ERP 246: How to Deepen Your Connection Through the Power of Ritual, an Interview with William Ayot [Transcript]

How to Deepen Your Connection Through the Power of Ritual - An Interview with William AyotReturn To Show Notes

Hi, thank you for joining today’s podcast episode. Today’s episode is 246, “How to deepen your connection through the power of ritual”, an interview with William Ayot.

Before we get started, I just wanna take a moment and center with you, perhaps taking a deep breath in, and a deep breath out… And just reminding us of the intention of coming to these conversations, in that we are growing ourselves and growing our relationship, as we contemplate skills, principles, practices, to improve the moves we make, how we approach our interactions in couplehood, so that we are co-creating lasting, long-term intimacy that is fulfilling, authentic, rewarding, secure, happy, and passionate, and all of the other things that perhaps you’re wanting to cultivate in your partnership, and that I’m hoping that you feel better-prepared, more well-equipped in navigating the landscape of relationship with these conversations on the Empowered Relationship podcast.

If you want access to today’s show notes, you can visit DrJessicaHiggins.com and you can click on Podcast there in the top navigation bar, and you will find all of the episodes. Again, today’s episode is 246, “How to deepen your connection through the power of ritual”, an interview with William Ayot.

If you are interested in deepening in your practice with these principles, you can access more resources on this website. Again, DrJessicaHiggins.com. You can click on Courses and there you’ll find some coursework to work with on a self-paced level, and really getting that guidance to go deeper.

If you’re interested in getting my personal support through the way of coaching, you can go to the tab in the top navigation bar titled Work With Me and there you’ll find how to perhaps sign up for a free strategy session… But I wanna bring your attention to a very specific invitation. I only have a couple spots… And these are for people that are individuals looking to manage perhaps fears, or insecurities that come up, helping regulate emotions, getting to the underlying fears that emerge, what’s going on underneath; getting support to express and communicate more openly and authentically in your life, in your relationships. Being able to articulate your needs, state requests instead of perhaps using criticism, and really cultivating an experience where you feel heard, and feeling that trust in partnership, and ultimately feeling more secure.

If this calls to you, speaks to you, resonates with you, I wanna encourage you to go to that Work With Me. If you scroll down just beneath Strategy Session, you’ll see Group Coaching. If you click on Group Coaching, more will expand, a toggle, and there’s an opportunity to engage in a group. This is at a much more affordable rate than getting my direct one-on-one support. Honestly, I have a waitlist at this time, so this is a really great opportunity to get onto my schedule and get the support that you’re looking for, and also have that group experience. Because in a group experience it’s a beautiful place to be able to learn from other people, get feedback that helps us feel validated, that we’re not alone… And really seeing these principles being practiced, and really working in a supportive environment.

I’m limiting the group to six, and there’s already a couple of people that have signed up… So I wanna encourage you to check that out. This starts in January, so if you’re interested, I would hop onto that. If you want to sign up for this, I wanna encourage you to perhaps even email me, and we can decide if it feels like a good fit. We’ll schedule a really quick call, probably a 20-minute call, to discern if this feels like the right opportunity.

Again, you can find this at DrJessicaHiggins.com, and that would be under the Work With Me page, and just scrolling down and finding Group Coaching, clicking there, and then you’ll have all the information, as well as a link to sign up.

Okay, let’s get started in today’s interview.

 

Dr. Jessica Higgins: William Ayot is an award-winning poet, author, teacher and ritualist. Over three decades, he has worked in personal development and organizational settings, using poetry and the arts to teach around the world. William creates rituals for individuals and groups in his purpose-built ritual garden in Monmouthshire, Wales. He has published four collections of poetry, a prose book on ritual, and is currently writing a book for and about men in a time of epochal change.

William, thank you for joining us today.

William Ayot: It’s great to be with you.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: Yes, and I love being able to collaborate with people across the globe, and having different voices. I love your background and how you’re showing up for people, in the different ways that you do. For people that are just getting to know you today, on this show, how did you get into supporting people, whether or not it’s looking at shame, men’s work, your poetry, ritual work…? I know this could be the whole show, but specifically as it relates to relationship… How did that come about for you?

