Sunday, June 2, 2013

Ceremonies and energetic containers

In January my partner and I were able to get legally married here in the great state of Washington after being together for over 12 years. It was a wonderful day filled with friends, love and lots of incredible food. For the most part it was like any other intimate and personal in-home wedding but with two grooms. There were vows that were spoken and rings that were exchanged as part of the marriage ceremony itself but there was more at work than just the formal words and deeds. The entire day and all the smaller events within it were part of our larger wedding ceremony. The event was magical for sure but it has had me reflecting on the role and importance of “ceremony” ever since.

As a culture we have lots of formal and informal ceremonies which we are a part of all the time. Most of the ceremonies that we are part of don’t have a formal ceremonial structure but we do them as part of the rituals which have been passed down to us for generations often without even thinking of it as a ceremony. Birthday parties for example are ceremonies celebrating and commemorating the birth of an individual but they are done so informally that no one thinks of them as a ceremony but they really are. Funerals are another ceremony that we engage in often without even knowing that we are doing something much larger than mourning the dead in a public way. Graduations, memorials, church services, sporting events and many other informal events are actually following a ceremonial structure often times without us even being aware of it.

Ceremonies serve an energetic purpose and when they are done in a conscious way with directed intention and attention, they can accomplish a great deal. The unfortunate thing with most ceremonies that we have now is that time has taken its toll on the structure of the event and we’ve lost the ceremonial container and its purpose leaving us with only small ritualized activities that we’ve held onto often times without even knowing why. Our ancestors understood the value and purpose of ceremony and ritual and passed them along to us as best they could which is why we still do many of them today. Some cultures have preserved the various ceremonies better than others, some have modified them to suit their needs and most have been lost along the way in the river of time.


At its base, a ceremony is created with the intent to hold, grow and direct energy toward a specific purpose. When done in a conscious, formalized fashion a ceremony has four main components to it which are what helps to give the ceremony its power. First there is the energetic structure, or “container”, to hold the energy raised during the ceremony, the intention for the ceremony, the enactment of the rituals within the container and finally the releasing of the energies. Ceremonies can occur without these components but the full energetic potential of the ceremony is lost without them. For the purposes of this discussion, I will refer to those non-container ceremonies as “events”.

One important thing to know about ceremony is that it serves as a focal point for energy. As such when containers are used more energy can be raised and directed than when the exact same activities are done without them. With ceremony not only do you have the attention and awareness of the physical participants but you also gain the energy of the structure for the ceremony. That structure includes those powers imbued into the ceremony itself by those who created the original ceremony and all of those who have used it through time. A marriage ceremony is the best example I can think of to illustrate that. The more of us that experience that ceremony, the stronger the impact of the ceremony will be because now more of us know what it means from experience and how it feels and what it does. In a small way, each of us becomes an energetic part of the wedding ceremonial container for everyone who will experience the ceremony after us because we help to shape and define it. This is one of the main reasons why allowing gay people to marry is a great thing because it will help to strengthen the institution of marriage itself rather than destroy it as some falsely claim.


The first component for any truly purposeful ceremony is the intention. Everything that we see in our world is the result of a thought. This is why spiritual philosophers say that a thought is the most powerful force in the Universe. Everything that has ever been created started with a thought. At some point random thoughts and ideas swirled around in someone’s head enough that the person chose to manifest those activities in the physical world. Often times the intention for doing that is simply to create a physical object that can be used in some way for a particular purpose. The intention, or purpose, for doing that is very subtle and informal and often undirected. There was the idea, some physical activities and an eventual end product. The success or failure of the end result is almost always based upon the level of intent that went into its creation.

When we choose to formalize the process and create with a purpose, that purpose is what will drive the process. An intention is a statement which contains the purpose for doing an activity and becomes what guides and directs the energy of the activity. When an intention is set it gives meaning to our actions and directs our energy consciously. Without an intention, we simply have randomly occurring activities and events which may or may not serve a purpose and that often unnecessarily waste our energy.


An energetic container can be thought of as serving the same function as a physical container used to hold something. The difference of course between them is how they are made and what they are made of. An energetic container is nothing more than a thought-form (remember, energy follows awareness) that is built out of intention.

If you think about a physical container (let’s use a bowl for this example) we tend to think of its function as simply being to hold what we pour into it. It obviously contains what is inside but it also protects what is inside from what is outside by keeping the inside separate. The size of the bowl also defines the maximum quantity for what may be put in the bowl. So in essence the bowl contains, protects and defines. An energetic container does the exact same things.

