Every spiritual tradition in the world has its own collection of rites and rituals that make up the warp and woof if it's particular path. These rites and rituals, the origins of which are not always understood, give its practitioners something to do -- something not just to think about or to meditate on, but a physical activity they can engage in to help them remember the metaphysical connection to the essence of their path.
I get it. I do. Rituals work. Or as my rabbi liked to say, "If you want to learn to dance, sometimes you need to start with the box step."
My kids, for example, cannot celebrate Christmas without leaving milk and cookies out for Santa, even though its been years since they realized that the fat guy in the red suit didn't have a snowball's chance in hell of making it down our chimney.
While I have never been a big fan of rites and rituals, I definitely have experienced their benefit, the most memorable one happening for me in 1974. That was the year I lived in a spiritual commune, on a 600-acre farm, 12 miles outside of Charlottesville, Virginia.
Three times a week, the six of us would sit, cross-legged, in our living room and, as a part of a spiritual practice given to us by the same extraordinary Teacher, share from the heart.
It was at one of these gatherings that I first heard the news about an ashram that would soon be moving to our little town. An ashram! A center of spiritual life! A divine abode of God-seeking souls -- students of the same teacher as mine -- who had dedicated their lives to the realization of the highest truth.
I couldn't believe my good fortune. Now I would have a place to go and serve whenever I wanted to dive deeper into the heart of the spiritual path I was on. Cool. Very cool.
Back then, as I understood it, the prevailing ritual of welcoming a new ashram to one's town was to bring a gift -- usually a flower or a piece of fruit -- and place it, with great love, on the altar. And so, on the day the ashram was going to open its doors, I made a pilgrimage to my favorite grocery store in search of the perfect piece of fruit.
The cantaloupes looked great, but seemed a tad too big to place upon an altar. The apples also looked great. They were red, unblemished, and shiny. Too shiny, I thought -- almost as if they had been polished in some back room to make them stand out. Uh uh. No way did I want my offering to stand out. I wanted my offering to fit in with the other flowers and fruit. Hey, this wasn't about me and my offering. This was about selfless giving, right? That's when I noticed the oranges -- perfectly round, unpolished, and delicately textured pieces of fruit. Yes! Oranges!
Choosing the roundest and most orangey orange I could find, I blissfully made my way through the 5 Items or Less check-out lane, carefully positioned my orange on the passenger seat of my 1966 Volkswagen, and began driving to the ashram -- a destination that was soon going to become the radiant sun around which the Pluto of my longing revolved.
Driving more slowly than usual to ensure my orange didn't roll onto the floor, I closed my eyes and meditated at every traffic light and stop sign. Beauty was everywhere. The dogwood trees were blooming. The robins were singing. And the sweetest of fragrances filled the air.
And then, just as I turned the corner -- as if choreographed by the hand of an all knowing God -- the perfect parking space opened up right in front of the ashram. How fortunate I felt! How graced! I closed my eyes and meditated some more.
Five minutes passed. Then another five. If there was one thing I was sure of it was this: my front seat meditation wasn't going to be of the token "minute of silence" variety. Nope. No way. My meditation was going to be the real deal -- as real as the feeling that brought me here in the first place.
Lovingly lifting my orange into the air, inspecting it for dust and dirt, I made my way out of the car, ascended a few steps, and walked the last few feet to the front door. Pausing briefly, I took a long slow breath and rang the bell. What a sweet sound it was -- a chime for all times. And then... as the sound slowly faded into the distance... I enjoyed an even sweeter silence. A few seconds passed. Then the door opened. Standing there was a hairy, pot-bellied man in a stained undershirt. He had a bottle of beer in his left hand.
"Yeah?" he said. "Whaddya want?"
"Um... er... is this the ashram?" I asked.
"Hell no," he barked. "Those people don't move in until tomorrow." Then he slammed the door.
I just stood there, unmoving, a perfectly round orange in my right hand.
Mitch Ditkoff, the Co-Founder and President of idea Champions is on a quest to bring meaningful storytelling into organizations -- not just his own stories, but the stories of the people who work there. Storytelling, he has discovered, is the simplest, most effective way to build community, share tacit knowledge, spark innovation, and inspire people to go beyond the status quo. His award-winning book, Storytelling at Work, is all about the power of personal storytelling.