(Editor's Note: This reflection was written by Hannah Arin, an intern with The Practicing Democracy Project. It was first offered on October 12, 2018, at Pitzer College in Claremont, California, preceding a Voting Ritual. Please feel free to read it at your own event.)
As we gather here today to partake in the time-honored practice of ritual, I want to offer you all an idea to think about. This idea, while not necessarily directly about voting, speaks to the practice of democracy in a more subtle, yet all the while important way. I trust this will become illumined further as we go through the process of ritual together, but for now, I invite you to simply entertain the curiosity of what all this might have to do with voting.
I’d like to talk about companionship: the practice of unwaveringly holding space for the growth and actualization of those we’re given the chance to live, breath, walk, and love alongside. Consider the idea that the companions in our lives, perhaps the people standing alongside you even now, are rituals unto themselves. Just as we return again and again to the familiarity, the comfort, and ultimately the transformation of ritual to give us solace from the seeming chaos of our world, again and again we return to our companions, looking for that glimmer of knowing which lies behind the eyes of any loyal friend, a knowing which says, “Fear not! As you are, you are home.”
Our companions are the keepers of our common ritual ties to this Earth. No matter how far we might stray from our highest paths and the holy places of our hearts, no matter how long we may run from the intimacy of returning again and again to that one unavoidable truth that we are always being held, no matter the walls and dams we might erect around ourselves, or have erected around us unwarranted, our companions, if they are good companions, will seek us out. They will tear down those walls again and again, returning to the common ground beneath both sides of any blockade, reminding us of the power of ritual.
And what, I believe, makes our companions an especially powerful part of rituals, is that our companions are just as familiar as they are foreign, as comforting as they are challenging, as known as they are unknown. For the return is steady, the loyalty, unmoving, but the form the ritual takes is as vast and varied as each passing moment of this life.
Companionship, it seems, is actually all around. The air we breathe is our companion, filling us, letting us in on the secret we too often forget: that we are wanted here and now as we are: pain stricken or entranced in love. The smile of a stranger, the rush of wind, the cramp of a muscle, the sting of a broken heart, the still of a fresh death, the roar of a first kiss, all singing to us, over and over, “with me, with me, with me,” reminding us, as any good companion does, to return again and again to the ritual at hand. To be present with our most constant companion … that ceaseless, endless, unknowable presence of life itself.
You may be thinking, as I do all too often, “Well that’s all well and good, but when oppressive systems are in place, when life as it is is killing our people, raping our lands, and destroying the fabric of life itself, I don’t necessarily feel all too called to surrender to what is.” In other words, “I see no companion in sight.”
When we are caught in a stream of thought that feels like raging rapids -- thinking to ourselves things like, “If no one else wants to do anything, I’ll do it all by myself!” or “I haven’t the means to actually make a difference…” — we forget our companions … that they are there for us and us for them. We forget that perhaps it’s our turn to tear walls down and return ceaselessly to a place of open hands, — for our friends, our loved ones, perhaps the strangers we know not, and to life itself. What if all this chaos and unrest is truly just a call from our most loyal companion calling out to us, “I need you to come to me this time”?
I think of a conversation I read in the book Weaving The Dream, between Pomo Dreamer, Basket Weaver, and Medicine Woman Mabel McKay and her companion, writer Greg Sarris. The conversation starts with Mabel looking out over a dried September hill in Northern California, and just as her ancestors did, giving voice to the prophecies entrusted through her people, the words slipping from her mouth, “Everything’s going to burn… That’s what I see now… ‘Everything’s going to go dry,’ Spirit said. ‘No water going to be anywhere.’ ”
Greg Sarris fumbles for an answer to it all, well aware of the fulfilled prophecies which came before this woman through her people. He asks, “What can we do? How do we live?” Mabel laughs, and begins mocking Greg, of course in that loving sort of way only Greg himself can fully give voice to. Nonetheless, Greg persists, “No seriously… If the world’s going to dry up and burn, what do we do?” It was then Mabel turned to Greg, “took a moment to make sure she had [his] attention, then… answered plainly, ‘You live the best way you know how, what else?’
We are born into a world of ceaseless giving. We are always given experiences, given moments upon moments, But so often we fall into a state of passive receptivity, failing to witness the grandeur of the existence of any moment, failing to remember that life itself is constantly giving itself to us. We forget and we fear we are alone …
The next time you find yourself feeling that way — as if there is no ground, no familiarity, no ritual — the next time you find yourself mulling over what you can or can’t do, I ask that you take a moment to turn to your hands.
Open your palms and outstretch your limbs to life. Open to that place of humble, patient surrender, echoing the lullaby of life’s soft murmur, “with me, with me, with me.” Return to the ritual of life, of walking alongside the most mysterious, loyal companion this world has to offer. And there in that moment, remember: Together with life, be it person, plant, place, or even your own hands, a gift unto themselves, you are never walking alone. And as you feel more and more held by this unwavering support system see if you can’t continue, as Mabel says, to live the best way you know how.