An energetic container is woven by intentions. It is created by first determining what its purpose is. For example, our wedding container was created with the purpose of holding the energy of our marriage ceremony so that we could use it nourish, enrich, empower and deepen our relationship. It was defined by us choosing the location for our ceremony (our home), who we invited (which was now limited by the size of our space), what activities we planned, as well as the date and time. The container allowed for us to have a calm, beautiful and smooth flowing event where everyone was nourished physically, energetically, emotionally and spiritually.

Formal ceremonial containers are typically created with physical anchors which are aligned to the physical compass directions. The anchors could be rocks (which are great holders of energy), crystals or specially created objects specific to that direction. Each of the directions holds an energetic for us as a species and brings us specific gifts and teachings from that direction. There are a vast number of techniques for building energetic containers and they vary depending upon the lineage the techniques come from. For example the technique I use comes from the Mayan teachings and is called a “20-count” because it has 20 points in its structure. It is a thought-form that has been passed down for generations and by using it I am using a structure which has been tried and tested by time and refined by the wisdom of those who passed it on all the way down the line to me. Unfortunately because of the complexity involved in creating a 20-count container and the energetic teachings which underpin it, it is far beyond what I can cover here so I won’t attempt to explain its usage. However I do want to give you a structure so that you can begin to try this for yourself so I offer the following guidance on creating a simple container.


This structure is aligned with the four cardinal directions of North, South, East and West and the 5th direction which is Center. The Center is the focal point for the container. As you create this energetic structure, you assign and align the energies of each direction based upon the following which comes from Native American teachings:

The Void
Energetic qualities
Wanka-tanka, Great Spirit, Sacred Power, Universe, the Light, the Divine
New beginnings, possibility, awakening, sunrise, the mind
Transformation, change, rebirth, the Moon, the dark of night, the spirit
Cleansing, smoothing, purifying, sunset, the emotions
Manifestation, physicality, structure, completion, the Sun, the light of day, the body


For each of the directions, I have listed the element and energetics associated with that direction. This information comes from the Lakota tradition. If you search the web you will no doubt find different teachings from different lineages that align the elements with different directions and often includes allies or animals associated with that direction. They are all correct because they are based upon the teachings of the lineage which created the structure. The above is just one example from many possible teachings. The energetics I’ve listed are simply a starting point. As you build your container you may choose to add additional energies there which speak to you intuitively. Experiment with it and see what feels best for you.

Think about building your container as if you were doing it with the help of your friends. The friend is the “element”. Today you might describe your friend Chuck by some of his qualities (energetics) “strength, compassion, protection” but you know that he is also a great many other things. Another day you might describe Chuck by some of his other qualities such as “masculinity, courage, father”. All of these qualities, and many more, describe Chuck but you want to select the specific qualities that speak to you as you build the container. Since you can’t name them all, you are selecting those out as a reference point to define the energetic that Chuck is representing. When you choose the qualities to reference Chuck, you also get all of Chuck’s qualities with him because you are referencing Chuck and not the qualities. As you build your matrix (the structure that defines the container) reference the qualities of the elements, rather than just the name of the element, which speak to you as you create each of the directional points on the matrix. Trust your intuition and know that you can’t do it wrong.


Now that you have a feel for the pieces of the tool, let’s look at how you might construct a container for yourself. While most containers are created to hold the energy of formal ceremonies, you might expand your definition of ceremony to encompass things like parties, meditation, work, a meal with your family, a workout or anything where you know there is a beginning, the activity itself and an end. So for this example let’s say that you want to have an important discussion with a family member about a specific topic. You know that it could become very emotional and heated but you know it needs to happen and you want it to be productive and ultimately accomplish a useful purpose. Let’s say that you are going to have the discussion in your living room and so you want to prepare the space before you begin.

