August 11, 2015

Ritual at the Crossroads

DSC00679“A ritual would help,” I said to my friend Pat.

“I’d love that,” she said. “I’ll think about it. I want to be near water.”

I’d just arrived at Pat’s home. She and I met in 1970 and follow similar spiritual paths. In time, after moving far away, Pat found herself working in the technology world. She personally values relationships with her team and sometimes finds those values at odds with corporate goals. Her team was being diminished and she couldn’t envision who was deciding what or whose job was on the line. She felt agitated and powerless, worried about her team and herself.

DSC00680Pat considered her ritual while we visited Tahoe National Forest. We spent time talking about it on the spacious porch of her new home. She lives near a river, and that seemed the logical place, but we were busy with friends and her family. It never felt like the right time.

I clung to the idea, knowing how easy it is to forget our soul needs.

On Friday, Pat drove me to my son Anthony’s home in San Francisco. She planned to stay a few days to attend the book reading and ritual of remembrance I would lead Saturday.

DSC00696-001“Let’s do your ritual today,” I suggested Sunday morning.

“Maybe,” Pat said. “I’d like to go to Point Reyes, but it’s too far and too much traffic.”

“Let’s go to Pacifica Beach,” Anthony said. “It’s half an hour drive.”

We piled into Anthony’s car and drove south. Pat brought corn kernels for abundance but little else. We trusted the beach would offer what we needed. As we walked toward an empty area far from the parking lot, the surf pounded and the wind tangled our hair. Pacifica isn’t a swimming beach, so it wasn’t crowded. It isn’t a beach with shells or driftwood, but we found seaweed, feathers, and severed crab legs

DSC00711Pat arranged seaweed and pebbles. She added a crab leg to symbolize release from grasping. Gull fathers marked this crossroad in her life.

“There are small pieces of jade here,” Anthony said.

We dropped to the sand and began collecting tiny green stones. We noticed other distinct colors—red, white, and black—so we collected and sorted by color. Pat was Psyche sorting seeds from the First Labor in the Eros and Psyche myth. Anthony and I were the ants who help Psyche with her impossible task. We often need to sort, eliminate, and organize when life transitions create chaos.

“Thank you for the green of Gaia, for life and growth that supports me,” Pat whispered. She placed a small pile of green stones on the altar.

DSC00708“Red for the red drop in Tibetan Buddhism, the divine feminine and my ability to support feminine values in myself and others.” She made a small pile of red stones while Anthony and I witnessed.

“White for the white drop in Tibetan Buddhism, the divine masculine, for potential for a more conscious relationship with inner and outer masculine forces,” Pat said as she placed the white stones.

“Black for the mystery, for accepting what I can’t control. Black for the opportunity found in chaos and the unknown.”

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We paused in silence, our attention focused on the altar with our backs to the ocean and wind.

“It will all be washed out to sea at high tide,” Pat said as she buried what she’d created.

“I see whales,” Anthony shouted. The three of us turned to face the sea.

“There’s one,” I yelled when I saw a spout.

“Another,” Pat yelled, her finger pointing. Spouts. Breaching dark bellies. Slapping tails. The whales felt like a blessing for Pat and her transition. Powerful hidden beings rising from the great unconscious sea, keepers of the memories of the Earth according to Native American mythology.

We stood to honor them, the way you might stand if the Dalai Lama entered the room.

DSC00714Suddenly, Pat ran toward the ocean, holding a handful of corn she hadn’t buried. In one graceful swoop, she flung her seed corn toward the waves with a prayer for the whales to carry it into the deep.


Have you created a personal ritual with someone? What was your experience? Pat helped me remember the details of her ritual for this piece. I’m grateful for her help and the help of Ellen Schmidt, my writing teacher, who commented on an earlier draft. After discussing our experiences, Pat sent this email message: “The ritual happened at a critical time. It helped me separate fear and anxiety from what was ‘real.’ It helped me be present in my job in a way that was much more objective. And! The icing on the cake was being open to new possibilities.” That’s the beauty and power of ritual.

For other posts about creating ritual, see A Personal Grief Ritual of Remembrance and Release or Three Lessons about Loss from my TEDx Talk.


