What’s left of it, that is. Embracing the power of ritual and ceremony
When Ruby was eleven months, I told my husband I was ready to sell my convertible. I had bought it during a rash weekend two years before. While he was overseas for two short weeks, I changed our lives. I found a new house for us to rent and moved us in, I moved my office, I sold my old Golf and bought a convertible. I was so excited drive it home, I only realised monthe later that I had paid R10 000 more than the price advertised in the paper. The saleman swears I misread the ad.
The second I fell pregnant, Llewelyn rushed off to price a station wagon. He came back with the deal almost in the bag.
“We will have to sell the convertible,” he joyfully announced. This act threw me into a rage the likes of which he had never seen. He has certainly seen many of those subsequently. Station wagons were for horsey moms with three Jack Russells, cat hair on the upholstery and cooler bags with prepacked lunches. They were, in short, not for me.
“I WILL NEVER SET FOOT IN A STATION WAGON. Never, never, never,” I raged. He was baffled, still is. Surely this was a logical solution? He had all the reasons: it would be difficult getting the baby’s car seat into a two-door car, the boot space was too small, and it wasn’t safe.
It took me six months to work out that if I put the roof down and inched the driver’s chair forward so my knees slipped under the cubby, I could load the pram into the backseat alongside Ruby. (We couldn’t put it in the boot as we had splashed out on a pram that could comfortably house a 52-kilogram Rotweiller.) This breakthrough meant I could take the pram out on excursions with me. It took twenty minutes to perform the insertion and equal time for the extraction, but it meant freedom.
Why did I hold on to my car like a pit bull? Did I love it? Not really. I think for a while I thought that this was the best damn car I would ever have and I was not going to let anybody tell me otherwise. I also thought that I was not going to let this baby change my life in any way.
“It must fit in with my lifestyle, and this is part and parcel of who I am,” I said. This child chose me for who I am, and a topless car, Hermes scarf and Gucci glasses were part of me. “Ruby would not want me to become an overly cautious, protective mom who cannot have fun or look glamorous.” The reasoning went on. Within eight weeks of her birth, I was loading her into the car and doing all-nighters at an editing suite, finishing a documentary I had shot. Even hip moms keep to routine and I would bath her religiously at six every night and put her to sleep. Some nights this meant her bath was in the zinc kitchen sink at Gasworks post-production facility and a scrub down with the hand towel. Although I did not officially go back to my office, I worked just as hard as before from home.
I worked very hard at holding on to a life that had no meaning left for me. I held on so long and so hard to my life, as I saw it, that the dawning reality that I was a mom only really kicked in when Ruby was six months. And then, slowly, I started to accept that life was different now, accept it beyond coping with the sleepless nights, the hours alone in the nursery, the frustrations and the anger. I started to accept that I wanted it to be different, that I was different, that I no longer particularly wanted to down a bottle of tequila and throw up in the driveway. Or that I may have moved beyond weaving down the passage at eleven, two and five o’clock to feed her. I wanted to do things differently than I had for the last twenty-nine years. I started to realise that I was, gulp, a mom. But I still won’t reconsider the station wagon.
Motherhood is one of the most powerful journeys a woman will go on and an underestimated transition in our culture. In the biological and physical sense, you become a mother almost instantly. But there is a long road to becoming a mother in the spiritual sense. It is a hair-raising transition you may fight for months, or you may embrace it immediately. It may be a transition that you often question your commitment to, but make no mistake, little traveller: it’s a one-way street and there is no going back.
Here’s what party girl Sadie Frost said: “My priorities have changed. I really enjoy making dinner for my kids and my husband – chopping ginger and marinating the tofu.”
There is a belief that women will make a seamless transition from independent, social career girl to stay-at-home mom. But most moms will tell you there is nothing natural, seamless or serene about it. The centre of our lives is now a baby. Everything else will take second place for a while, including you.
Like the transition from human to vampire, you too must go through a process of death and of grieving to come to a new place. Having a child is both a death and a birth. Both of them are yours to own.
The Jewish faith believes that a woman only starts the journey to reach her own potential when she has children. Indian women believe that there are special times in a woman’s life when nature provides a narrow gap, an open window, for total rejuvenation of the physiology. These times follow your first period, menopause and the first six weeks after giving birth. At these times, your physiology is so delicate, so open and receptive, that you have the chance to recreate your health and heart. The pregnancy and birth leave every cell depleted and it’s up to you how you are going to fill them, to take you into the next cycle of your life.
Baby showers, matric dances, twenty-firsts and weddings. In the long journeys of our lives, those are about the only benchmarks we actively mark and celebrate. And how do we do that? Most often with an open bar, store-purchased gifts and lots of money. We have lost the simple art of ceremony, of celebrating transitions in life, of honouring our own journeys as women through our culture and of creating rites of passage. Never is it more needed than when you become a mom. A rite of passage is a simple act you plan, with intent to usher a new energy, stage, phase or idea into your life.