William Ayot: I come from a clinically interesting background, as they say… And by the age of 30 I was in a bit of a state. I was severely depressed, I was isolating, I was seeking relationship and finding no joy whatsoever… And I fell into a hole; there’s no two ways about it. And the way I got out of the hole was by doing ritual work, but also by doing men’s work and discovering the world of personal development, if you like… But discovering it in a very particular way. That was through working in ritual spaces.

I came across a group of shamans, different medicine teachers – some would call them witch doctors – but they were technicians of the sacred, as we might  call them. And they used ritual in a very particular way. I was fascinated. And it began to help me in my personal process.

I was working with one particular shaman, and he gave me a very particular ritual, an atonement to the feminine, which hadn’t occurred to me, but was very necessary. I did the ritual, and within two weeks I was in a relationship, and I’ve been in that relationship to this day. That was maybe 25 years ago. It showed me that my life could change.

At that point I started realizing that rituals could be useful for other people, but also that they could be useful in communities, and particularly also for couples. My wife is a sex and relationship therapist, and the conversations we were having – I began to see that, of course, the ritual  work is wholly applicable to the troubles that people find themselves in relationship. And from that point, I’ve found myself working both for groups, individuals, but also for couples as well. So that’s how I got into it, really.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: I love the language; I can hear the poetic description in how you’re articulating this, and the power of what can be accessed in ritual. And when you’re talking about ritual, what is it that you do in helping people understand as a ritualist what that is, and what we’re talking about?

William Ayot: Very simply, I design, facilitate, and lead rituals. Now, some people might call them ceremonies; I make a distinction between ceremony and ritual, in the sense that I think of ceremony as honoring the status quo, honoring what is, and ritual is there to change something. So if there’s something wrong in a relationship, I will design a ritual to help in that sense.

If people are not talking to each other, for instance, or if something is not getting said or done, I will design and create a ritual… I happen to have a ritual garden here, in Wales, where I live, and people are welcome to come there… But also, I can, in a sense, prescribe a ritual, so that people can do it remotely wherever they are… And it helps that way to know people’s personal spirituality, their sense of whether they are secular  or spiritual, their sense of what they might need in  terms of the interface between the individual and the sacred world.

Now, this all sounds rather grand and [unintelligible 00:10:45.01] but in actual fact, it’s whatever anyone has acquired that’s sensibly other in the course of their life. Some people are strictly religious. Other people have a sense of something else out there… And I wouldn’t want to work against either of those sensibilities. Does that make sense?

Dr. Jessica Higgins: Mm-hm.

William Ayot: So you’re folding in that to really meet people where they are most present, and most connected to the world. And at that point, then you can do rituals of change, you can create rituals that in a sense are initiatory; they take you into the next round of your life. So there’s a before and an after.

Rituals are strange, in the sense that it’s a unique way for a human being to give a message to their psyche or their soul. Now, as a poet, I would use the world soul; as a practitioner, you would use the word psyche, perhaps. But they’re one and the same thing. But the interesting thing is that the soul doesn’t deal in data. It doesn’t do numbers. It deals in pictures, and images. So a ritual is a way of creating images that send a direct message to the soul.

I have a wedding ring on my finger. When I put that on my finger, that sent my soul a very profound message – if I were to take that off, that would also be giving my soul  a very profound message, because that’s the language of the soul. It deals in symbols. And that’s how rituals are most effective.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: William, it sounds as though as you’re talking, and the way that I’m feeling what you’re saying, is that this can be such a useful, critical part of our intention setting and our co-creating, not only in relationship, but in our life… And that there’s a sacred space to be able to — I mean, you’re talking about this threshold of giving our soul information, and through visual imagery… I’m listening to you and I’m like “Oh my goodness, so if we’re not connected –” Because the way I’m feeling you — I keep backing up further, as I have like ten thoughts in my head… But this is almost very innate in us; there’s a very natural connection to this, and that perhaps we’ve gotten somewhat disconnected from that ability or that process of ritual…

William Ayot: Absolutely.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: Okay… So what happens if we’re not doing ritual, we’re not creating this sacred space, we’re not communicating with our soul through visual, through ritual?

