Earlier this year, I wrote a story about the chief judge of one of the Native tribes in Arizona. He is a remarkable man, a graduate of Stanford and Harvard, and the first in his tribe to have graduated from law school. From the bench, he gained a unique perspective of the tribe’s problems.
He told me that 99.9 percent of the crimes he passed judgment on were the result of alcohol, either directly or indirectly.
"We’re a nation of adult children of alcoholics," he said.
This judge was very interested in Native traditions, especially ceremonies, and developed a court system that would incorporate those elements.
But what stuck with me at a practical level was what he had to say about ceremony. At Stanford, he taught a course on the subject which, he says, basically comes down to four things:
1. Purifying and cleansing
2. Putting things in order
3. Remembering and reconnecting
4. Prayer and meditation
In his class, he encouraged people to create their own ceremony using these elements. He told them not to overthink it. To keep it simple.
Wash the dishes, he said as an example. Then put them away.
When you wash the dishes, you are cleansing and purifying. When you put them away, you are putting things in order, restoring them to their proper place.
A program friend recently lamented that her job mostly consisted of cleaning. She was grateful to have any kind of job, of course, but this didn’t feel very satisfying.
I told her the story about my judge friend and his view of ceremony. I said it had helped me to reframe the way I think about things I need to do.
When I’m doing the dishes and feeling resentful about it, I think of the judge. I remind myself that I can think about it as doing a dirty job I'd rather not do. Or I can think of it as ceremony.
If I think of washing the dishes as ceremony, it changes the way I feel about my task, instantly. It transforms the ordinary into something sacred.
I’m powerless over many of the things I have to do in my life. But I can change the way I think about them. That’s the one thing that's within my power, always.