How to Learn the Ritual of Self-Transformation

by Noah benShea

For many of us growing up in America, spring cleaning was a ritual. And while many of us might have classified this as our mother’s ritual, no one really escaped the ritual. No one.

Once my mother decided it was time to clean up our act, the stage was set. The scrubbing began. And heaven help the slacker who dared to think he could sit on the sidelines or decline the invite to dance with a mop.

Of course, the arrival of spring was the alarm clock for this process. And when to set the alarm was a no brainer. Spring is a time when the world is reborn. Human, animal or vegetable, in spring the world gives birth to a new beginning.

Just to be clear, spring cleaning wasn’t just a light dusting. And in the human realm, it was and is as much about the interior as the exterior world. It is a time when any of us might recover from what the poet calls “the winter of our discontent” — no matter the nature of our discontent. People seek help from therapy either because they are feeling too much or not feeling at all.

Ironically, since change is the only constant, spring has sprung 24/7. We are all, at every moment, in a state of beginning anew. Whether we know this or not, and whether we pay attention to it or not, the biosphere cares not. To quote Dylan, “You don’t need a weather vane to know which way the wind is blowing.” We all know, whether we choose to admit it or not, when an ill wind is blowing in our lives.

Curiously, few of us give as much attention or honor to our own seasons, but we ought to. Witnessing our seasons is not just a looking-in-the-mirror, “Oh my God, I’m getting older” moment. Bottom line, who among us doesn’t have a few pounds or a habit we need to shed? Who among us doesn’t have some ritual that needs a scrubbing? Who among us doesn’t need to confess that we are all in recovery even if we are only recovering from who we are to who we might yet become?

The world “ritual” is born from the Latin word “ritus” and means “the proven way” of doing something. Unfortunately, a habit-driven manner of doing something can also be our undoing. And while anyone struggling with addiction inevitably has a ritual involved with drugs, alcohol, food or sex, a better ritual would be learning to pass on that ritual.

We cannot be devoid of rituals, but sanity dictates that our rituals should be enhancing. For example, quieting yourself so you can hear the truth, opening your eyes so you can see the truth, and learning what you have been ignorant of so you can know the truth can all be ritualistic first steps to personal and professional transformation. All self-transformation requires the ritual cleansing of honest self-witnessing.

Among Native Americans there is a long tradition of clearing the air by waving the smoke from burning sachets of sage in the corners of any living/working space. If this seems contradictory to clearing the air, you are right. However, the truth in life is not without contradiction, but like any good relationship, a happy marriage of contradictions. Knowing when we are wrong is as important as knowing when we are right.

Timeless wisdom teaches that the wisps of curling smoke from the sage lift what is lingering in our lives or past lives. The smoke becomes wings sweeping clear the corners of our rooms, the corners of our experience, the corners of our soul. What is holding us back and holding us down is not something we can erase. But, it is something we can invite to elevate, to transform.

The challenge in life is daring to be who we are. The opportunity in life is daring to be who we might yet become. All leaps of faith begin as small steps. To take that step that is a leap, let none of us hesitate to take a mop to ourselves. Let us dare to be self-cleansing.

Every day is a good day to be the first day of spring. Every moment is a good moment to move our inner selves and our inner clock ahead to a better time in our lives. The tick-tock in life is an invitation to honor every moment.

There is an old joke that even a calendar knows its days are numbered. My mom has passed; her lessons remain. Don’t avoid spring cleaning. Don’t avoid addressing the rituals, habits and routines that don’t address the best in you.

Greatness isn’t ahead of you; it is within you. And it is calling. Answer your calling.

A man with a broom doesn’t need dance lessons. Lift that broom; listen to spring’s music within you, listen to the music of self-cleaning. Sinatra never sang a truer note.

In every man, in every woman, in every life, there is a winter. Some of us are still buried under shadows of a bad experience. Some of us are still buried under shadows we cast over ourselves. A commitment to cleansing is the first step in a recovery from the winter of discontent in any of our lives. Make the recovery from your winter a ritual of discovery and recovery. Do it. Don’t mess with Mother Nature or avoid scrubbing your inner nature. There are no time outs in life, no sitting on the sidelines. Learn the ritual of self-transformation.

This post was inspired by the recovery philosophy of The Canyon at Peace Park, a safe haven of recovery in Malibu, California, for those suffering from co-occurring addiction and mental health conditions.

— Noah benShea

About Noah

Noah benShea is one of North America’s most respected and beloved poet-philosophers. An international bestselling author of 23 books translated into 18 languages, including the famed Jacob the Baker series, his inspirational thoughts have appeared on more than 30 million Starbucks coffee cups. His weekly columns on life were published for five years by the New York Times Regional Syndicate and nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. In addition to his many accomplishments, he serves as Philosopher In Residence for Foundations Recovery Network and is Executive Director of THE JUSTICE PROJECT.

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