William Ayot: I think we are cutting off from a deep and profound part of ourselves that we need to experience, we need to exercise, and we need to keep alive. I live here in Southeast Wales, and about three miles up the road there are caves where people were doing rituals that we know of, 40,000 years ago. Now, that’s a long way in human history, but in the last 250-350 years we have moved away from regular ritual; we have periodic ceremony. If we’re lucky enough to have a faith, we go to church; those of us who don’t, we can live a secular life in which we have very, very little deep ritual in our lives.

Now, we know this is a part of human history, and we know in fact ritual predates human life; there are well-reported cases of chimpanzees performing ritual in the face of thunderstorms, for example, in Africa… Of the alpha male  charging up and down in space, brandishing a stick, and waving it to the sky as the thunder rolls, and throwing it away, followed by every other consecutive male in the sequence, the women holding the children and intently watching. So we know that community has been exercising ritual for millennia. The fact that we’ve lost it because of the, shall we call it the industrialization, or the “civilization” of our culture, we can get to a place where we are cutting off a great deal, and we’re also cutting off the imagination, which is the other thing, of course.

So to work with ritual means to bring the imagination live, to work with ritual means to create situations where we can feel in real harmony with the world around us… And that could only be a good as far as I can see, in terms of mental health, but also in terms of our general well-being.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: And also relationship, having a shared experience that is speaking to our soul, as you’re saying, our psyche, that’s creating more of a collective.

William Ayot: Yes. If we were to use a very simple image of a couple sitting on the beach, watching a sunset – you just move away from that, into adding in the notion that they’re in contact with nature, they are having a deep experience together, and they are probably and very possibly healing something. Things that are unspoken may not even need to be said or being affirmed. So as in a wedding, we would  have vows, we would have statements that are made, so in a moment of ritual we can have a profound experience… As ever as profound as sitting and watching a sunset together; an intimate experience. At that point, we are adding to the  sum total of our lives, and also, we are giving our partner a profound gift by sharing that intimacy in the moment.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: And William, I can’t help but feel some grief as we’re talking about our current state in the pandemic, and all the different things and stressors that people are up against… And how as you’re talking, and more of the industrial society, or how inundated we are with social media, or perhaps external sources of pressure, and also interest, be it work, or whatever it is that we’re engaged with, that take us outside of ourselves – a lot of that has been getting stripped away, and then we’re left with some sense of ourselves, and perhaps some angst, or some things that we haven’t been paying attention to, but also just maybe disconnect.

What you’re speaking to – I wonder, is there anything that you might encourage people, as we’re in the holiday season in a year of a pandemic, and perhaps people who don’t have ritual, or don’t have access to this sacred space in nature…

William Ayot: I think there are certain things we can do, and certain things traditionally we always have done at the darkening of the year, at the midpoint of the year, the darkest point of the year, in the Northern Hemisphere, at least… And we have always, in those times, carried with us a degree of remembrance. A new year begins, but also an old year dies. So we’ve had a year unlike any other in our lives; some of us have experienced catastrophe, some of us have experienced extraordinary stress, both in and out of our relationships… That means we can give ourselves a moment of pause, and a moment of reflection for what we have lost, as well as what we need to give thanks for.

It’s very easy to get into an onwards and upwards positive view of these things, which is where it’s all about the new year and looking forward. I believe that what we’ve been going through in this last year is we’ve been going through situations that have called for profound grief, that we have not been able to express.

So we’ve had situations where we’ve not been able to go to funerals. I know of innumerable people who have not been able to go to the funerals they feel they would want to go to. Now, that engenders a couple of things. One is a sense of unexpressed grief, but secondly, a sense of shame at not having been with somebody, of not having supported them at some crucial moment, whether that be the person who has passed on, or the people who were left behind.

So we have a sense of lack, and rituals, of course, are very good at addressing and healing those kind of rifts of that kind of lack. So perhaps at this time of year we could think in terms of making a ritual for the benefit of those people who have lost someone, or actually addressing what needs to be said to the person who is gone.

In a very gentle and a very real way, we can tie up the loose threads, the things that we were unable to say, particularly with Covid. I know of people who the nearest they’ve got to a very dear relative is between two sheets of glass; they’ve not been able to touch them, they’ve not been able to hold them, they’ve not been able to make that kind of contact. And then, of course, it’s too late thereafter.

