Chapter 5

Opening Ritual and Actions

Many who come will have been rushing about in order to get ready, travel to the location, and arrive on time. Take a few moments to make it easier for them to settle and relax; to slow their physical selves along with their racing minds. Along with the grief they carry, people may feel stressed, tired, or frustrated. Taking one to five minutes using an opening ritual will help them feel calmer and more focused. Even a short time of meditation or contemplation may aid those gathered to overcome their stress to find some inner peace and balance.

The following suggestions acknowledge that our outward posture often reflect our inward state. Using one of the following rituals may assist some to consciously slow their thoughts in order to be attentive to the moment.  

To put everyone at ease, I often say,

“Before we continue let’s pause for a moment to calm and center ourselves. I invite you to join in as you wish or to use this moment of silence in your own way.”  

Then continue with one of the following. 

[Name is gone and it is only natural that we are sad because in a practical sense [Name] is no longer a part of our lives.  The comfort of having [Name] as a sibling, parent or grandparent may indeed be past, but the love of having had [Name] is never lost.  We have the joy of having known [Name]. Before we continue, let’s pause in silence for a few moments and picture [Name] in our minds and remember the special person [Name] was in our lives.”  

Thee Deep Breathes

“Let’s begin by slowing ourselves and simply noticing our breath; our inhalations and exhalations. Close your eyes or soften your gaze, whichever works for you. In this slowed-down time let’s simply take three deep breathes. 

Breathe in, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven.  Breathe out seven, six, five, four, three, two, one.  And in again, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven.  Breathe out seven, six, five, four, three, two, one. And one more breathe in silence as you count to yourself. Now gently, slowly, open your eyes to carry this calm awareness with you as we continue.”  

A Time of Silence 

“As we begin to say goodbye, let’s take a few moments in silence to remember [Name] in your own special way, and if you do have a religious belief, you might wish to use this time for your own private prayer.”

Remember to pause for at least thirty seconds before continuing. I always check the second hand on my watch or cellphone timer to discipline myself. Otherwise, even thirty second can seem long, even though it isn’t.    

A Guided Meditation: Palms Up, Palms Down

“As we begin I invite you to set aside anything in your hands and lap. Place both feet flat on the floor. Close your eyes or simply gaze softly downward. Place your palms facing down on your lap and turn over any concern you have in this moment. Bring to mind your concern. (Pause.)

  Now, turn your palms facing up on your lap.  Ask for what you need. Is it wisdom, or patience, hope, peace? (Pause.) 

Finally, bring your hands together and intertwine your fingers into a prayer position perhaps as you did as a child at your bedside or at the table. In this moment do not relinquish anything or ask anything. Simply be still in your heart.(Pause.)

As you are ready, return your awareness to the room and open your eyes.” (Wait to give time for people to re-acclimate themselves, then continue)

How Good It Is To Center Down 

Make sure to read the poem slowly. Pause after each question and slowly count to five.

“In his writing from “Meditations of the Heart”, African-American philosopher Howard Thurman reminds us of the importance of quiet time, self-reflection and meditation. Let’s slow ourselves and reflect on his words.”  

How good it is to center down!
     To sit quietly and see one’s self pass by!
The streets of our minds seethe with endless traffic;
Our spirits resound with clashings, with noisy silences,
     While something deep within hungers

     and thirsts for the still moment and the resting lull.

With full intensity we seek, 

ere the quiet passes, 

a fresh sense of order in our living;
A direction, a strong sure purpose 

that will structure our confusion 

and bring meaning in our chaos.
We look at ourselves in this waiting moment — the kinds of people we are.

The questions persist: 

what are we doing with our lives? — 

what are the motives that order our days?
What is the end of our doings? 

Where are we trying to go?
Where do we put the emphasis and where are our values focused?
For what end do we make sacrifices? 

Where is my treasure and what do I love most in life?
What do I hate most in life and to what am I true?

Over and over the questions beat in upon the waiting moment.

As we listen,

floating up through all the jangling echoes of our turbulence, 

there is a sound of another kind —

A deeper not which only the stillness of the heart makes clear.

It moves directly to the core of our being. 

Our questions are answered,
With the peace of the eternal in our step.

How good it is to center down!

The above minutes of breath, reflection and meditation are not “wasting time”. Instead, these simple actions lower blood pressure and give a greater sense of well-being. But, even with these proven benefits, it is not the reason for building this into your service. To put it as an Eastern philosopher may say, the goal of meditation is no goal. It’s simply to be present.