- Sara Johnson
The Rituals that Bring us Back
I went to Ireland seeking something. A week in, a long buried cry found me.
It was the first of what would end up being two very large, very noisy, very surprising cries. These were not dainty tears, but rather very forceful sobs that seemed insistent on shouting LOOK AT ME!
As a coach I hold the metaphorical mirror up for other people all the time. Sometimes there are things at the periphery that individuals don’t want to look at straight on, and my job is to encourage courage. Other times, there is simply not awareness, and part of my job is bringing focus to what is present.
Thus, I am familiar and experienced with hidden parts that are demanding to be seen. And, I tend to think part of my work as a coach is facing myself and calling myself in, consistently and as needed, to confront my life with honesty. So, when my big, gulping sobs showed up for me in Ireland, I was surprised to be so surprised.
The first cry was at Uragh Stone Circle. The group I was traveling with had an Irish Priestess joining us for a few days, to deepen our learning and experience in sacred sites throughout County Kerry. At Uragh, one of the elders of the group asked if the Priestess, Deirdre, would consider giving a blessing to the young women in the group - aged 12 through 18. The blessing would be a nod to girlhood and all that came after, supported by a group of women in their 30s through 60s.
Deirdre instructed the older woman to make a large circle around the stones, with the five young women in the center. One at a time, she took each young woman into the center of the circle. When the girl arrived, Deirdre wrapped her tenderly in a sage green scarf. With the scarf wrapped around the girl’s head and draping gently down her back, Deirdre placed her hands lightly on the girl's shoulders and looked directly in her eyes. Then, she started to speak.
And with such great, affectionate specificity she called forth intentions, hopes, and blessings for the crossroads each girl was at. I’d been with these young girls for a week at this point, and Deirdre just a day. But in her words, it was clear she saw them and knew what spell to cast for each individual. It was a moment of a powerful elder providing exactly what was needed. It was magic and more.
It was after the first blessing, for the 18-year-old, that I realized something was growing in my body. I felt a slight tickle when the 15-year-old moved to the center of the circle. I didn’t know yet a heaving cry was building. But by Ruby, the 12-year-old, I was undone. Tears streaming down my face, mucus pouring from my nose. For a moment, I had to turn around in the circle and squat down to try to quiet my sobs, tears dropping in the grassy landscape at my feet.
After the blessing (and a lot of nose blowing), I walked through a bog littered with sheep poop, to sit on a large rock overlooking a lake. It was beautiful and I was lost in my thoughts, confused. What was that? I thought to myself. Where did that come from?
Something about seeing these young women, at different moments in girlhood, surrounded with so much love and care, unearthed some big feelings in me. I wondered what blessings I would have needed at 12, 14, 15, 16 and 18. I imagined what such a ceremony would have meant. How it could have buoyed me for what came after.
Later, I talked to some of the older women about the experience. Many remarked, in semi-embarrassed whispers, that they wished they could have received a blessing. I realized listening to the reflections, that we all felt the ways we are always at some critical milestone, always at a turning point. And, seeing the liminal space between girlhood and what comes next ritualized and acknowledged, made us desire sacred rituals for ourselves: spaces to be fully accepted for what had been, what was, and what was coming.
What rituals are we collectively craving - or beyond craving - needing on a community level?
On an individual level, my cries seemed to reveal how far away from my center I'd been, for a long time. Was it the pandemic? A series of big life changes in quick succession? An existential exhaustion with modernity, capitalism, and the systems we are supposed to survive in? All of the above?
My experience made me wonder: how many other souls are walking through the world, feeling a bit lost?
My tears at Uragh wanted to ritualize and acknowledge all we are living through right now. The collective experience - full of seemingly relentless suffering and challenge - and my personal experiences - varied and complicated.
Even though the ritual I was a part of in Ireland was rather grand (Priestess, hills, stone circle, sheep), rituals can occur on many different scales, and all are valid. Ritual can happen alone or in community. Rituals can include: writing morning pages, making a cup of tea and drinking it slowly, taking a daily walk, asking a friend to listen as you share about a big personal shift, building an altar, making a vision board from old magazines, screaming in a park, and so much more.
What if we did these things, more frequently, and with more intention? These times of pause and presence offer us so much. What if we honored our need for spaces that are a map to find our way back to whatever parts of ourselves feel lost or fragmented or broken? Ritual allows us to look at what is scary or scared, hidden or hiding. Ritual helps us hold every milestone and moment with reverence.
So here’s to crying in an Irish bog and to letting those parts of us out into the world - unearthing the shouts, sobs, laughter, dreams and more. To ritualizing the moments small and big, to finding the sacred in the everyday.
Here's to finding our way through, finding our way back to center.