So in a ritual space, we can make that kind of contact. We can light some candles, we can make a small offering, we can bring something that means something to both us and the other person; we can give something on those lines.

Alternatively, we can nearly hold them in mind, to name it out loud. And speaking out  loud is very important on these occasions… But to speak the  name out loud and to hold the person in mind. And at that point, we’ve done something that people have always done in this time of year, and that is to hold an empty chair. Do you know what I mean? There’s the moment at a feast where sometimes we can hold an empty chair for those who are not with us. That’s the kind of thing that I’m talking about. It’s about remembrance. And I’m not talking about a deep, psychotherapeutic process; what I’m talking about is a process of naming and honoring… Because sometimes we can feel as if we’ve lost some strange honor, some respect, some dignity in the messiness of this last year. And that’s a thing that ritual can definitely give us.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: So it sounds like not only with the time of the year, but also the year that we’ve all had, and whatever degree of loss that we might have experienced, and people not being able to go to a graduation, or…

William Ayot: Absolutely.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: …different losses, and that there can be a space of remembrance and holding and speaking into what hasn’t been felt or hasn’t been expressed.

William Ayot: Yes.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: Okay. Go ahead.

William Ayot: And sometimes, that can come about within a relationship, where things have not been said. Either we’ve been separated, or we’ve got under the pressure of the moment, under the pressure of the day, we’ve kind of — you know what it’s like when you feel just slightly out of kilter with your partner? When things are just not jelling? Well, sometimes we can give ourselves a little ritual in which we pause everything. There’s a lovely West-African ritual from the DeGuara people of Burkina Faso… They will take a couple and they will sit them on the floor, back to back, so they’re touching, but they’re not confronting each other, they’re not facing each other. Does that make sense?

Dr. Jessica Higgins: Yes.

William Ayot: And at that point, they’re invited to say whatever needs to be said. Now, if you’ve been through nine months – very nearly a year – of this kind of disjunct… We’ve all been dashing off to deal with this, or running away to deal with that, or setting up Zoom for this, or setting up online stuff for that… It’s all been a little bit crazy, and things have been forgotten, things have been overlooked. Little resentments are built up… Well, here’s an opportunity for a couple to sit back to back, to keep deep breathing, to have that sense of physical contact which implies love, and be able to say what they need to say.

With men this is really difficult sometimes, because many men can go from 0  to 60 in three seconds and it’s all over. And it’s a wonderful thing for men to be able to sit there in calm, and listen to what is being said, but also to speak what is being said… Because if you stand in front of a man, sometimes – very often – you’re inviting a confrontation.

But with a man it’s very different when you sit next to him or back to back. That can be a healing moment in a difficult time. That’s the kind of thing that I’m talking about. And, of course, we can surround that with candles, we can make cushions, we can beautify the area; we can formalize it, or we can keep it really simple… But just open up the ritual, say what needs to be said, and then close the ritual down. Closing a ritual down is every bit as important as opening a ritual up.

I believe in the notion of spilling energy and leaving it behind. We’ve all been in strange buildings that have a funny feeling in them, and I believe that’s to do with a highly expressed emotion that’s not been safely contained and held down. So that’s the idea – in closing a ritual down we tidy up the energy. We leave the place clean for future use.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: And you do you have an example of how that might be done?

William Ayot: Cleaning up the energy?

Dr. Jessica Higgins: Yes.

William Ayot: Yeah. Sometimes we can literally wash our hands. We can have a bowl, and we can wash our hands. Sometimes we can do sort of like a reverse-invocation. At the beginning of rituals we sometimes can invoke – based on any individual’s spirituality, but we can invoke/call in the interest and the energy of the other, whatever the other may be. In closing down, we give thanks. We give thanks for paying attention, we give thanks for the people who are with us, we give thanks to the other person, if it’s a two-handed ritual. But we give thanks, we name what is good, we name what we see that has been done, and we say “Thanks very much, and now we’re going to close this ritual down.”

