Prayer is still a complicated practice in my life. Even six years after leaving the evangelical Church to pursue spirituality outside of the strict God-box I was handed in childhood, I have not fully recovered prayer in any verbal sense. I find myself constantly having to accept and embrace the possibility that clear, systematic language may never be a part of my spiritual practice again. Prayer (or contemplation/meditation, which are less triggering words to me) in my life now is more of a state of being, a way of life, an orientation toward something somehow both greater than myself and inside of myself at the same time.
It is a practice of drawing energy from a place of eternal stillness, unity, and love here and now as opposed to asking a God with personhood to do or not do something for me in the future on Earth.
Most days, my contemplative practice looks like sitting still on my meditation pillow and focusing on my breath or a simple mantra for a while. This calms my especially active “monkey mind” and helps me observe my vast expanse of emotions without the judgment I often heap on them in the chaos of daily busyness and distraction. It is a space where I mentally let go of the things I cannot control, and most of the time, this contemplative practice is all I need to feel grounded and centered for the day.
But then there are the days when shit hits the fan and meditation just isn’t enough to break through the chatter and help me find peace amidst the chaos.
I had one of those days recently. I found out some unexpected and significant news that has the potential to completely change what this year will look like for me. It’s scary and uncertain and is filled with an unpredictable road of possibilities. Like clockwork, my anxiety crawled up from my gut and settled in my chest, heavy and persistent.
I knew I needed to create space to name what I was feeling, but I felt my spirit craving a more embodied ritual or ceremony to process my emotions and name that which I could not control.
So I decided to plant something.
It’s finally warm enough in the Appalachian mountains to plant cold weather crops like peas, carrots, beets, onions, and greens, so I grabbed a packet of carrot seeds (my favorite vegetable) and a packet of beet seeds and headed out to the garden. I got down on my knees next to one of our freshly tilled heaps of dirt, and I planted beets and carrots in a small, spiral labyrinth, both because planting in rows is boring to me, and I also wanted to carve out an intentional space in the earth in which to bury my anxiety and fear.
As I planted, I allowed my breaths to be as deep as my longing for control. I held up each tiny, round carrot seed and each wild, asymmetrical beet seed. I imagined each one of them representing an ounce of the weight of emotions inside of me.
Then, I opened my clenched hands, and I delicately placed the seeds and the emotions they represented in the dark earth, giving them back to something larger than myself that though I would like to, I will never fully understand.
Using planting, an often mundane act that can sometimes feel like a chore when managing a large garden, as an embodied ceremony allowed me to give my anxiety form, my grief shape, my uncertainty and lack of answers tangible structure to hold in my hands.
While growing up in a religion that damned embodiment and heaped shame on fully inhabiting one’s body, with all of its desires and pleasures and needs and emotions and sensations, I missed out on a huge, important way to process my emotions and move through hard things like grief and anxiety. I am now learning to find ways to process my emotions with my mind AND my beautiful, good, safe body with all of her Divinity.
After covering the seeds and giving them a little water, I walked away feeling a bit lighter, trusting that some ounce of my uncertainty and angst was buried in the ground and wouldn’t come back, hoping that someday, something beautiful and meaningful would grow up from that unpredictable, mysterious dark earth and sustain my body and spirit somewhere down this uncertain road ahead of me.
Ritual doesn’t have to be complex or grandiose. It doesn’t have to be inside a special building or next to an altar blessed by someone who claims to know the one right way to pray or to be a spiritual being. Hell, I made an altar out of a heap of dirt in my own front yard.
Embodied ritual can be anything that makes our pain a little easier to bear.
Embodied ritual can be anything that helps us let go of all of the things we cannot control.
Embodied ritual can be anything that brings comfort to those of us who need to pray with our minds AND our bodies in order to find our way back to Peace.