  • Go into the living room and determine which wall is aligned with which compass direction. Move to the center of the room and think about what you are going to do and why. Take a moment to center and ground yourself. Get your Basics in place so that you can manage the energy as you set this up. You can’t manage outside energies if you can’t manage your own internal energy.
  • Move to the East wall so that you can stand in the space facing where you want to place the energy for that direction. Don’t stand in the spot where you want to place it because you don’t want to place the energy IN you, you want it in the space. There are four steps which are essential for creating each point on the matrix. When these are not done the ceremonial container will often feel empty, unsafe or chaotic because the energies are only called and never directed. The steps are as follows
  1. Call the energy – this is the verbalizing of what energy you are going to put in what space and its definition or qualities.
  2. Connect to the field – think about the qualities of the energy (not the direction itself) that you are calling in to hold the space for that direction and what they mean to you. For example what all does “sunrise” bring to mind for you and what qualities (energetics) do you associate with it?
  3. Open a portal – think about the container that you are creating as being a big ball that encompasses the entire room. To get something into that ball you need to open a hole (or portal) so that you can pull the energy in. Think of this as a hole that opens for you to pull the energy in and then it closes afterwards to seal the space again. You could see it as opening and closing a window or the opening and closing of a camera shutter.
  4. Place the energy – as you pull the energy in through the portal, imagine gathering it all up and then setting it in the space for that direction. If you are using physical objects to hold the energetic this would be where you put it in the bowl, rock, crystal or other object. If you aren’t using ceremonial objects, imagine it as if you were setting a bundle of wood, pile of clothes or something similar in that space. Your goal here is to set the energetic down and have it stay in that space.
  • An example of how that might look is : “In the East, I call upon Wind with the energy of newness and awakening; a breath of fresh air”. Then connect to the field (think about what newness and awakening feels like), open a portal and pull the energy in (use an inhale to help with that), close the portal (hold the breath here) and direct your attention to the space on the floor right next to the wall and then feel like you place the energy in that space (use an exhale to send the energy into its point on your matrix). Spend a few moments there to allow the energy to settle into the place where you’ve put it. The more you do this, the more you’ll actually feel the energies move and settle, but until then just keep your focus on the physical place and image it settling as if you are filling a bowl with water. As you pour the water into the bowl, it will slosh around a bit and then come to a resting place and smooth out. Energy moves the same way.
  • Move to the South wall and repeat the process
  • Move to the West wall and repeat the process
  • Move to the North wall and repeat the process
  • Move near the center of the room again so that you are off to one side of the center and not directly in the center where you will place the energy and repeat the process again
  • Now feel like you connect the center space to each of the directions and each of the directions to each of the other directions. That will ultimately look something like this image:
  • Speak your intention for creating this container into the field of the container. An example of that might be “I create this container to hold safe space for our discussion about our relationship. I intend for all energies raised here to be directed towards the healing of our relationship in a way that is in alignment with all of our greatest good.”

You then have the space ready for the ceremony (or as in this example, the discussion). Holding your awareness on the structure that you have created is what will hold the container in place. It is a good idea to do this as close to immediately before the ceremony as you can but at a minimum do it on the same day.


After you have completed the ceremony itself then it is time to release the energy from within the container and the container itself so that the flow of energy is returned to the space. To give you an idea of what is happening with the container that you are creating within time and space, try to imagine that you are standing in a very shallow stream of water that barely covers your feet and you want to take a bath. You of course could sit in the shallow water and splash water around to get yourself wet, soap up and then splash more water around to hopefully rinse all the soap off. That would get you clean but there is a lot of wasted energy and effort to accomplish the task.

A more effective way to take a bath however would be to learn from the beavers and make a damn to create a pool of water. You could put a pile of rocks across the stream to slow the water from leaving the area where you are and then let the water flow in and make a small pool of water. You could easily dunk yourself in that water, soap up and rinse yourself completely. When you are done, you would want to remove the block you created in the stream and let the water continue on downstream. (Please understand that I’m trying to give you a visual here and not trying to say that moving rocks is less effort than splashing water.)

Let’s now use that visual of the bath and relate it to your ceremony. Using the rocks to block the water and create a pool is the same as building your ceremonial container. The intention for doing it was “to create a pool to allow me to wash my body and rinse away the dirt and soap”. Just like in the example when you are done and no longer need the pool, in the ceremony you want to free the energies to go do their work and let the space return to normal.

When you are done with the ceremony, move back to the center and begin releasing the energies in the reverse order that you called them in. All you need to do here is say something as simple as “Energies of the center, I thank you for your work and I release you”. As you say that put your awareness in the center and feel like you lift up the bowl of energy that you created and toss it up and out of the circle as if you were setting it free. When you feel that releasing has completed then move to North, West, South and end at East and repeat that process at each location. The last thing to do is to dissolve the container that you created for those energies. To do that simply imagine what that connected group of points would look like [think about the picture above] in the space and then simply use that visual to shrink it down, down, down, down to the size of a dot that ultimately dissolves away.


Like anything else that you do, the more you do this and thus the more practiced at this you become, the stronger and more powerful your containers will become. The key thing to remember is that it is all about intention and awareness. Really hold your focus on the visual of what you are trying to accomplish so that you give the attention and awareness for the energy to follow because as I’ve said many times in this blog “energy follows awareness” and this is a prime example of that.  As you do the steps to pull in the energies, in addition to moving to the space and focusing on the actions for calling, connecting, opening and placing, notice how it feels inside when you do it at each step. Each time you do this, you’ll begin to feel the energies move more and more easily because you will teach your body how it feels through experience so don’t expect to feel it right away. Until that happens, trust that it is happening and keep your focus strong. Your intention for doing it will make it happen.