It’s a bit like in therapeutic terms we have a respect for the hour, we have a respect for time. In ritual terms, it’s about having a respect for the moment and closing it down so that we can reopen it again when we reconvene.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: Right. It’s like an acknowledgment of what’s been released, or what’s been named, and allowing that and perhaps taking the nuggets of learning or what we wanna still keep with us, or perhaps stuff that’s still in process…

William Ayot: Absolutely, yes. And that’s the problem – in a ritual space, if we do not close it down… And I have to say, I’ve worked with lots of vaguely new-agey groups, and they’ve not closed down the ritual properly. Because let’s be honest about it, a ritual is very, very exciting, at  a deep level. We’re getting fed at a very deep level. And because of that, you wanna keep it going for as long as possible. So you don’t close it down. What that  means is the energy bleeds away, and you can have sort of like a strange — at its worst, we can get stuck and locked in liminal space. It’s a bit like being in sort of a fuzzy world, where our imagination is kind of — it’s a bit like fantasy world. And at that stage, we are trapped in liminal space. And what we need to do is we need to do some kind of ritual to say “Right, I’m gonna close this down now. I’m gonna go off and have a hamburger, drive the car, do all the things that I need to do in the world.” That’s the difference.

A ritual takes place in liminal space; we’re talking about a threshold. We cross the threshold, and we need to cross back. If we don’t knowingly cross back, we kind of get stuck in that vaguely juicy, vaguely exciting area.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: Right. Okay, so I wanna switch gears, because this feels really important. You’re giving us such great examples and elements of what’s involved in a ritual, and I’m recognizing, for people that might be very new to this in the sense of how they’re living their life currently, they might have had some experience in their life, or been witness to, or known some levels of ritual and the power of that… But as a practice that they initiate, I’m just wondering if you can break this down around some essential pieces.

You’re talking about the threshold… Because even as you’re talking, William, I’m like… When I enter into — or if I’ve led, which I have, a ritual, there’s a creating the space; there’s the intention, there’s the (as you’re saying) the invocation, there’s the really aligning with what we’re doing, and the intention and the purpose. And for couples, this can be a little awkward. They can feel very like we’re fabricating something, or there’s nothing — I think this is the beauty of having someone lead it,  or create the space and facilitate it; you can just drop in and lean into, obviously, if you have that trust and rapport with that leader or that guide. But when a couple is contemplating being able to do this, currently, even given our limitations of Covid and the pandemic, we can’t go to physical locations like we’ve known in the past.

So can you walk people through — because the other  thing I was gonna say is there’s a deep… When you’re speaking and I’m thinking of ritual, it’s like it drops me into my heart; like, I’m not in my intellect and trying to analyze, or control… And there’s something very different that comes from me when I’m in my heart and in my body. Could you give some people a little bit more nuts and bolts are if they’re gonna engage in this on their own level? Give some guidance.

William Ayot: Yes. Let’s think of this in terms of ritual hygiene. So how do we conduct rituals safely, and to their best effect? How do we keep the energy clean, and at the same time get a result, have an outcome that we want?

I think what we can do is we can look pretty simply at five basic stages, if you like, of any ritual. Now, we like to think of the three basic stages, which are a beginning, a middle and an end… Because a ritual  is a bit like a story, or a play, or a piece of art. It has a beginning, a middle and an end. But there are some other things as well that I’d like to fold in.

As we are beginning to design a ritual, that’s really what we’re talking about here – a safe and well-organized ritual – we need to think in terms of “What is the purpose of that ritual?” So the first aspect of a ritual is literally purpose and planning. And that means you need to declare an intention. People can say “Well, let’s have a ritual”, and kind of go off and do things, and [unintelligible 00:31:54.04] But unless they really know what they’re going for, it’s just opening up the space for no real purpose.

So it’s always good to sit down, either on your own or with whoever you’re ritualizing with, and to get really clear about what you want. Is it that you want to draw a little bit closer after an estrangement? Is it that you want to reaffirm your vows towards one another? Is it that you want to perhaps honor a lost child? Whatever the purpose is, you need to be really clear about it, and not mix it up with other things. It’s very easy to kind of turn up with a shopping bag for your rituals, if you know what I mean.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: Yeah. [laughs]

William Ayot: It’s like, “We’ll have a little bit of this, a little bit of that… And oh yeah, why don’t I have one of those, too? Yeah, I’ll have one of those off the top shelf.” No. You need to be really clear about what you want. And at that point, you can then move on to the second part, which is the second stage of a ritual, which is the preparation and logistics.

