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The terrain of the soul is our new frontier.

—Susan Griffin

It’s striking how, as fall moves toward winter and nature slows, we somehow move in the opposite direction. In counterpoint to natural rhythms, we return from summer vacations to school and new projects at work, and we race toward the end of the year. Rather than slowing down, we speed up. This year, with mid-term elections right around the corner, the energy seems to quicken even more. And we haven’t even reached the holiday season… 

The cultural anthropologist Angeles Arrien teaches that “change doesn’t take place in the fast lane.” We need to be in the slow lane and moving at nature’s pace for change to occur. Participating in some ritual practice, on a daily, monthly or annual basis helps us to slow down and re-connect. Whether it’s going for a run after work, doing some yoga or meditation each morning, or even dressing up for Halloween, such practices can serve as rest stops in our days and our lives by altering our patterns and creating some space for reflection, if only momentarily. 

I recently read a beautiful and tragic article which appeared earlier this month in the New York Times magazine on the changes taking place in elephant behavior in Africa and Asia. I was touched by the elaborate rituals and deep sense of place found in elephant societies and the author’s illustration of the similarities in elephant and human responses to trauma. We’ve lost many of the rituals that elephants and other species maintain by virtue of their connection to the land and to each other; and we can see many of the same disturbances in our own culture as have been profiled among elephants—including an increase in violence and mental health challenges—because of this loss and our inability to acknowledge the importance of community and care for the earth. 

Reclaiming lost rituals, or creating new ones, rather than seeing them as archaic or unimportant practices can help us as we cultivate the skills we’ll need to truly build more sustainable communities and create social change. Rituals help us enter “the terrain of the soul,” as Susan Griffin refers to it. As we mark the annual rituals of Halloween and the Dia de Los Muertos, might we see this ancient practice as having a new significance in our lives? And how might we cultivate rituals in our lives that help us connect more fully with ourselves, with others and with our place in the world?