For the Hindu, life is a sacred journey and every step, from birth to death, is marked by a traditional ceremony called a samskara. These religious rites of passage are thought to direct life along the path of dharma. There are many types of samskaras from the rite prior to conception to the funeral ceremony. They are to mark clearly, within our minds, the occasion of an important life transition. Secondly, they are community outpourings of love, support and acknowledgement that allow the deeper meaning of life’s transitions to sink into our souls.
Traditional Yemenite Jews celebrate the mother, thirty days after delivery, in a ceremony called al-wafaa. Guests gather at the house bringing plates laden with food and gifts for the mother and baby. Each guest sings and dances before the two, presenting wishes and blessings on them both.
Increasing numbers of young women are looking for ceremonies and traditions to create meaning in their own lives and to mark the passage of their growth. They are creating their own ceremonies and starting, for their own families, a legacy of celebration of life that goes beyond prepackaged messages. Many women are borrowing ceremonies and traditions from religions, others from age-old practices long forgotten, and others still are creating their own.
The power of ritual in creating a transition in your life is profound. Your home is your expression of self and the energy it holds has an effect on your wellbeing. It was the space you occupied as a newlywed, then as a pregnant woman and you need to shift the energy, to fill it with new light and energy for your role as a mom.
Many women instinctively find themselves moving home over a pregnancy or during the first year. It’s a way of clearing your space, creating a new space and acknowledging that things are different and you need different surroundings. Space clearing is a ceremony you can perform yourself to say goodbye to the old and welcome in the new you. You can do the whole house, but focus first on spaces that are uniquely you. Start with your bedroom. It’s your space and sanctuary and a clearing can bring new life into your relationship.
· First create a blessing altar in the room, with a lit candle, beautiful fresh flowers, objects of meaning and some incense.
· Thoroughly clean the space before you start, washing down walls, wiping down all surfaces, airing cupboards and opening all the windows. Get rid of all clutter; throw away dead or dying plants and any broken objects or old magazines. Do it yourself.
· Cleanse yourself with a good bath.
· Traditional space clearings are done walking around the room in a clockwise motion and moving through all spaces with objects that create sound (bells, chimes, singing, chanting, prayer, blessings or intentions said for the room and your family or a special CD); that give new smells (smudge sticks, incense, water scented with aromatherapy oils that you can sprinkle); or that move air and energy (sweeping feathers or bits of silk cloth, blowing, moving your hands through the air).
If ringing bells or waving incense is not your style, then a simple act like repainting a room, washing all the curtains and furnishings and giving it a thorough spring-clean is a way to bring new energy and life into your home. If you act with intent, you can bring blessings and love into a space that seemed stagnant and dull. You can also choose a particular method like feng shui, or hire an expert or sangoma if you don’t want to do it yourself.
Throughout nearly all of human history – across cultures, continents and creeds – food has been considered sacred. The end of food means an end to life. Farmers prayed for rain, for protection from pestilence and for good harvests. Men fought and died for land. Land meant food. People honoured deities and gods with offerings of fresh fruit and gave blessings before consuming meals. Thanks was given to ancestors watching over the earth and ensuring enough food for all.
There is little sacred about the way we feed our bodies or our families today. Not only do we buy, but we also eat without intention and without thanks. Little wonder the world is getting fat, depressed and out of touch with the natural cycle.
Rethinking the role of something as simple as food and practising conscious eating can start to bring conscious thought into your everyday life. Diet has an intimate connection with the mind because the mind is formed from the subtlest portion of the essence of food. Your inner nature becomes purified by the purity of food. Here are a few guiding factors that can help you choose a sattvic and holistic, balanced diet.
· Take simple and natural food.
· The more you think about food, the more you will become body-health conscious.
· Always choose clean, uncontaminated, fresh and non- processed food.
· Food should be free from preservatives as they generate a lot of toxins in our bodies and our bodies have to work very hard to get rid of them.
· Always try and choose organic foods or grow your own. This way, you will be saved from eating foods that are grown using chemical fertilisers and powerful pesticides that cause diseases.
· Sugar is recommended in its natural form only, via fruits, vegetables and grains.
· Finally, an essentially vegetarian diet is considered ideal because it not only makes you healthy but also gives you emotional and mental strength and uplifts you spiritually. Meat is not forbidden but the “fear energy” still present in the meat from mass slaughter is not beneficial.
Fact box : In the Indian tradition, there are three classes of food.
Sattvic food : These foods help to maintain health, increase strength, vigor and vitality and create balance. They include fresh fruit an vegatables, salads, lentils, yoghurt, milk, butter, wheat, rye barley, nuts, rice, and honey.
Rajasic foods : These foods are of medium quality and often processed. They generate passion and boisterous tendancies. They include sugar, meat, fish, eggs, coffee, cocoa, chillies, prepared mustard, cheese, spices, highly seasoned foods and foods that are excessively hot. Bitter, sour, salty and pungent foods, white sugard, radishes and deep fried food are all rajasic goods.
Tamasic foods : These are low quality foods and make oe inert and lazy. Beef, pork, all intoxicants, all drugs, alcohool, tinned foods, fizzy drinks, snacky foods, all stimulants, garlic and oncions, stale, rotten and unclean foods, half-cooked and twice cooked foods and mushrooms are all tamasic foods