The funeral of Queen Elizabeth II was watched by millions. After several days of lying in state, her coffin was carried to Westminster Abbey, drawn by 142 sailors. There followed a memorial service, after which the coffin made its way to Windsor Castle for a more private committal service.
The funeral offered an opportunity for people to voice their pro- or anti-royalist sentiment. But it was also a grand display of ritual, reflectiveness, and spiritual method. Here are five lessons we might have learned.
1 – TAKING A FOCUSED MOMENT
For a designated moment, a large number of people synchronised in their focus on the life and passing of one person. This excluded, for a while, other thoughts and feelings, generating a sense of intense alignment and meaning. This would not be true of everybody, but for those it affected like that, it was a reminder of how ritual can enable human focus and togetherness in one moment in time.
2 – CAREFUL CHOICE OF ACTIVITY
For one day, the minds of hundreds of organisers were focused on choosing the most appropriate activities, participators, music and words. A piece of time was treated as intensely valuable, with not a moment to waste. It was an example of ‘rich living’, with ‘rich’ in this case meaning full of well-chosen and meaningful activity.
3 – COMPASSIONATE INTENTION
Another aspect of the day was the willingness of several thousand participators to give up their immediate personal needs for something other than themselves. Soldiers endured long periods of time without eating or going to the toilet, in order to make the day smooth-running and respectful. World leaders, used to being centre-stage, took a back seat to participate in remembering someone else. This demonstrated aspects of compassion, in which we set aside our own personal needs to serve something beyond ourselves.
4 – SLOWNESS
A funeral slows things down, removing the sense of rush so common in our lives, and replacing it with a sense of dignity and purpose. The steady march of the procession was a reminder of that, as was the gentle pace of much of the music. This has the effect of no one being left behind. It also reduces the possibility of distraction, meaning that everyone is more likely to be present.
5 – LOVE
For many who were fond of the late monarch, it was a chance to express love and respect by pausing, being silent, and assisting those nearby at the same event. It was a reminder of some of the aspects of love. Patience, kindness, peacefulness, attentiveness.
It is true that some of the meaning of monarchy, particularly the colonial history, brings back memories of hardship under invasion, and poverty under oppression. Those memories may have made it hard for many people to feel mindful or reflective. There was a strong military presence, a reminder that the monarchy has depended on the exercise of power and destruction for its survival.
We can remember, too, that ritual, and large gatherings, have been used by dictators to consolidate hateful and destructive behaviours. We have to be careful not to be so influenced by pageantry that we forget out critical faculties and sense of proportion and justice.
Despite this, a funeral can still be seen as a representation of aspects of mindfulness. It helps that this particular monarch seemed peace-loving and conciliatory.
In our own personal lives, we can take regular time to be focused, to choose carefully what we do, to exercise compassion, to slow things down, and to love. Watching a grand funeral, of a person who valued kindness and thinking of others, is a reminder of the potential strength of focused, well-used ritual. It doesn’t have to involve thousands of people. It can be just us, lighting a candle, or remembering a good friend.