  1. May 13, 2019 at 2:28 pm



    With your sharing you struck a chord for your readers – and for me. Even though I’ve facilitated creative personal rituals for participants of my workshops and for clients during more than two decades, I so far felt unable to design a ritual of my own in relation to my father’s death last year, a father who rejected just about every of my life choices.
    The time is approaching. I do after all know the healing potential of personal rituals. Giving honour to memories, good or bad, and trusting they were lessons, is deeply meaningful. So thank you for reminding me with this poignant story.

    1. May 14, 2019 at 8:15 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      Thanks for your encouraging comment. I’m sorry about your relationship with your father, Ashen. Those wounds never heal and are hard to approach. It was challenging for me to create a meaningful ritual to mark my mother-in-law’s death because of our rocky history, so I used her Catholic symbols and prayers, especially Hail Mary. It felt inadequate, but as my son and I drove home, we saw a large red-tailed hawk sitting on a fence beside the road. We turned around, went back, and got out of the car. My son walked just a few feet from it while the hawk glared at us with a penetrating stare that said don’t come closer. It wasn’t about to budge–a lot like my mother-in-law. Eventually we left and it was still there. Nature gave us the most memorable symbol. That was true of this ritual with my friend at the ocean, too. We had no idea what we would do, but it developed and then the whales showed up. Wishing you a healing ritual.

  2. August 22, 2015 at 10:48 pm



    It must have been lovely to experience this with your dear friend and son. I don’t think the presence of the whales was coincidental. Surely a sign of good things to come for Pat during this time of transition. Thank you for sharing a beautiful moment with us.

    1. August 23, 2015 at 8:32 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      Ann, it was a magical moment, one of those times of synchronicity when the ritual did not cause the whales to come and the whales did not cause us to create a ritual, but the two came together in an acausal way to create a meaningful, mystical moment. Pat’s still working on this big experience. I sound like Vic, but he schooled me in this topic and his first book was about synchronicity.

  3. August 14, 2015 at 12:48 pm

    Robin Botie


    How wonderful, to be able to help create a ritual for someone else. I can’t imagine being able to do this for anyone other than my family. But I’m inspired by this article so I’ll be looking for an opportunity. There’s a lot to consider in this. And yet, there are the elements of chance, trust, and intuitive adventure that should not be overlooked.

    1. August 15, 2015 at 8:20 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      It isn’t hard, Robin. My major role in this was to hang on to the idea like a bulldog. Ritual helps me, so I assume it will help others. If a friend or group is willing to experiment, I’m willing to help set things up and witness or take part. There are no right ways to do this. No rules. So, yes to “chance, trust, and intuitive adventure.”

  4. August 14, 2015 at 12:17 pm



    I am heartened to discover that ritual can be created for workplace transition. So many of us work in situations that are not ideal, where stress and toxicity dominate the experience, and a sense of powerlessness drains one’s personal energy and capacity to contribute. The way you described Pat – “She personally values relationships with her team and sometimes finds those values at odds with corporate goals. Her team was being diminished and she couldn’t envision who was deciding what or whose job was on the line. She felt agitated and powerless, worried about her team and herself” – gives me hope somehow, just to know such individuals are out there, doing their best to provide ethical, competent, compassionate leadership. My hat goes off to you both.

    1. August 15, 2015 at 8:16 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      Personal ritual can be created for any situation–happy, difficult, grateful, angry, lost. I bow to you and Pat who manage to spread a little goodness into those worlds.

      I had a powerful dream with you as the only other adult character. Conscious me doesn’t know what you look like, but my dream had an image of you as a writer walking beside me, a seven-year-old girl and a three-year-old boy in the country. And then the black truck came from behind… I will post it soon, maybe this week. Have to find good photos. This seven-year-old girl showed up for the second time and again lets me know I can trust her.

      “I’ll let you be in my dreams if I can be in yours…” Bob Dylan said that.

  5. August 13, 2015 at 4:18 pm

    Shirley Hershey Showalter


    I grew up within a religious community that suspected ritual. The few we had were meant to solidify the group faithfulness to God and to reject the world.

    Yet I read stories such as Girl of the Limberlost in which women could connect with nature and draw strength from other living creatures.

