Re-Learning Ceremony

By Sophia Young

At Embercombe we have a long standing practice of holding blessings for the collective meals we share. During my time as kitchen manager over the last two years, it’s always been a meaningful way to come together and offer gratitude for that which we are about to eat and fundamentally, to honour the many layers of journey it’s taken to enable us to receive a delicious plate of food ~ from the seeds, seasons and elements, to the worms and funghi that feed the soil, the early morning planters, harvesters and delivery drivers, and of course, the beautiful hands and hearts that weave their alchemy and magic on our very own stove.

This moment, to gather in simple communion and acknowledge our relationship in the ginormous ecology, before ‘diving in’, is for me, a huge part of nutrition in itself and there came a time last summer, on re-opening after the first lockdown and whilst implementing our newly devised Covid policy, that we were hesitant in the how to facilitate such a simple act. Previously we stood in circle, hands held and whomever felt moved to bring words would do so. However, we were figuring out what was deemed safe to be in connection again, so for a while, sadly we forwent the blessing.

It wasn’t until a month or so later, when Embercombe’s ‘grandfather’, the wonderful Joey Bear, graced the land for a week during The Journey and, in sitting down with him and my team to chat about the ways and woes of Life, I found myself with tears streaming down my cheeks. Without realising, I was carrying grief at the loss of something precious in holding our hearth and, as Joey so often does, he proffered sage advice; If you can’t do a blessing with the participants, then all you need to do is whomever is cooking that day, to simply hold it with whomever might be in the Dining Yurt. Possibly yourself and one other. Possibly just one soul alone. It doesn’t need frills, big words and to be plentiful with people. Simply hold a moment of pause, reverence and express your thanks.

And so we did. Small, though intentional moments, to offer a heartfelt nod to the bounty that Earth provides. Small moments to send thoughts to hungry tummies that are without opportunity to share a bowl of food. And, as the weeks and months passed, our blessings began to find new form again. From two of us, to twenty spaced two metres apart, we created our way to practice. And, as Joey’s words would have it, they lingered and I continued to digest what he had shared and began to learn, or perhaps un-learn, more intimately about the nature of ceremony. I had poised it in my mind somewhere alongside large affairs, formal affairs, sober and diligent ones and it began to dawn on me, it was time to tear up the rule books I had long imagined and, should I chose, hold spontaneous ceremonies on my tod if desired. No judiciary scribing a hefty format required. No official qualifications or waiting for the hour to begin. Just an open heart and attunement to the moment.

I have been eschewing ‘ceremony’ ever since and old attachments to what I understood the shape of them have shifted and transformed. I’m discovering qualities in their essence and underbelly and appreciating more keenly, how inherently dynamic and alive they are. I use them lightly and creatively, to dialogue and engage with the world around, to explore the threads that connect and bring new curiosity into daily life. And with this, something occurred to me on Christmas Day, during a gorgeous, deeply rain-sodden, “wake-up sleepy soul” walk with my kids along the River Dart. What if we are participants of a ceremony, far larger and more magnificent than we can ever possibly imagine? One that is eternally unfolding, eternally becoming, unbeknownst to our tiny worlds. How daybreak and nightfall are ceremony in themselves. How every Winter, Spring, Summer and Autumn are keystones of this ceremony. How the turning of each year is and the weather one of the ways it speaks.

How the rise and fall of your navel is part of this ceremony. How the eye contact you made with your mother, daughter, friend this morning is part of the ceremony. The smile you gave on the bus. The laughter with your lover. The tears you shed. The birdsong. The swell of the ocean and gushing river breaking its banks. The wind on your skin, cold in the breeze, the snails on the path and mud underfoot. The crackle of the fire. The pulsing in your blood. What if, there was ever only this beatific ceremony? And those moments we stopped to ‘make’ ceremony, were simply specks in the tremendous and immense, vibrating cacophony of ceremony way beyond human command? What if every second, from one to the next, just as the flow of each wave, is the ceremony perpetually unfurling and revealing itself? What if your life and my life and your death and my death, are all but part of a glorious ceremony of Earth and the universes and the galaxies never-ending becoming? And what if, within this untethered wildness and musicality, our purpose is simply to bear the lightness of a wonder as vast and joyous as this with our gratitude?

In the heady and turbulent times we inhabit, it’s easy to oxygenate the inherited belief of the world ending. And it’s easy to forget, since way back yonder, this notion has carried a dominant presence within psyche and our mythologies. But could such majestic ceremony, one far bigger, informative and generous than we might possibly dream, ever really stop? Perhaps with no real clue at all, it’s wise company to court the tide it bestows and bless the nourishment it brings to each soul in its wake. Thank you Joey for sharing your stories, counsel and humility and most importantly, for being YOU.