I listen to a lot of storytelling podcasts, so I’m afraid I don’t remember where I heard the story, but someone was talking about a horribly embarrassing situation and how one young person responded: “Awkward.” The storyteller, an older man, expressed admiration for a generation for whom the major value scale is graceful versus awkward, instead of appropriate versus inappropriate or right versus wrong.*
When you are trying something new, there is often a period during which things don’t work well. Whether it is that your limbs won’t seem to do the right things while doing a new exercise or sport, or whether it is running into your partner repeatedly while trying to make dinner together for the first time, or whether it is circling with a new ritual group, there will be missed cues, confusion, and overall awkwardness. You will lack smoothness, flow, grace. And that’s normal when something is new.
When it comes to a ritual group or structure, I am wondering when to drop something that isn’t fitting in as smoothly as you might want. Right now, there a couple of places where Silver Spiral has to pause to consult each other about the order of things in our new ritual structure, such as: ground, cast, then quarters; or cast, quarters, then ground? And sometimes the grounding meditation gets skipped accidentally. As I see it, we have a choice to drop that part of our new structure, revise that part in some way to try to make it easier to remember, or push the group to memorize it. Which one we go with may demand on how much awkwardness we’re willing to tolerate, or even welcome.
There’s freedom in a ritual structure you know so well that you don’t have to continuously think about what comes next. It allows you to be present in each moment instead of second guessing your next move. It allows everyone to do their part gracefully and contribute equally. However, one of the theories about the usefulness of ritual is that it engages and focuses our conscious mind, allowing our sub-conscious to do the magic, so if the ritual is so rote that we can do it without thought, our conscious can be distracted by other things and we are no longer fully in the ritual. I have said some of the same prayer or bits of liturgy so often that I can get to the end and only then realize that I’ve said the whole thing without a bit of thought or intention.
Though we may want to cultivate the grace that comes with a familiar structure well-run, there’s also value in a bit of awkwardness. Putting moments into our ritual structure that require concentration or thought seems like it could help us not just run through it mindlessly; it prevents us from ever having it down pat. Maybe we need things to stay just a little awkward, a little challenging to remember, just to keep us fully engaged.
* ETA: I found the story again! From The Moth podcast: Pieties of Perspiration. The awkward situation was a father and son walking in on two men having sex in the steam room of their gym.