Sunday, July 10, 2011

Sundance and The Loss of Ritual in Western Culture

Our marriage ceremony in the Sundance arbor

This week, my household is packing up and getting ready for our family trip to the woods for a Lakota Sundance. It is a week long camping adventure my husband and I have been doing, apart or together, for about a decade. It is an important part of the year for us, perhaps the most important.

I always leave the Sundance feeling reconnected again- reconnected to myself, my family, to others, to nature, as well as to that "great mystery" out there. It has become like our yearly "tune up".

There are many native american tribes through out Canada and the USA that still surround the cottonwood tree for a Sundance, usually done around the time of the summer solstice. There is an intense preparation time to get ready for the ceremony, then it is a time of purification, prayer, healing and renewal for the participants.  

It is a bit weird, I will say, to participate so deeply in something (to the point of being married) that is so outside of  my own culture. I was brought up, and still identify with "western culture." I will never exchange my culture for the native american one, but I seek to learn from their ways and honor it as much as a full-blood Westerner can. 

I have tremendous respect for the ways traditional people create opportunities to mark the seasons. I am fascinated by their use of ritual and ceremony. I have always felt the loss of the absence of this in Western culture. 

Recently, I had the privileged of listening to a talk on the summer solstice by Storytime Yoga founder, Sydney Solis. In this talk she hit it home to me about the significance of ritual and the importance of celebrating the seasons. I have transcribed and edited her talk below:

Traditional peoples mark [the summer solstice] as a time of renewal. Western culture just keeps marching on like the past has happened, and marching on towards the future. But there is a eternal return, a continual cycle, and to mark it with ritual, such as with summer solstice time, creates a very powerful psychological shift.

In western culture we consume ideas. We do a lot of thinking and watching, but when you physically get out there and participate, when you move your body and dance and honor the life, when you eat together, then this conscious act becomes so powerful.

Traditional peoples would say, if you do not do a ritual, if you do not participate, then things go away. We see in our modern society extinction of animals, depletion of resources, depression, suicide. We have kind of of lost our way. Not to revert to old ways, but to find new ways to bring it into our current lives. We live in a sophisticated society that never going to be the old ways. 

It is essential for humans to have connection and meaning in their lives. We are to identify ourselves with that mysterious force that moves in cycles, and we are to move in harmony with those cycles.  Myths and rituals guide us to that inner world and depth of our being.

Old times, there was a season for everything, cycles, festivals for everything. Everything had a rhythm, and everyone participated and had a role. But our culture has alienated itself. We don't directly participate with nature, and therefore we are alienated from ourselves.

Our modern society has less nature and more technology. There is a mechanical loss of humanity, or soul. 

[During the summer solstice time] focus on slowing down and enjoy life. Focus on the simplicity and beauty of nature to awaken inside.

Because everything that is on the outside level is within you as well. When we really connect to things, we begin to influence it. We live in harmony with it. And it becomes what we want it to become. We influence the outside. 

Our dreams influence things, our positive thoughts influence. So does your joy and celebration when you honor things. You effect change.

About Sydney Solis:

It was after settling down with married life and raising two children that Sydney Solis discovered her love of storytelling in 2000. Since then, Sydney has been spreading the joy and wisdom of yoga and story with classes, performances, trainings and workshops internationally. She taught a Children's Yoga Teacher Training at the Omega Institute, and hosts a Kids' Yoga Camp at the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health. From her children's show on PBS to The National Association for the Education of Young Children to the Estes Park Yoga Journal Conference, Sydney enchants audiences of all ages with Storytime Yoga™.

Sydney has more than 375 hours of training in the Anusara tradition. She completed a 200-hour Anusara training with her teacher Bhakti and Level I teacher training with Anusara founder John Friend. She studied yoga therapy with senior Anusara teachers Jeanie Manchester and Anthony Bogart, Ashtanga yoga with Richard Freeman, and Yoga Nidra with SreeDevi Bringi.

Check out Sydney's site,, to learn more about how you can find her award winning book: Storytime Yoga: Teaching Yoga to Children through Story, or subscribe to the Little Lotus Storytime Yoga Kids Club.

1 comment:

  1. I'm glad to have seen this photo and come across your writing and Sydney.