There are an infinite number of way you can incorporate energetic containers into your life. It doesn’t have to be just for large formal or ceremonial events. I’m sure once you start using this process for smaller things you’ll begin to see more and more uses for it as you begin to see the results of using it versus not using it. For example, I use it to create ceremonial space inside my work studio to help me hold and manage the energies which arise during my sessions so that we feel supported and protected as we work together. I put a 20-count matrix up each day in my studio and center it around the massage table where I work. My intention for it is that it “holds sacred space for healing to occur for everyone involved so that we can learn, grow, heal and evolve in the deepest way possible at this time that is in alignment with our individual greatest good.” Since my work studio is on the ground floor of my home I want to contain all that goes on there so that it doesn’t affect my partner and our home life. The container holds the energy inside and protects and separates it from the outside. It also protects the outside from the energies inside the container.

This process can also be used to create space for your meditation practice, around your desk at work, around your home, for parties or events, and any number of other uses. For the spaces where you want the energetics there all the time, you don’t need to do the releasing and dissolving of the matrix each time. These situations are ones where you should consider using objects to hold the points of the matrix so that you have those visual cues there each day to help you reengage your awareness on the container and reenergize it each time. For the retained containers, it’s a good idea to still put your awareness on the container, its intention and points each day before you engage it so that you reenergize it. That could include calling in the energies to each matrix point each day, or simply holding your awareness on the full structure by holding a visual in your mind of the ball that you created with the structure and its intention.


Here are a few pointers to keep in mind when you are creating containers:
  • When you are involving others in your ceremony, what they need and are ready for is very different than what you need, so state your intention in a manner that allows for that to happen. Phrases like “for the highest good of all involved at the level we can accommodate at this time” help to open space for that.
  • Do not set “controlling intentions” like “to make my boss see things my way and give me a raise” because you are seeding the container with manipulation and since you will be in the container you will be manipulated. The words are just a tool for referencing energy and the energy is what fills the space not the words so be aware of what you call in.
  • You are creating sacred space. When we feel safe, secure and supported we can do anything. By creating this safe space for yourself and others, each individual can get what they can accommodate in the moment and not take on more than they can handle.
  • You are a part of this so when you set it up you too are going to get back what you put into it. If you are attempting to force an outcome with your intention that will come back to you through the process so think beyond just your needs as you create this container. Leave room for all options rather than defining a limiting or specific result.
  • When you create sacred ceremonial space, you are making space for support from the non-physical spirit realm as well. This allows for everyone involved to access more energies than they could alone by connecting with the wisdom of those who used these tools before you and imbued them with their consciousness as well as each person’s higher-self (their full energetic potential) and not just their human body.
  • Energy is in a constant state of flow and flux. Until you create a place for the energy to come to rest it will be like trying to bathe in that tiny stream rather than a small pool of water.
  • Physically walking the matrix is not a requirement but it does help to guide and direct your energy more easily. Remember this is all energy and done by intention and awareness. Start with physically moving around the container and learn the process by teaching your physical body how it feels until you reach the point where you can do it without the movement.
  • If you are part of a ceremony that you didn’t set up and you don’t feel safe within the event, you can put your own matrix around what they have created so that your container contains theirs (if they have one), that way there is no interference with their structure. As with all things in life, you have to take care of your needs and be responsible for yourself and allow others to do the same for themselves.
  • A good experiment to see how this works for yourself is to find a simple event that happens frequently (office staff meetings, family gatherings, etc.) that you have been doing without any container and notice how it goes. The next time that event is going to happen, put a container in place to make a ceremony out of it and notice your results. Things will flow more smoothly during the event, more will be accomplished, less drama will be present and you’ll feel safer doing it. Exploring this for yourself is the best teaching possible.


I hope that this information helps you to create containers for the experiences in your life. The most important thing you can do is practice this process. Start with something simple and do each step with your full awareness and attention. Teach your body how it feels to do each step and then take a moment after each step to notice how it feels when the step is done and again at the end to notice how the completed container feels. This “body knowledge” will help you in the future by letting you know when something isn’t right because it won’t feel safe and contained the way you are used to it feeling.

Life is one large ceremony which encompasses the many smaller ceremonies of the experiences which shape our lives. Can you find a way to approach each one with the respect and reverence that you give to formal ceremonies?