Nearly twenty years ago, I was invited to be a Peace Elder at Wolf Song VI, a world peace council of indigenous elders. We gathered on a ranch in Texas, hosted by members of the Lakota Native American tribe. I felt incredibly honored as a young “white man” to sit in the circle with 100 indigenous elders from six continents.
Wolf Song was an extraordinary experience in many ways. This was a whole new world for me. And, although this was a world peace council, it was not always peaceful. Together, the elders and the several hundred people who had come to witness the council sessions and be a part of this gathering for peace, represented the world in microcosm. Some of the same conflicts and challenges that were going on between various cultures in the world were also present among the various tribes and communities at Wolf Song. Charles Lawrence, the master of ceremonies for the gathering, was a master at mediation. He understood the history behind many of the conflicts, he listened deeply, and he somehow always found just the right words to bring people together.
Every morning, we received a schedule for the day. However, I learned very quickly that the times listed on the schedule were just approximations. I had to let go of my ideas about structure and schedules and find my way into a new kind of flow. I admit that, in the beginning, I was frustrated. However, as I eased into a new way of engaging with time and energy, synchronicities started happening. I found myself engaged in unexpected yet amazing conversations. I listened to elders speak in ancient indigenous languages, realizing that perhaps only a few hundred people in the world could still speak or understand those languages. I sat with the drummers who literally kept the heartbeat of the gathering going twenty-four hours a day. The drums never stopped beating from the first day’s opening ceremony of the council meeting until the end of the closing ceremony on the last day. I witnessed ritual that I did not fully understand, yet its power and beauty touched me deeply.
Although things happened in a spontaneous flow at Wolf Song, there were two events of the day that you could absolutely count on happening at a precise moment: the ceremonies for sunrise and sunset. These were sacred moments. Because the sunrise was so early and many people were not sleeping at the ranch, the early morning gathering was small yet beautiful. However, for the sunset ritual, everyone participated. Regardless of what was going on, about a half hour before the sun was to set, everything stopped. A procession was organized with the senior elders leading the way. We walked in full ceremony with drums and feathers to the place where we could watch the sun set over the southeast Texas hills. In silence, we thanked the sun for its gift of life, warmth, and light. Then, as the sun melted into the horizon, prayers were said out loud in various indigenous tongues. It was a powerful moment each day – something I will never forget.
Fast forward twenty years. I’ve just returned from my weeklong annual writing retreat in Florida on the Gulf of Mexico coast. I stay in a simple apartment just across the street from the beach, and can see the beach and the water from the chair where I sit to write.
Every morning, just as the first sunlight appears, I walk a mile down the beach to a favorite spot and sit at the edge of the surf for meditation. The rising sun on my back warms my body and my soul. I feel connected with all that is. There is something powerful about being with all four of the elements at sunrise. I look around me to see other early risers having their own morning beach rituals. Some are enjoying an early run, others are fishing, doing yoga, collecting seashells, or just walking the beach in solitude. In that first hour of daylight on the beach, we all seem to be in our own special worlds. And in that moment, our own world seems to be all that matters.
Yet it was actually the sunsets on the beach that made me think about Wolf Song after all of these years and inspired this article. Although not in such a ceremonial fashion as at Wolf Song, about a half hour before the sunset, people start gathering on the beach. They have stopped whatever they were doing to come to the beach and witness the closing of the day. While sometimes there is a group in a quite celebratory mood, every evening I can’t help but notice how many people actually get very quiet just in those last moments before the sun drops into the sea. There is a feeling of reverence. Everyone is having their own unique experience, yet clearly, something inside is being touched. It’s like this reverence for the sun is in our DNA. And perhaps, in fact, it is. Perhaps there is something deep in our consciousness that calls us back to our indigenous roots – that calls us to pause from whatever we are doing, witness the beauty and peacefulness of the sunset, and acknowledge the sun for giving us life.
There is something about witnessing the sunrise and sunset that frames the day. It gives the day a ritual beginning and ending. Creating our own ritual around those moments can also be a beautiful acknowledgment of this life we are given. Give yourself that gift in the next few days, even if you just witness one or the other – sunrise or sunset. Just pause and be grateful to whatever name you give to the source of life and for the life you’ve been given.
P.S. Rituals are a natural part of life. A ritual is something that you do in the same way over and over again. It can be as simple as the way you make your coffee every morning, or the pattern you repeat every night as you prepare for bed, or a more formal kind of practice. My dogs and I have a wonderful early morning ritual of a short walk, feeding, and then snuggling in the sunroom to watch the sun rise. From there, we go to my office for meditation, our second ritual of the day. Toby curls up in my lap, Matty curls up on the ottoman nearby, and I get centered and grounded for the day. It’s how every day begins when I am at home.
Creating conscious rituals can help us acknowledge and honor what is important to us. What rituals are important in your life? What rituals would you like to give more energy to?
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