The River Ceremony

You won’t believe what I did on a tiny island in Denmark last year…
IN FEBRUARY! In the freezing, freezing water.  ðŸ™‚

I took off my boots and put my feet in the river for a bit while the water flowed rapidly by.

It was SOOOOO FREAKING COOOOOLD. But so memorable.

I did this because a woman we met through this blog encouraged me once to do what we now call “The River Ceremony.” It involves finding a place with “living” water, putting your feet in, and speaking/focusing on the release of pain, negativity, hurt, etc. As you speak the release of things you may have been holding on to for days, weeks, or years, you let the symbol of that flowing, life-giving water take up that negative energy in its rapid current and carry it far away.

She suggested that sometimes healing can be aided by rituals that tie the spiritual process to something physical.

I quite liked the ritual of it all. It was especially meaningful to do it in a place rich with family history for the two of us (Danny and I both have ancestors from Denmark. See this post.)

I think there is some power in doing something intentional like this. We keep meaning to do this again!

How about you? Have you ever done a ritual of sorts to achieve greater healing? It would be so interesting to hear! And maybe someday you can try your own River Ceremony. 🙂 

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  1. DanandEmily February 4, 2015 at 2:09 pm - Reply

    I haven't done this in a river but now I think I need to! I like to do something similar on sunny days…I go outside and find the sunniest spot in my yard and I just mentally visualize my problems leaving my body and the happy sun rays replacing all the negativity with happy, sunny thoughts! It always leaves me feeling so much better!

    • mara February 5, 2015 at 1:41 am - Reply

      This sounds AMAZING! I didn't get a chance to try this today. But I really want to try this SOON! I love the warmth of the sun so much. And this would of course be an amazing daily ritual for any beach or poolside vacation, don't you think? 🙂

    • DanandEmily February 5, 2015 at 6:00 am - Reply

      I totally agree with you! Whenever I go on vacation it is it the very first thing I do! Then I am sure to have a happy vacay no matter what comes up!

  2. Nour February 4, 2015 at 3:38 pm - Reply

    Hi there! My first comment in your blog after so long of reading only 🙂
    What a lovely place!!
    I've never done it before and I don't have any kind of ritual (probably I should). But it's true that a lot of people have this kind of rituals, specially that connect our mind and body with nature, and they actually work! I guess it has to do with our reconnection with nature, which is each day more rare.
    I always feel super relaxed and in peace after a walk in the beach… 🙂 <3

    • mara February 5, 2015 at 1:38 am - Reply

      Hello!! Welcome 🙂 So glad you wrote. I remember the first time I left a comment somewhere and it made me feel so awkward and public.

      And I LOVE your insight about nature. One of my healers told me how important it was to stay deeply in touch with nature – to walk barefoot in soil or grass. And yes, it's powerful!! Not too long ago my nephew and I got to go on a short barefoot hike in the Cajas National Park (Andes). There was a large mossy/grassy area where shoes were not allowed. It was incredible to walk through that!!

      And, I heard a story from this spiritual friend down here and he said there's a native American tradition where the women actually return their menstrual blood to the earth each month in a ceremony of sorts – to physically stay at one with the power of the earth.He gave such a better and more powerful explanation. But I thought the ritual sounded quite amazing.

  3. Rebekah Leigh February 5, 2015 at 1:21 am - Reply

    I love this idea of healing our minds with physical rituals. Whether its exercising, learning a new instrument or this river ceremony. To quote John Green, "Pain deserves to be felt." And when we go through things that start with the pain and slowly lead to joy we learn so much about ourselves and what we need to do with personal healing. Whether it is the starting pain of sore muscles from the first run, or the cutting bite of the guitar strings on our fingers. It all leads to strength and inner confidence and beauty from starting with something negative and overcoming it.
    As someone that struggles with severe anxiety disorder I've been looking for something for me to do physically to help me with physically letting go of that anxiety. I think this river ceremony sounds like a great idea. Thank you Mara for your constantly beautiful insight.

