(Editor's Note: This Voting Ritual was designed by Hannah Arin, an intern with The Practicing Democracy Project. It was first offered on October 12, 2018, at Pitzer College in Claremont, California. It was preceded by a Citizenship Vow Ritual. We offer a description of it here for those who would like to host a similar voting ritual in your community.)
BEFORE THE EVENT, you may want to invite speakers to talk about the importance of voting. At the event at Pitzer College, Mary Ann Brussat spoke on "Voting as a Spiritual Practice" and Hannah Arin reflected on "Our Voting Companions." Please feel free to read these pieces at your own event.
AS PEOPLE GATHER, give them each a copy of the "Voting Ritual Handout."
Leader: Welcome. As we begin our time together, I would like to acknowledge the ancestors and peoples who have occupied this sacred space before us: the ____________________ (insert names of indigenous groups and First Nations who lived in your area and those still living there) and the pioneers and immigrants who settled here. May we remember them as we make our own commitments to this land and our neighbors.
Leader: With those thoughts in mind, let’s do a voting ritual together. For this we are each going to work with our hand — the hand that we use to vote. This ritual is an adaptation of one by Linda Witte Henke in the book Marking Time.
Begin by turning your attention to the hand you use to write. Allow your mind to trace the currents of blood flowing between your brain, your heart, and your hand; feel the air which bonds your being to the space between head, heart, and hand. Breathe here, gazing at your hand for a moment or two — perhaps watching the pulse of your breath expand and contract the skin of your palm from the inside out, perhaps noticing the way the traces of your environment fit the outline of your hand like a glove. Breathe here.
MOMENT OF SILENCE
Now locate the presence of an element: perhaps water from your water bottle, the air around your legs, the fire of a candle, the ground beneath your feet. Go ahead and allow your hand to conscientiously engage with that element, touching, sensing that element as a piece of this Earth. Settle into the silence of listening, patiently waiting for life to speak, however it may. Try not to ascribe any notions of past interactions with the element onto this unique manifestation of it; allow this specific moment, with this specific aspect of creation, to express itself freely.
Consider where this element has been, perhaps in a stream in the mountains, perhaps at a campfire just down the road, perhaps in a plastic container in the back of a packing truck, perhaps in the bathtub of a newborn baby. Consider where this element is now, how it is part of an unbroken stride between there and here, a chain linking each moment to each moment, each place to each place. And now, consider just how far this element extends, its relatives expanding to the farthest horizons of this manifest Earth, this Universe. Consider how far our hands can actually reach, what they can actually touch, beyond our sight, beyond our ability to even fully conceptualize.
Keeping your element in mind, consider the ways in which this aspect of creation has interacted with those elements around you: fire boiling water, tea leaves from the land, steam rising through the air. Consider your companions beside you, equally bonded to an element which is equally bonded to your chosen element. Consider the ground you share, how it just might be far, far closer than you think, as close as your very skin and bones.
Indeed, the Earth and all its inhabitants live on in your cells as you do in your companion's. We are of the same body, fingers of the same hand.
Look now to your fingers.
Focusing first on your pinky, think of all the various people, places, lands, creatures, and elements on this planet which are underheard, underseen, underloved, under witnessed, regarded as the smallest and thus the least important despite their absolute necessity to the functioning of the whole. Know that through your hands, in your actions, and in the way in which you approach your actions, you can help to amplify their voices, build a world which loves all equally, and listens with universal openness, patience, and humility. If you feel called, commit to this part of our common hand.
Now, consider your own underheard, underappreciated aspects. Perhaps you hear a voice smaller than small, afraid to even speak up about its needs, or perhaps it bubbles up readily, silently screaming through your skin. Heed its voice. If you feel called, commit to this part of your own hand.
Look now to your ring finger and think of all your most intimate loved ones: your family members, your friends, your partners, your animal companions, your plant companions. Know that with this finger you can make the world a more loving place for them. It may come through societal structural change, or simply in the building of loving community in something as simple as what we are doing here today. If you feel called, commit to this part of our common hand.
Now, consider that part of yourself which in so many ways is one of your most intimate loved ones. Think of the world you want to build for the highest part of yourself, how deeply you want that core of your being to feel nourished, held, and at peace. If you feel called, commit to this part of your own hand.
Look now to your middle finger and think of all the bridge builders: the mediators, the pacifists, the prayerful, the teachers, the change agents. They are the ones who stand at a ledge and can see the way across, and begin to pave the way between the two seemingly separate ends. Know that you can play an instrumental role in building the bridges they walk across. You can create the designs; you can lay the bricks. Perhaps you yourself are one of these bridge builders. If you feel called, commit to this part of our common hand.
Now, consider the part of yourself which has built bridges today -— building a bridge between yourself and the elements, the ancestors, the land, its creatures, your companions. Consider how with each action you take there is a chance to build a bridge, be it between heart and action, silence and sound, hand and hand. If you feel called, commit too to this part of your own hand.
Look now to your pointer finger and think of those in the seats of power in the world, the ones who have been given the capacity to make decisions for and influence large portions of our human collective: the politicians, the business owners, the social change activists, the spiritual teachers, the writers, the artists. Know that in your very cells you are united with them. From your heart, ask, “What can I ask of these people? Care for the environment? Care for refugees? Care for the traumatized? Even if you don’t quite believe it, trust that these people can hear you when you ask from your head and heart. If you feel called, commit to this part of our common hand.
Consider the part of yourself which has the capacity to lead. Perhaps it is simply leading yourself to get up in the morning and face the trials of the day. Perhaps it is leading your loved ones into healthier spaces. Perhaps it is leading your community. Feel the immense amount of power in this finger, energy that can span the planet in a split second by way of an open heart and mind. Think of and feel how you want to touch this world. If you feel called, commit too to this part of your own hand.
Finally, look to your thumb. And here simply consider all parts of yourself — those represented by the other fingers and those parts of yourself which yet remain unnamed, unknown, perhaps waiting to be discovered, or not. Feel your vastness, your mystery; and all the while feel your immediacy.
Bringing your hand to your heart, feel yourself here and now. Know that in this moment, you are breathing alongside all of your companions, seen and unseen, human and non, inside and outside. If you feel called, commit too to this part of your hand. Commit to this part of our common hand.
And as we begin to bring this ritual to a close, if you feel comfortable. reach out to the hands near you and simply stand or sit in silence, feeling the nameless companionship which simply is between our cells — the companionship which need not be created, the companionship which simply is.
You may go ahead and release your hands. As you begin milling about and carrying on with your day, I want you to keep in mind what I mentioned at the beginning of this exercise: voting.
Consider this newfound relationship you’ve discovered between the fingers of your hand and the world. This is the hand that you will take into the voting booth. As you use this hand to mark your ballot, may your hand be a reminder of those who live on in your cells and stand alongside you. Who is there voting with you? How does it feel to act alongside your companions? Who are you voting for … and for?
Let’s take one more minute of silence to close this ritual.