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The Beauty of Ritual Theater + Events and Links for this Week
A trip into the city and ZOOM links for meditation and practices Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
I spent the weekend in the city with three 12-year old girls: my daughter and two of her friends. We went in to celebrate my daughter’s 13th birthday (which is today) with dinner and a Broadway show Saturday night, and high tea on Sunday. It was a whirlwind—a ton of fun, food, and stimulation. I was beat when we arrived back to our quiet house upstate Sunday night.
These days I’m finding that I easily overextend myself. My hypothesis is that I’m still basing my capacity on a previous paradigm. I was once tireless, inexhaustible. I’ve gotten soft living in the country where my nervous system has relaxed a great deal—I’m just not armored the way I was when I lived in the city. I’m also in the midst of yet another hormonal tsunami in my passage through perimenopause. This makes almost anything too much to handle.
The highlight of the weekend for me was the show, Hadestown. To be honest, I was dreading it. I’m not a Broadway person. But, it was her birthday and my daughter made the selection because she loves Greek mythology. The show is a retelling of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice set in apocalyptic New Orleans. You know the story? It’s the one where the idealistic young lover goes to the Underworld to rescue his beloved and succeeds…almost? Hades grants her freedom on the condition that Orpheus walk ahead of her as they leave and not look back at her even once until they are fully in the light. Just as they reach the portal to the Living World, his doubt gets the better of him—he worries that he may have been tricked—and he sneaks a peek to make sure she is still with him. She is…but, the conditions were clearly spelled out. The tragedy hits hard the moment he sees her beautiful face, confirming Hades honesty, but also realizes his doubt has sealed their fate. She is sucked back into the Underworld…Hadestown…forever.
Just a few days before, I was listening to a fantastic episode of The Emerald called “On Trauma and Vegetation Gods.” In it, the host, Joshua Schrei, talks about the origins of Greek theater and the importance of tragedy in the collective healing of trauma:
When we watch a tragedy, we know someone is going to be sacrificed. The audience follows in a state of focused rapture as the sacrifice unfolds. The chorus may warn us ahead of time of the deadly trajectory that the sacrifice victim is on, and we watch horrified as they ignore the signs and succumb to the same old patterns, and end up on the sacrificial block. There’s nothing more uncomfortable than watching that inevitable slide. “There’s that same pattern again. Are they really going to forget…again? Are we really going to forget…again?”
So, a tragedy allows us to watch from the outside as the sacrifical cycle plays out. And offers us the opportunity because we’re far enough removed—we’re linked enough to the enactment through rapture that we feel it, but we’re far enough removed that we can see it for what it is—Tragedy allows us the opportunity to shift our own patterning. This is the power of enacted ritual. It fulfills the deep-seated need for sacrificial cycles and allows, through the cathartic experience, the opportunity to transcend these cycles so we don’t go down the same rabbit hole again and again and again. Ritual, enacted theatrical ritual, re-patterns trauma.
Sitting there in the dark, two hours into a rousing build-up, I realized I was expecting a happy ending, have been conditioned to expect happy endings by Hollywood. I was already imagining taking the girls for dessert afterwards to celebrate. “Surely, they’ll change the ending,” I found myself thinking, “She can’t die after all this razzle dazzle!” But, as it dawned on me where things were headed: the same place they always head in this story. I felt dread and despair—in rapture, but at a distance—at the inevitable and familiar slide into the same old rabbit hole. I had to admit, I’d been warned by the chorus in the very first number, Road to Hell:
It’s an old song It’s an old tale from way back when It’s an old song But we’re gonna sing it again **** It’s a sad song It’s a sad tale, it’s a tragedy It’s a sad song But we sing it anyway **** It’s a love song It’s a tale of a love that never dies It’s a love song About someone who tries
Surrendering to the performance and the skillful storytelling, I let go. What else was there to do? I let the tragedy work on my tired body and weary state of mind. I quietly began to enjoy catharsis along with my fellow human beings in this ritual theatrical enactment of the need for sacrifice in life. We were participating in an old song, a sad song, a love song that has been performed for thousands of years. And it felt wonderful…like we were suspended in time. Like we were simultaneously epic and insignificant. Like we were a part of a bigger pattern of the cosmos. Like we were learning something fundamental and also in the beauty of meaninglessness. I suddenly felt so grateful.
The girls loved it, too. My daughter, who is a purist with the myths, wouldn’t have stood for a happy ending. She was impressed and I believe it was a perfect initiation for a 13th birthday: a timeless story about trying that is timeless, beautiful, and tragic. We were giddy as we hit the chilly Manhattan air and walked towards a banana cream pie.
Events this Week
Coming Home Meditation, Tuesday 9-10am
Breathwork and Tibetan Yoga*, Wednesday 9-10am
Coming Home Meditation, Thursday 12-1pm
*Tibetan Yoga & Breathwork—What is this new offering? It’s an a very light movement and breathing practice that gets us into our bodies and works the channels of the subtle nervous system to unblock and open up to more subtle awareness throughout the whole body. It’s good to have a little space to move, a yoga mat, and meditation cushion for this class. No experience necessary. The Tibetan yogas I’ll be sharing are mostly from the Nejang practices I learned in my Vajra Yoga training with Bob Thurman, Michelle Loew and Dr. Nida Chenatsang. I will also pull from the Yantra Yoga of Namkhai Norbu.
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