    • mara February 5, 2015 at 1:27 am - Reply

      Rebekah – so, so happy to receive your comment and to have you as part of this community here! I think stuff like this would be really helpful for anxiety. I used to get anxiety and visualization helped me tremendously. But some sort of physical ritual I think could take it to a new level. Much love, M

  4. Kelly Rodriguez February 5, 2015 at 2:54 am - Reply

    For many years, I went to the beach early New Year's morning. I would walk along the water's edge and reflect on the past year and think about my goals for the new year. I would then put my hands in the water, much in the same way you put your feet in the river. It's cathartic…a tradition I have come to treasure, even in the frigid Massachusetts water.


    • mara February 5, 2015 at 3:06 am - Reply

      I LOVE New Year's traditions like that! So cool. I learned that here in Ecuador on New Year's Eve they burn effigies in the streets to symbolize the cleansing of the bad from the “año viejo” ("old year") before the new year commences.

  5. Denise February 5, 2015 at 3:31 am - Reply

    Hi Mara, I love rituals and there is one I have been doing for a few years. On the morning of my birthday (and difficult times), I walk a labyrinth near my house. There are guidelines for this. As you begin your walk you release the stresses you carry. When you reach the center you pray or meditate to receive clarity and peace. And as you walk out from the center, you focus on commitment to re-enter the world with a new sense of peace. There is more to this and it is very interesting. And I have another one when we go to Maine where the water is icy cold. I let the waves "beat me up" and always found that refreshing, renewing and restoring!

    • mara February 5, 2015 at 3:54 am - Reply

      Birthdays!! Such a great time to do something like this. I love it. (on a side note, I really, really need to improve my birthday situation. It's in January, right after Christmas travel and spending and gifts. And lately I just haven't been in the mood for even MORE spending & gifts two seconds later. It's just too much! I am such a minimalist! Anyway, instead of getting cranky about it I should really start a beautiful tradition of sorts to make the day special – minus more stuff. Thanks for the inspiration!

  6. Katie Elizabeth Hawkes February 7, 2015 at 10:35 am - Reply

    Last June I was in Iceland and drove out to Jokulsarlon, the glacial lagoon……and took off my shoes, rolled my leggings up and waded in. It took me 3 tries to get used to the cold, but my goal was to touch one of the floating glaciers, so I did! And my tush got wet. And then my friend waded in too. And we were cold and damp on the drive home….we seriously considered buying Icelandic souvenir underwear in a roadside shop and driving back to Vik in our patriotic skivvies. I actually wish we had! But that was one of my favorite parts of that trip. I guess I didn't know it was a ceremony at the time, but I'll let it count 🙂 I'm headed to Italy tomorrow — I'll see what flowing water I can find 🙂

  7. Delona M. February 10, 2015 at 4:29 pm - Reply

    Mara, this is so beautifully articulated. Do you mind if I print it and use it for a class I teach?

    • danny February 10, 2015 at 4:32 pm - Reply

      PLEASE DO!!! Thanks so much Delona for inspiring it in the first place!

    • Delona M. February 11, 2015 at 9:30 pm - Reply

      Thank you so much!

  8. Lynn Conley February 10, 2015 at 9:51 pm - Reply

    That's why we still have altars in the Temple, even though sacrifices are no longer performed physically in them. My mom encouraged me during a hard time to visualize leaving my pain and anxiety on it as I walked past to enter the celestial room. I've never forgotten that and try to leave something every time I go. I do love the water ritual though. There is something very healing for me to be around moving water. I can feel the loss when it's been too long since I've been seated at the water's edge listening to to trickling or waves lapping, or even crashing. Unfortunately, little waterfall desk ornaments don't quite do the trick. 😉

    • Delona M. February 11, 2015 at 9:38 pm - Reply

      I love this idea. Thank youoso much for sharing. It takes temple worship to a while new level of participation. I often do a visualization wherein I go to my sacred space and place my burdens on an alter. I then ask Jesus Christ to take them. He flies them up to the sun where they are burned up and fall down upon me as fairy dust, turning what was once a burden into a joy. This can be adjusted for each person and belief system. I love that the methods and ways to heal are as varied as the people using them.

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