When you think about rituals, what image springs to mind? Do you picture a large, fancy religious ceremony? Or perhaps you picture a witch in the woods dancing about in the moonlight. While these things may contain elements of a ritual, you do not have to convert to a religion or risk being exposed to poison ivy to incorporate rituals into your life.
The definition I’ll be using to explain rituals comes from Merriam-Webster: “an act or series of acts regularly repeated in a set precise manner”.
How Many Rituals Do You Have?
A ritual can be literally anything. That is to say any action or set of actions that you do on a regular basis in a set manner is a ritual. You probably already have rituals in your life and don’t even realize it! Here are a couple of examples:
- Morning ritual: wake up at 6 am, make bed, shower, get dressed, have breakfast, leave for work at 8.
- Dog ritual: arrive home, get greeted by enthusiastic dog, tell dog to get down
Rituals are everywhere. They are every action or set of actions that we do on a regular basis. Rituals do not even have to be a daily routine. They can be weekly, or even annually (a birthday ritual, for example).
So, now that we know what a ritual is, we can examine what rituals are useful for.
Why Have Rituals Anyway?
We humans are creatures of habit. Once we get into a habit of doing something on a regular basic, it is pretty hard to get us to quit without concentrated effort. An example of this is anyone who has tried to quit smoking. It isn’t just the nicotine that makes it hard to quit! It’s the whole ritual of smoking.
We are also creatures of comfort and familiarity. I know that I personally, left to my own devices, when faced with a decision will take the more comfortable route unless I make a concentrated effort to slip out of my comfort zone. I’m, by nature, rather quiet and am more comfortable in my home than out in public. However, I’m also on the extrovert side of the scale, so I require social interaction. I have to make a concentrated effort to get out to meet my social needs.
How do rituals help me to do this? I have a “going out” ritual. About 2 hours before leaving the house I make myself presentable and then take the steps to make sure my house is secure before leaving. I make sure I have my phone, keys, and anything necessary for my venture. It sounds silly when I write it down but it really helps to get me into a mindset of “OK, I’m leaving the house, I am prepared, I am calm, I can do this”.
Creating Meaning Through Ritual
I am a big advocate for being grounded and living in the moment. You may have also heard of this as mindfulness. Mindfulness is a skill and I will be writing another post about it later. Creating rituals will help in the pursuit of mindfulness.
When you create a ritual, and this can be anything you do on a daily basis, you are assigning meaning to that action or set of actions. This meaning programs you to continue to do the action or actions in question. Repetition will ingrain an action into memory and eventually it becomes automatic. When it becomes automatic, it becomes habit.
Habits and rituals are very similar. However, to me, a ritual is something that continues to have meaning and continues to require a conscious effort to maintain. You may have a habit of always putting the cap back on your tube of toothpaste. However, if you consider every time that you are putting the cap back on to prevent hardened toothpaste and to keep your bathroom neat, that is living mindfully, in the moment and that is ritual.
A Small Ritual for Consideration
Here is a small ritual you can use in the morning. I’m using an example of making a cup of tea but this can easily be altered to any beverage of choice.
Take a moment and clear your mind. Just let the thoughts and worries of the present fade. There is nothing in the present except you. Take a couple of breaths and choose your tea for the morning. Consider why you chose that flavor. Smell the loose tea or tea bag. What notes stand out? Look at the tea and notice the shapes of the cut leaves. Choose your cup. Notice the texture, the color, the weight of it in your hand. Is it delicate and fragile or study and heavy? Pour your hot water over the tea and watch the steam rise in little swirls. Inhale the steam and note how the fragrance differs or is similar to the dry tea. Feel the moisture of the steam in your nostrils and down into your lungs as you inhale. As you wait for the tea to steep, take slow easy breaths, feel the cup warm in your hand. This is your moment for you and you alone. Be. Just be. Remove the tea bag or container and set it aside. Notice how it has transformed. What is different? As you take your first sip, close your eyes and really appreciate everything that went into this cup of tea. Give thanks to the tea growers, to the plants themselves, to the water, to the vessel that holds it. Feel gratitude flow through you as the first sip warms first your mouth, then your throat. Feel the warmth flow through you, spreading and enveloping you. Give thanks for this cup of tea. It is the best cup of tea because it is yours and yours alone in this moment.
If you do try this, how do you feel? This is why adding rituals to your life can impact your outlook on everything!
Now that I’ve explained rituals, how they work, and given an example, I hope that you see that adding rituals to your day can help you build better habits, and ultimately, find your personal zen.