Monday, June 7, 2010

Standing on Ceremony

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.


  1. Exactly. Just this weekend I had a visitor while I was in the bathroom and that spider had my heart pounding. I talked to myself out loud, kept saying "I can do this". "I can do this." I grabbed a wash cloth and that spider was so fast but I got him. But because of my fear of spiders, my heart was pounding. I marched into the kitchen, started washing dishes. Then drying them and putting them away. I can tell I like that judge. Oh, and you too.

  2. I like this Kathy...and especially aobut ceremonies and cleansing. I think that's a powerful image. Taking something I need to do and making it a ceremony...a blessing....

  3. Learning to reframe situations has helped me so much.
    What the judge had to say reminds me of the book by Brother Lawrence The Practice of The Presence Of God.

  4. I love this. Today I made scones, lots and lots of scones. I was doing dishes off and on during my baking. I found myself to be completely happy, relaxed and at peace. It ended up being very ceremonial for me and I find with painting the house new colors, cleaning the closets, etc., it is like a cleansing of my soul. Thanks for another awesome post!

  5. There is a place in all our hearts where ritual works so wonderfully, it's that whole idea in AA of suit up, show up, shut up...ask God, let it Go and keep your side of the street clean.

    Thank you for this brilliant reminder!

  6. i usually really enjoy doing the dishes. i find it very therapeutic. unlike many of the things i "work" on, doing the dishes is a task i can complete and not worry about my mistakes. when i was in college and had a paper due or a book to read, i would feel so overwhelmed so often. but if i got up and cleaned the toilet or washed the dishes, it felt so helpful. i could get out that energy, meditate while i washed, and when done, have the satisfaction of a completed task. which usually cleared my mind and then i was able to focus on the other thing i had to do.

    thanks for this post. it's a great reminder :)

  7. Hi Kathy. Thanks for visiting me. I hope you'll come back often. I am your newest follower.

    My sister was married to an alcoholic for over 20 years and then remarried another. I have watched my two nieces really suffer. Yes, it does change the whole family unit.

    I like this post. You're right -- we have control over the way we think. Great example.

    Have a great evening!

  8. Great Post! This is a very good reminder that we can use in just about any aspect of our lives. Just because we dont like it dosent mean it has to be terrible for us. Just because Ive dreaded doing dishes by myself every night for the last heaven knows how long, dosent mean that todays dish fiasco has to be an unpleasant one. Its nice to remember its exactly what I make of it

  9. Wow. the four things it comes down to, powerful! We are on the right track I think :)

  10. howdy Kathy M,
    thanks for stopping by my blog, and for your comment!

    I like what your judge friend said,

    I don't much like doing dishes, but there was this saying I came across, about doing them.
    I don't remember it all, but this part " I thankful for these dirty dishes cause that ment we had some food to eat"

    Glad you came by! :)

  11. This post made me think about cleaning....
    Not a huge fan (smile)


  12. Great post Kathy. Have some things to ponder. Great points. Blessings to you dear.

  13. Even the smallest and least appealing things provide a lesson in humility and also hope.

  14. Very true...and I loves Syd's comment. Can't say it any better than that.