What is it you need to do before you open your ritual? You know what you want now, so you’re getting a sense of where you’re gonna hold it, and what you’re going to do… So this is where the planning moves into a more practical period. And this is where we engage our creativity. It’s an opportunity in doing a ritual to make things and to prepare spaces. I have to say, I’ve seen the most beautiful objects made; I’ve seen some of the most beautiful spaces created. Because people really love to create ritual space, and they also love to make ritual objects. So there’s a real opportunity there.

For instance, you might want to — if it’s a ritual about saying something that needs to be said, you might want to write that down on a little scroll. You might want to put it together as an artifact that you can then unroll and speak. So it’s like creating a prop in a theater piece. Alternatively, you might want to think in terms of the candles you’re going to need. Maybe you want some music. Those sorts of things. So that’s what I mean about the preparation and the logistics. We need to get these things right, because there’s nothing worse than creating the ritual space, opening the ritual up, and then thinking “Oh, I haven’t got that book with the poem in. You know the one I was going to read?” That breaks the energy again. The energy bleeds out of the container again.

So you need to be well-prepared beforehand… And when you have everything ready, then you can open the ritual. That’s an interesting thing. You create the space, and you speak out loud, literally opening the ritual. In a way, what you’re doing is you’re doing exactly what a bird does every dawn, and that is to say [bird sound 00:34:55.29] “I’m here.” That’s what you’re doing, to the other, to whatever else is out there. You’re declaring the space open.

At that point, for you and your partner, for you and the community that you might be holding the thing for, you are beginning to make what we call an invocation. Now, in a religious context, there’s always a chanting, or a song, or a [unintelligible 00:35:19.23] a welcome, and that’s really what you’re doing. In ritual space, you are creating an invocation and you are inviting all interested parties into that space and welcoming them.

Now, people will do that by naming what they see around them. If you’re out in nature, it’s a lovely thing to do – to welcome the oak tree that you see, or the grass, or the bushes, or the river, or whatever it is, to name the birds that you can see and hear; to name the animals that may be denizens of that area. All these sorts of things.

That is bringing you into a direct contact with the world around you. Am I making sense here?

Dr. Jessica Higgins: Mm-hm.

William Ayot: So once you’ve done that, you’ve opened the space. You’ve created this liminal space. It’s kind of magical. But that’s what you’ve done – you’ve created a different space to your everyday world. Now, you could actually choose to do this on a dining table in your apartment. You’ve just put a new cloth on, you create that space, and you have declared the space, and then named it by opening it. And  you can open a space by simply doing something as simple as actually lighting a candle. That’s now ritual space.

At that moment you’re into the heart of your ritual, and that is where you have the action or the expression. This is where you really wanna be clear about your intention, because you might want to say — okay, let’s cut to the chase. Someone has died. We didn’t get to say what we wanted to say… And here’s an opportunity to say it.

So we can take out the scroll that we wrote things on, we can name all the good things that we are missing, we can actually get to speak directly. Because you can speak to the candle, you can speak to the open space, but  you’re speaking to the departed, in that sense. And at that moment you are expressing and carrying out the ritual aspect.

I would suggest that that’s a  golden opportunity to make a gift. In the old days we would call it a sacrifice. A little something that you can give eventually to nature, but it’s a gift to the person who’s departed.

In historical terms, thousands of years ago, hundreds of years ago, we would give something by breaking it. So if you have a cup, you break it, because the belief in the indigenous cultures, the belief in the ancient tribal cultures was that for a thing to be useful in the other world, it has to be broken in this world. So that’s very often why in ancient cultures where we go to these extraordinary places where rituals have been carried out for years, we find all these strange, broken things. It’s easy to think of it as sort of like a junk shop, or a dumping ground. That’s not the case at all. They were deliberately broken so that they could be given to the other world. So that’s the kind of thing that we can do in those sorts of spaces.

Lastly, we can hold hands, we can make contact, we can grieve, we can laugh, sing, so whatever it is that we want to do and that we need to do, and that we feel safe to do in the moment. And that’s quite important – it needs to be safe.  And at that point, we’re really in the world of ritual.

