Life's personal and collective losses can be overwhelming, especially in global upheaval. However, as artist Day Schildkret shared with Jacy Nova on this week's episode of the Age of Aquarius podcast, processing transitions with ritual is perhaps so simple that a child could do it.
Day is known for his Morning Altars, which are assemblages of found objects in nature. He arranges things like feathers, flowers, and shells into colorful and meaningful configurations. Though this type of art is impermanent, he has done installations internationally; all foraged from local materials.
He began making Morning Altars as a regular practice while on a walk with his dog during a time of personal upheaval 11 years ago. His father had recently died, and he'd also gone through a breakup. A eucalyptus tree with some mushrooms underneath it caught his attention, and he sat down.
"I started to take the mushrooms, bark, eucalyptus caps, and all of these things, and I put them into some symmetrical order. I made art, essentially, out of them. An hour went by like it was a minute, and it felt like my grief wasn't burdening me down for the first time in like seven months. I felt lighter for the first time."
Day recounted that he did similar things as a child, like rescuing worms after rainstorms and decorating their wormholes with twigs and berries. Coming back to this instinctive style of engaging with nature as an adult, he has become interested in the potential for the ritual to mark a variety of threshold moments in life such as birth, death, divorce, graduation, or coming out of the closet.
"They're moments where we walk through a passage, and we're no longer the person that we were, or we're no longer in the relationship that we were in, or we're no longer in the job that we had, or we have moved to a new home. We have moved on, and we're in this new life, this new identity, this new relationship, this new job, whatever it is. But the culture that we live in is basically like, 'It doesn't matter. Keep going.'"
In his new book, Hello, Goodbye: 75 Rituals for Times of Loss, Celebration and Change, Day suggests acknowledging events as specific as puberty, empty nesting, and receiving a diagnosis. Whatever your situation is, perhaps the most important thing is taking the time to honor it.
"Rituals position themselves at these moments of change, at the threshold moments. They say, 'Actually, you have to slow down. You have to slow down and do something to mark the change. If you don't do that, your psyche has no idea what's going on, and you're in a new reality, but you're living as if you're in the old reality.'"
During this time of global crises, including the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, even our culture might have to acknowledge that we can't just keep going. Day advised turning toward such events and searching for generational gifts that aren't accessible in more peaceful circumstances.
"To me, one of the ways towards those gifts is ritual because we can't do it while we're living our normal lives. So we have to elevate these times somehow that we're living in, look towards them, wonder about them, and make beauty from them, and then find our gifts."
To discover more about Day's work, please visit his website here.