It’s just past the first of April, a day where it is ritual to try to pull an ‘April Fools’ on someone. While I didn’t manage to fool anyone, it did get me thinking about rituals – what they really are, how they relate to the mind, and how we can create them to enhance our lives.
What, exactly is a ritual?
A ritual, by dictionary definition is “an established and prescribed pattern of observance; the performance of actions, or procedures in a set, ordered, and ceremonial way; and inflexible, stylized, and often repetitive sequence of actions that may indicate an obsession.”
Hmmm. In mind terms, it is often when the subconscious takes over and we repeat something again and again. When it is something that we enjoy, we tend to use positive words such as celebration or custom; when it is something that we are less than proud of we might even use words like mania, compulsion or fixation.
Crazy little thing called ritual
I know that many people who wish to make changes in their lives initially come to stop a habit that isn’t working, or create a new pattern that would enhance their lives in some way.
Who, in their ‘right mind’ would use a cigarette to relax, when that substance is actually a stimulant; who would find solace at the bottom of an ice cream tub; who would believe themselves anything less than a success, and find ways to limit themselves, when their mere existence is living proof of their ability to survive the ups and downs of life?
I recently celebrated my half birthday – not full, but a half-way mark in my birthday year. Throughout my life I thought it was funny that people didn’t know the ins and outs of this ‘tradition’, only to realize that it was something that my parents had invented to meter the attention needs of their two daughters. To my mind, it made perfect sense, to others it seemed like a ‘Jennifer quirk’.
Or are they?
Now rituals are an interesting phenomenon, and they help all of us ‘get things’ faster because they are, quite simply, a repeated (habitual) process.
They can help us in packaging our lives – like a presentation of ‘thanksgiving’ that recently presented my new nephew to his community at the beginning of his life, to the tribute we give to those who have passed at the end of theirs.
And I think that this is the difference I see in the role of rituals over habits. Habits tend to be shortcuts within the mind – deepening neural pathways to unconscious actions. But rituals can be an opportunity to connect, to enhance and give meaning to the little things we do throughout our lives, to the everyday.
What can we do to create meaningful, personal rituals?
I’ve taken a bit of time to consider rituals and have classified them into functional, satisfiers, celebratory, and connection or assimilation rituals:
Functional – These rituals are closest to habits. We get home, drop the keys in a particular spot, greet the dog, or hug the child or turn on the TV… These are the rituals that we don’t consider rituals. But these are some of the most delightful sources of ‘new-old’ rituals that can transcend the ordinary to the extraordinary, using a bit of thoughtfulness or mindfulness. I’ve now taken a beautiful pressed glass condiment dish out of the cupboard to be used for my teabag. Not a huge matter, but I’ve taken a piece that was given to me by friends that was sitting unused (waiting for a ‘special’ time) and instead have something that I can appreciate when I’m doing the most ‘normal’ of things. Can you find one or two things that you do unconsciously that you could make unique to you? Making the ordinary, extraordinary.
Satisfiers – Some rituals satisfy a need – but often we fail to consider what they really satisfy. I changed a traditional Valentine’s ritual to something new. Instead of going to a crowded restaurant to eat a pre-chosen ‘romantic’ meal, I went to a friend’s house to create food with personal meaning and celebrate the talents and strengths that we possessed – a real ‘self love’ experience. Its great to celebrate, but it is much more important to find the seed of meaning rather than give lip service to something that doesn’t satisfy you any longer.
Celebratory – My mother was a great creator of ‘moments’ – times where the celebrations would be memorable long after the last candle was extinguished. It didn’t mean that it had to involve a 30 piece band, but the focus was on celebration and not only contained the elements of party aesthetics, but really made an impact on the human level. It was fun – and that’s one of the greatest things about rituals – that they can be a positive celebration of aspects of life. Sometimes you hear of people who drag their feet to celebrations… I agree with the old saying ‘go big or go home’. When was the last time you really celebrated something with gusto – maybe it’s time to find something to celebrate about.
Connection/Assimilation – There is a saying in one of the good books that talks about rituals as being personal – that many rituals needn’t be ‘witnessed’ by others, but may be a personal connection within or without. So connections with others, a community, nature, the universe, our greatest potential within doesn’t have to be a noisy, horn-blowing event, but may just draw you into a closer relationship to the goodness or others, the world or yourself. Which on a mind level, or on any level, is a very good thing.
Rituals to my mind are really experiencing what is happening around, to, by and within us. Given this beautiful gift we’ve been given –a life – rituals are a delightful package of observance.
If you’re interested, I’m considering creating an excel chart that can give you a platform from which to create more meaning in repeated activities. If you’re interested, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org – if there is enough interest, I’ll add it to the webpage.
May you find precious new rituals in your everyday life. Take care,