Why Ritual?

Sometimes we have very rational explanations for our actions which later turn out to be dubious. The human mind likes to believe it is taking a particular action because it is right or justifiable or natural or smart. We have the ability to think up strategies for gaining advantage. We can manipulate our environment. But we also seem to have the ability to get "stuck" in "mind-sets" and to repeat strategies which have worked before but which no longer are very effective.

Occasionally I get a student who has a strong reason for wanting to study gongfu or qigong who sticks with it for a few months or a year and then forgets why they are studying. Perhaps that is because their relationship to movement and body image has changed and they simply don't have the same problems they used to have.

Sometimes that forgetful student who used to have strong motivations will quit practicing for a time until they come up with a new reason for studying. Then they will start the cycle over again, eventually they forget why they came to practice and they quit again.

There are hundreds of great, mediocre, and rather weak reasons for practicing gongfu or qigong. Just because you are able to remember your "strong" reason for practicing doesn't make it true. In actuality our reasons for practicing are changing continuously. From era to era, from year to year, from day to day, from hour to hour.

The ability to use reason effectively means understanding both how easily it can change within a complex or dynamic context and how easily we can fall prey to dogma or a mind-set or a "strong reason."

Ritual; whether it is doing a gongfu practice everyday, or performing a Daoist ceremony on a particular day of the calendar, is done regardless of the immediate reasons one may have or not have. Ritual is action taken with out consistent meaning. Ritual practice itself is not a defense against dogma; however, the practice of ritual has the capacity to reveal the way or mind seeks to lock on to a particular way of perceiving our world.

For heaven's sake, ritual is not a discarding of reason. It is a good thing we use reason to manipulate our environments for pleasure and power. But reason is a form of aggression which itself can cloud our vision. Ritual has the capacity to re-pose the question: How important is reason?

If you don't practice ritual from this point of view, you will occasionally have a crisis of meaning.