Monday marks the beginning of Stoic Week. It is an opportunity to be part of an international scientific experiment to see if the ancient philosophy of Stoicism can have positive benefits for your life and make you happier. To get involved, please visit the Stoic Week webpage here. Once you have filled out their questionnaire, you’ll need to download the handbook. I’ll be taking part and will hopefully document my experiences on here, but I encourage everyone to try it too.
Stoicism is an ancient Greek pantheistic philosophy which emphasises living in harmony with nature, understanding what is and isn’t within our control and living a mindful, virtuous life. You can read an article I wrote on it here.
Herma of Zeno of Citium. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I wanted to look at the subject of Ritual. Is there any point to it? Can it bring value to our lives as Naturalistic Pantheists? Ritual is a major part of most religions, but the question is why?
I would like to suggest that there are three reasons why ritual is important, whether or not we believe in anything supernatural about it – it reminds us to stop and be aware of the world around us, it has an effect on us internally and it helps us to connect to something bigger than ourselves.
How many of us think about all the plants and animals around us when we walk down the street? How many of us eat a meal without thinking about the fact that something had to die so that we could eat and live? Many of the spiritual practices of the worlds religions have at their core, the practice of Mindfulness. They call to us to take time out, amidst the hustle and bustle of everyday life, to forget the baggage and distractions, and to stop, to be, to focus, to listen. They call us to be mindful and aware of the world around us, to be aware of other people and of nature. They put the important things in life at the centre of our attention – the sacred things, and give us the chance to focus on them.
Ritual is a powerful tool. It effects us in a way that mere intellectual thought and debate never can – it taps into our psyche in a very strong way because it allows us to experience something. Experience can have a very powerful influence on our thinking and behaviour and is a key factor in forming who we become. The ritual experience can change us at a deep level, it can help us to form and ingrain habits and to build character so that we can become the type of people we wish to be.
There is something “more” to life, there is something “bigger than ourselves”. That thing is nature, it is the universe. Through ritual we can come to realise that, to realise that there is more to life than “my ego.” Ritual helps to teach us to be humble, to be reverent and respectful and to celebrate life. It teaches us that we are just one part of a greater and awesome whole. And it can help us connect to that whole, to honour our relationship with it, in a way we couldn’t do otherwise.
So I started this blog partly to share what I was learning and record my spiritual development, but also as a way to explore possible spiritual practices.
I believe that Pantheists have a lot to learn from many different spiritual and philosophical traditions in regards to practices.
Here are a few examples of useful spiritual practices –
Journaling/ self reflection. This is a practice taken from Stoicism (a pantheist philosophy itself). The idea is to reflect daily on all that we said and did, to learn from them and to look at how we can live better, more virtuous lives the next day. It is a means of self improvement.
Meditation. This is obviously from eastern traditions like Buddhism. Buddhism teaches many different types of Meditation, including Metta (loving kindness meditation) and Breathe meditations. It can help us to better live in the present, to be calmer and more aware of the world. Science is finding fascinating things out by studying the brain of people meditating.
Tai Chi. This is a practice from Taoism. It is a very slow and easy exercise to do, but it brings with it many health benefits while simultaneously giving us the chance to meditate and be aware.
Seasonal Celebrations. This is mainly from Paganism. The eight fold year, celebrating the solar calendar of the solstices and equinoxes, the agricultural calendar (1st Feb, May, Aug, Nov) and possibly the lunar calendar. These celebrations help us to attune ourselves to the natural cycle of nature.
Walking in Nature/ Observing. This is probably more from Naturalism/ Science. This has many benefits – it connects us with nature, it provides the benefit of physical exercise. It helps us become aware of the changing world around us. It teaches us about the world.
How about you? What spiritual practices do you have? How do they benefit you?