And what tends to happen in those spaces is that you can’t make a mistake. You can’t get it wrong. As one old teacher of mine used to say, “You just reinvented a new style.”

Dr. Jessica Higgins: [laughs] Yeah.

William Ayot: You can’t get it wrong, because you are in your deepest imaginings, you are in your deepest connected state. And you’re speaking your truth at that moment.

So when you’ve done that, you will know it. You will feel the energy change around, you will feel things change, and at that point you want to be thinking in terms of closing and grounding. They’re two different things. The one is to do what I’ve said before, which is to say “Thank you very much indeed.” To thank the oak tree, and the grass, and the animals and the birds. To thank whatever that may be in your particular spirituality or religion. To make those calls.

And the next thing is to physically close the ground down. At your kitchen table, at your dining room table, whatever that may be, you fold up the cloth and you say “Thank you very much indeed”, and you fold that away. You blow the candle out, you fold down the cloth, you empty the glass of water, whatever it is that you’ve done – you gather all those things up and you put them away.

Then you need to do something else, and that is to do that with yourself. You’re gonna be very open at this point. We are all literally very open in those kinds of spaces. I’ve had some extraordinarily opening rituals in which I just felt almost like a child. And of course, you don’t wanna be going out into the wide world in that incredibly open state. So you close down the ritual, and in doing so, you begin to quietly close the door on your immediate vulnerability. Is that making sense?

Dr. Jessica Higgins: Mm-hm.

William Ayot: So what you’re doing is you’re preparing yourself to meet the wide world. Now, different people do different things. Some people go and wash their face in cold water, or they perhaps might even anoint themselves with a kind of oil that prepares them for the world. They may do a host of different things. They might literally bow to the four corners and say “Thank you.” They might just then clap their hands as a way of saying “That was the ritual. Now we’re going out into the wide world.”

So you’ve made the separation between the ritual space, in which magical things happen, and the mundane world in which we all live. And actually, that’s a pretty healthy thing to do.

One of the other things you can do is to eat a meal. That’s one of the reasons I believe for so many feasts which tend to happen at the end of rituals. It’s because it’s a grounding process. You have a healthy meal, or a couple of beers and a burger… Whatever it is that you choose to do – that helps you get into the daily round of eating, drinking and doing what we need to do.

If you like, that’s the start to finish of any ritual. And I would suggest that practically any ritual is gonna fit into that kind of rubric of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: Yes. Thank you, William. I think that’s so helpful for people to have the frame and some guidance… It’s such a gift. And I have one more question before we start closing down… When we’re talking about gender, there’s some stereotypes that women might be a little more inclined, and moved, and inspired by what you’re describing, and that men have a deep, rich capacity for this, but the entry point might feel a little different, or the inclination might seem a little different…

I just wonder, in partnership, for a couple that might be interested in this, is there anything that helps create that safety, that a woman might be able to access a little bit more, and a man might  have a different way of approaching this?

William Ayot: I think men have as deep a capacity for ritual as women…

Dr. Jessica Higgins: I do, too.

William Ayot: …without any shadow of a doubt.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: I agree.

William Ayot: What they tend to have is a sense of — in the beginning, a sense of slight discomfort around looking silly, around looking foolish, around doing something that might risk them being laughed at. So if we’re working together, and if I’m leading a ritual for a group, I will always make a point of keeping in full contact with everyone. And that’s a thing we can all do – by just reminding people they’re doing a good thing, thanking them for being there, and honoring their part in things.

I think one of the great things that we’re losing in our culture is a sense of honor and respect. We’re not respecting each other in the way we used to, we’re not as civil as we used to be, but we’re also – because of that – feeling disrespected very easily. So in a ritual space, you really want to make – men and women; this is true of women too, but men in the first instance, as you were talking about it – them feel welcome and to make them feel an important part of a ritual. The way we can often do that is to give them a task, to give them a job. “George, I’d like you to hold the candle. George, when this happens, I’d like you to do that.” So that George can naturally enter into that instinctive place that is deep within us, that I was talking about has come down to us from the chimpanzees (it goes that far back), where we really deeply know and understand that something happens in a ritual. I don’t know whether you’ve ever been in rituals with children, but kids instinctively know what to do in a ritual.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: Yeah… [laughs]

