise they will surface someday, and most likely in a disease of some kind.
If you have a process that works for you, please share it. We are all learning how to live in this new and evolving world that none of us are prepared for. None of us have lived tomorrow yet, so let’s pay close attention to our feelings of today.
Happy ThanksGiving to all! I am so very grateful to have this space to share with you.
Aloha, Susan Teton