What is the difference between a habit, a pattern, a routine, and a ritual? They exist along a spectrum of behavior, but a key distinction is that habits, patterns, and routines tend to be self-perpetuating to the point where they happen without effort or conscious choice. A ritual, on the other hand, is a ceremony with a specific intention to create or honor a special occasion.
A birthday, for example. There are a bunch of traditional ways we celebrate birthdays — with gifts, a cake, making a wish, and blowing out candles (not to mention, these days, the cascade of Facebook greetings). It can be fun and fulfilling to embrace the traditional birthday celebration. But I had a lovely experience this week with a friend who wanted to acknowledge his birthday in a different way. He asked me to co-create a ritual with him acknowledging and honoring his family heritage. He was very specific about verbalizing his intention:
“I would love to have you witness and respond to meeting and seeing the menfolk ancestors that created the lineage that I followed down onto our Earth plane and then have you meet my womenfolk and childhood in an historic way. To reflect, shed, illuminate and strengthen my ability to heal/transform. I don’t quite know what this all means, but I am compelled at the moment to acknowledge and honor the life that is past, mine and theirs. ”
I was thrilled and honored to be invited to share his birthday this way. He arrived at my house with a shopping bag of materials. I’d laid out a table covered with a colorful fabric on which to create an altar for the occasion of this ritual. He brought some gems that were meaningful to him and some aromatic wood to burn. And then we spent an hour looking at pictures of his parents, his grandparents, his great-grandparents, and some other relatives. He said their names out loud and told stories about how they were related to each other and what impact they’d had on him growing up, and he showed me some pictures I’d never seen of himself as a child. And he read aloud a beautiful poem of birthday blessings that another friend had e-mailed him just that morning. I gave him a hand-written card I’d made and a wrapped present of a music DVD that I thought he would enjoy.
It was amazingly fun. I learned a lot about my friend that I didn’t already know, and there was a sweetness and intimacy because we took the time to do something out of the ordinary, using pictures, storytelling, beautiful objects, sensory enhancements, and meditative awareness very simply to create some magic and to deepen our connection.
This is exactly the kind of experience that is at the heart of “THAT’S AMORE! — Creative Rituals for Intimacy and Connection,” the workshop for gay men that I will be conducting at Easton Mountain Retreat in upstate New York April 24-27. In the course of three days together, I will be teaching the basic skills of creating ritual space and then guiding participants through the process of devising a whole string of intentional ceremonies to explore intimacy and connection through verbal communication, physical touch, and the use of artistic imagination (involving music, writing, movement, photography, meditation, food, and the natural environment).
The workshop is the evolutionary product of my private therapy practice — offering sex and intimacy coaching to individuals and couples — and “Authentic Eros,” the workshop I taught for many years with my friend Kai Ehrhardt. It’s especially designed for the benefit of two kinds of people: partnered guys in long, loving relationships whose physical/erotic/emotional intimacy has gone somewhat dormant and wants to wake up; and single guys who really want to be in a relationship but can’t seem to get past the second date and want to discover some new ways to build intimacy and connection over time. It’s my intention for each participant to leave with not only tools for connecting more deeply with other men but also a great appreciation for yourself as a lover. The cost of the workshop is $495-695 depending on accommodations.
For more information and registration, go to: http://bit.ly/AmoreEaston.