Our new ritual seemed so benign at first, as if we had been performing it our whole lives and were only now aware of it. It was a simple gesture: stretching out the fingers of both hands, feeling the energy extend from our fingertips. The movement was small, yet it made oceans ebb and flow in our beings. We used the gesture before eating, and since we ate with others, we quickly discovered everybody else was now performing this ritual too. We wondered why it made us feel so good, but not enough to look for the answer.

Soon the hand stretching didn’t seem to be enough. We added a circular motion, as if rubbing a tabletop. Still later we added arm movements, reaching towards the sky, the earth, and all around. We added a twisting hand gesture to pull stamina into our souls. It gave us such serenity that we dealt with our everyday lives with a calm and fortitude we’d never known.

Ritual grew into a bigger part of our lives. We slowed our walk to a majestic march. Moving slowly allowed us to observe more, which felt important to us now. The curve of the sky, the pattern in the alignment of buildings, the colors of the water. This is mindfulness, we told ourselves. We’re living in the Now.

Soon the ritual moved beyond gesture, demanding beauty. We added flowers, clothing, foodstuffs, paintings, choreography. We searched for unusual sensations: dipping our hands into vats of flax was like liquid sunshine to our souls.

The rituals brought some of us closer together. We shared a common need, and bonded over the satiation of that need. But some of us insisted the rituals were being performed wrong. They tried to train the rest of us in how to accomplish them correctly.

We agreed to disagree, and split into different groups. We left our families and joined like-ritual folks. We would do our rituals the way we knew was right. They were welcome to ruin their lives any way they wanted.

Our individual rituals morphed into group rituals that we couldn’t do without one another. These became so long and elaborate we didn’t have time for all our work. We missed meals. Somehow, we still got by.

By the time we understood that ritual was consuming us, we had immersed ourselves in it so that we had become it. We could no more shed it than we could our skin.

Finally, our rituals conflicted severely with those of others. We needed quiet for ours, they made noise during theirs. We needed a type of flower that grew on land they owned. We performed our rituals at different times of day than they did. Their rituals blasphemed ours. This led, inevitably, to war. Many wars. But the wars were necessary and noble.

Our children carried on the rituals. But our children’s children rebelled, refusing to be enslaved to them. We took them aside, and explained ritual’s importance, walked through it with them, step by step. But nothing we said or did made them feel as we felt.

There was nothing for us to do but continue gesturing, walking gracefully, and fighting our noble wars, knowing that the rituals would end when we did.

As for the wars, whether they continued or not was of no importance. What mattered was the ritual. It’s all that ever mattered.

 

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