William Ayot: We think “Oh my God, they’re gonna cause all sorts of trouble” – no, they don’t. They know exactly when to be absolutely serious. And the only other people who are more serious are the old folk. And they will just say “Get out of my way, I know exactly what I’m doing here.” And they fall into it very naturally. So what we need to do is to allow those who are not used to ritual to step into it. And of course, the truth is we’re all going to have people who feel a deep antipathy towards ritual because of various kinds of experience in their past, that ranges — everything from intense boredom on a Sunday, through to spiritual abuse at the other end.

So we need to be wary around other people’s reactions, and in that sense, what we can do is we can say “Look, this is a ritual. It is not a religious act.” There’s a distinction, once again… So that we can help people to come into something on the basis of giving their soul a message; on the basis of doing some good in the world. And on that level, very few people fail to respond to that.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: Yes, I agree. Thank you for that. That’s super-helpful. Now, William, how do people get in touch with what you’re doing, what you’re offering, and your books? I’m gonna make sure to have all the links on today’s show notes, but… I’d love to have people hear from you.

William Ayot: I have a website, nice and simple, williamayot.com. And I’m available when I’m available. I do public work, I run men’s groups, and I’m running online talks. Inevitably, at present nearly everything is online. But also, historically, I’ve been working in my ritual garden here in Wales… But I can also create online work in sort of a prescriptive — a way of helping people to create their own rituals. So I can be engaged and I can be contacted through that.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: Lovely.

William Ayot: And there are books and other things out there, too.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: Is there any book that you wanna mention today?

William Ayot: Yeah. There’s one book, which is Re-enchanting the Forest, given your conversation… It’s Re-enchanting the Forest: Meaningful Ritual in a Secular World. And it follows my journey of healing through ritual, but also gives some really useful pointers on how to hold a ritual, how to use ritual to enrich our lives. And I think that those are different aspects slightly. One is we want to resolve, we want to change something. That’s good. But there’s also something where a ritual is an art form. And as an art form, it enriches our lives, and I think that’s worth bearing in mind, too. So that’s all in the book,  Re-enchanting the Forest.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: Beautiful. And you’re a poet, as well… Would you like to close us out with one of your poems that may fit with what we’ve shared…?

William Ayot: Yeah, okay. Let me have a look… We were talking about men, which I think is very interesting… Here we go. This is not specifically a men’s poem, but it was written for me, who sometimes find it a little bit harder to open up and to allow. So here we go. And that’s a sweeping generalization. I allow myself more because I’m a poet.

The poem is called “It turns and softly speaks.”

Night after night the empty road, the home-light diminishing then vanishing as you travel out into the world again, hungry for a love that you can never allow.

If only you could pause for a moment, look down at your feet and not at the horizon, you might spot the small grey pebble of love, lying discarded where you flung it as a child.

What was the hurt that made you a loner? How did the wondrous gift become a wound? You’re alone. You’re still giving, but you’re giving from an exhausted place. Listen to the call of love: admit, accept, receive.”

There we are…

Dr. Jessica Higgins: Wow, such gifts on so many levels, William. Thank you, thank you so much for what you do in the world and how you help guide people in their healing, and for helping us today.

William Ayot: Yeah, thank you, Jessica. I’ve really enjoyed your company, and I have a great respect for the work that you’re doing by delivering these podcasts and putting it out in the world. I’ve enjoyed myself immensely. Thank you very much, indeed.

 

I hope you have enjoyed today’s interview, again, with William Ayot. Again, if you would like access to today’s show  notes, you can visit DrJessicaHiggins.com. There you’ll find podcasts in the top navigation bar, and again, you’ll find today’s episode, 246, “How to deepen your connection through the power of ritual”, an interview with William Ayot. And William has given me permission to publish his poem that he shared with us today. It’s already published, it’s in a book, but for your easy reference, it will be on today’s show notes. So you can find that poem, as well as other links mentioned. And just to remind you, again, if you’re interested in getting group coaching, I wanna encourage you to check that out on the Work With Me page.

Until next time, I hope you take great care.

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