    As I’ve aged, I have come to love ritual when done thoughtfully and with enough openness that “whales” can burst through from the unconscious to the conscious level.

    Oh what a thrill that is!

    And how well you told this story of planning and not planning, of ritual and celebration.

    1. August 14, 2015 at 10:07 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      Hi Shirley,
      I grew up in a home with no religious or spiritual ritual. My dad’s funeral done by a stranger was meaningless and upsetting.
      I often use the term “personal ritual” because I want to distinguish it from a religious or institutional ritual. We can choose the images and symbols that are important to us. Our hospice is so good at this. Marion Woodman was, too. I first learned how much I needed ritual in the mid 1970s. I’d been meditating for a few years and visited a Ramakrishna ashram near Boston where the guru was a woman, Gayitra Devi. The day was filled with small and large rituals and I loved it.
      I did another ritual in CA with a more introverted friend (I only write about rituals with permission) who brought a bag of the things she needed for her ritual. It was lovely, too. Whatever the individual desires.

      The whales were a bonus, a validation, a visitation.

  6. August 12, 2015 at 9:28 am

    Susan Scott


    This is so lovely Elaine, thank you for sharing it with us. What a powerful ritual with loved people and the whales coming by! That would have sealed it for me and would have been the icing on the cake, adding further confirmation of the beautiful rituals that went before …I would have whooped for joy!

    1. August 12, 2015 at 11:00 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      Yup, the whales sealed it for Pat and all of us. And yes we whooped for joy. First this great silence while watching for whales. Then Pat’s throw. And then the wild whooping. Thanks for reading and commenting, Susan. No whales where I am, but I saw the first large black Swallowtail Butterfly of the season and, even better, one lonely Monarch. Where there is one, I hope there will be more. Almost as exciting as whales.

      1. August 12, 2015 at 1:01 pm

        Susan Scott


        I can imagine yr excitement at the blue monarch! I was hoping to see whales in Plettenberg Bay last week when we were there, but it was a bit early. But O! that’s my best thing in the world to see them! Your photo was extraordinary!

        1. August 12, 2015 at 1:34 pm

          Elaine Mansfield


          It was a google image as I put in the caption, Susan. I didn’t get any photos of the whales. I wish I had. I snapped, but they were gone. I snapped again. Too late. And a little too distant.

    2. August 12, 2015 at 12:56 pm

      Pat Rockwell


      Susan, I think I actually did whoop! and clapped! and jumped! The whale visitation was absolutely moving – and a deep validation.

      1. August 12, 2015 at 1:31 pm

        Elaine Mansfield


        You whooped and jumped, Pat. So did I, but you were already running toward the ocean, off on your own ritual adventure. Would Pat dive into those wild cold waves? I wasn’t sure. Instead of throwing your body in the water, you threw the corn. Whale blessings for all of us.

  7. August 12, 2015 at 1:28 am

    Marian Beaman


    It’s lovely to see the growing relationship between you and Pat and also with son Anthony. I don’t imagine you see him often living so far away in San Francisco , a city I enjoy visiting.

    Thank you for educating me on color imagery as part of your soul-nurturing ritual.

    1. August 12, 2015 at 8:26 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      Thanks Marian. That’s Pat’s color wheel, closely associated with her Tibetan Buddhist practice. I’m not a Buddhist, but have many friends who are. I hope we all get to create our own meaningful color wheels.
      Pat and I have been close since 1970. She lived just a few miles away for many years and our families spent lots of time together. There’s nothing like those old deep relationships. I see Anthony three or four times a year. He’ll be here in October this year and again at Christmas when we’ll celebrate Vic’s mother’s 100th birthday.

      1. August 12, 2015 at 1:42 pm

        Marian Beaman



  8. August 11, 2015 at 8:28 pm

    Jean Raffa


    Such an exquisite example of the value of personally meaningful rituals and how to create them. Thank you for this, Elaine. Iknow many will find it very helpful. Jeanie

    1. August 12, 2015 at 8:22 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      Thank you, Jeanie. The whales were spectacular. We found out later that the unprecedented warming of the ocean is driving krill closer to the CA coast, so that’s why the whales were there–and all sorts of other critters coming to dine. And now I see there’s a west coast die-off of krill. Sigh…

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