New awakenings

Can new rituals wake up and re-direct lost souls?
By Hanne Caspersen

In the post-modern world most of us are de-traditionalized. We have lost our religion: witness the empty churches in Western Europe. We have lost the traditional ways of lending meaning to moments of change and transition. The way we mark important moments in our lives has become mostly shallow and commercial. The way companies mark important moments is mostly informative, filled with figures about growth and achievements. It fails to touch us, it doesn’t stay with us.

Even the way we collect memorable moments has become ephemeral and immaterial; our pictures are merely snapshots, we share them with the world instantaneously, but hardly ever look back at them (well, OK Facebook has recently introduced the function to share memories, but does it suck?) and do we ever save them for eternity by printing and framing them?

Living in the ‘now’

But the need for meaning, significance and spiritual fulfillment is still there inside us.In many ways we are searching for ways of filling the void. We practice yoga, mindfulness and meditation like never before. Deepak Chopra and Eckhart Tolle are immensely popular, with 2.6 million and 500.000 followers respectively on Twitter and making big business out of our crippled spiritual health. This need seems only to increase as our world becomes more and more digital and connected. Being permanently switched on and in constant conversation is draining. It fragments our attention span and ability to concentrate. –Some even say it destroys our ability to think a thought.

The antidote to high-tech is high touch says John Naisbitt, a famous futurist. We respond to permanent connection by digitally detoxing ourselves, slowing down and reflecting on things, with crafting and creativity. The maker movement has a huge following; people spend more time than is economically justifiable on making and creating stuff that could easily be bought. And they hack away to make stuff that can do things just because it’s fun. More and more people are discontinuing their career to enterprise into their passion, which perhaps used to be their hobby. Having worked in Mergers & Acquisitions for a big company, someone now chooses to work for a sustainable bank. A manager is now running a business in sustainable wood and furniture making. People choose to live in ‘the now.’

Millenials want unique experiences

What’s more? There is a new generation joining adulthood, the ‘millennials’, and they have different expectations of life and work. A 2015 survey by AON Hewitt found that 30% of millennials said ‘fun’ was in most need of improvement in their current office. If today’s employers and cities want to retain millenials in their workforce and population they have got to offer them experiences. These experiences need to be fun and entertaining. The celebration of annual financial successes or organizational change will need to be marked by unique events with a creative touch to keep millenials contented. Similarly cities will have to connect with the sub-cultural creative elite to come up with unique and memorable family events that connect people.

New forms of spirituality

In the afterlife too there is a need for new meaning and rituals. In 2008 Nadine Jarvis started to design death and new rituals for the post mortem. One of her most famous pieces is the turning of a lost one’s ashes into pencils. ‘From an average body of ash 240 pencils can be made. That’s a lifetime supply of pencils for those left behind. Each pencil is foil stamped with the name of the deceased. Only one pencil may be removed at a time, it is then sharpened back into the box causing the sharpenings to occupy the space of the used pencils. Over time the pencil box fills with sharpenings – a new ash, transforming the box into an urn. The window acts as a timeline, showing you the amount of pencils left as time goes by.’ Nadine’s work is provocative. It challenges us to think about death and the afterlife in new ways. She designs rituals that trespass on existing notions and morals.

‘The antidote to high-tech is high touch’

New forms of business and education are being created to fulfill the new spiritual need. The Monument started educating Ritual-companions in 2003 and there are now 500 of these people filling the void that the church has left behind, accompanying the terminally ill, infusing funerals with rituals in remembrance of the deceased and even marking the transition to adulthood. (de Volkskrant, November 2, 2014)

So in a way we are lost souls in need, with our spiritual anchor gone. We are searching for meaning. We need to find new ways to reflect on important moments and change. We look for lasting memorabilia to capture moments and thoughts so that we can keep them with us. Most of all we need someone to help us invent new forms of spirituality that will work for our lives as we live them today. The world needs more modern alchemists and shamans to help us find meaning, to create meaning; to create memorable moments and symbolic meaning.

Can you design a memory? Can you catch a dream? Can you distill an emotion? Yes! You can accomplish the seemingly impossible; create new meaning out of the mundane and materialize the ephemeral. It’s magic.

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