“My Great Teacher always says, do everything in moderation.” And with that, my Tai Chi instructor in Akamatsu (Red Pine) Park made it through the morning practice to light up a cigarette.
Of course, we all understood our teacher’s transition rite, knowing he was heading back to spend the rest of the day as the in-home care provider for his wife. Neverthless, the 45-minute session offered a timeless moment of quiet flowing movement in the corner of a one-block neighorhood park in Tokyo, opposite the sandbox and jungle gym, across from the empty tennis courts, in the early morning hours before the adrenaline rush of commuting to work in trains packed with “salarymen” and students.
The park, the exercise, the fleeting moment of camaraderie–all constituted a pattern of engagement, let’s call it a Community Ritual, that somehow opened each day as new adventure, that rehearsed an alertness to the smallest details, as simple as breathing in and breathing out, as well as an awareness of how a subtle adjustment to a small detail can shift the balance of the day.
There have been few, if any, such community rituals, particularly in the States.
Years ago, when I staffed the village office for the Selawik Farm Project (“Selawik Spud”) in an Alaskan Eskimo community ten miles north of the Arctic Circle, the day began with everyone in the village signing on to their citizen band radios, some offering prayers or even brief songs, most simply saying good morning. Phones, for those who had them, provided back-up for checking on missing voices. From that point forward, and througout the day, word about any significant events or needs reached folks across the village as well as the remote farmsite.
The best rituals are the simplest, the least engineered, and require little or no intellectual brainpower or contexting. Oddly enough, I’ve started to experience FaceBook updates, or even better, the brief messages of Twitter (“tweets”), as movements toward recovering this “ritual” dimension, in the sense of individuals declaring their presence to an emerging community and affirming a basic connectedness and accessibility.
Yeah, there’s goofy stuff a lot of the time, but consider: generations of jealously protected privacy and individualism have created a civic environment in which many are literally invisible, unheard, and at the extreme, lost or irrelevant to the public consiousness.
So this is the promise of a new generation of rituals: making the invisible, visible, recovering voices that had been lost, and enabling the most private and solitary among us to re-engage in the enterprise of creating community.