On a cold March morning in 1991, dressed in only a long-sleeved tee and a pair of jeans, I left my condo apartment and started walking. On the surface, it was an “ordinary” action, but in truth, it was filled with the intention to accept the things I could not change and to change the things that I could. Over the past three decades, my morning walk has become a small daily ritual that reminds me of the control I have over the positive choices that only I can make. And it has evolved to encompass the sacred ritual of attending to my backyard birds before I head back inside. Then, before settling in for a few hours at my desk, I’ll turn on my diffuser to signal the start of my workday – another ritual.
A ritual is anything that is done with intention. It’s different from habits, which are actions we fall into and don’t give much thought to. My beautiful morning ritual began as an exercise in conscious choice, but in a more profound way, it is an expression of who I am and how I want to be in this life. And that’s a big deal. So is the fact that replacing routine with personal ritual elevates my experience of the everyday.
Mara Branscombe, writing for Head + Heart notes the larger human context for ritual: “Throughout history, the power of Ritual has been at the heart of both ancient and modern civilizations. From vision quests to high holidays, to tea ceremonies, sweat lodges, to birth and death rituals, humanity has experienced the deepening of self, community, and spiritual awakening through the power of Ritual.” From old-fashioned porch-sitting with neighbors, “whine and wine” walks with a friend, and loooong homemade Sunday brunches with my husband, my rituals create a much-welcomed continuity while allowing me to honor what matters. And yes, they are, in the words of Branscombe, “a remedy to feeling ‘disconnected’ in our ‘connected’ world.”
When my family gathers again this year for the annual “Bumbera (my maiden name) Family Christmas,” the children of my niece and nephew won’t know how the highly-ritualized day of celebration started in 1992 at Aunt Jean’s house. They won’t know the stories and lore behind the raucous Yankee Swap, or why Uncle Deano has to belt out “Five Golden Rings” even if it is by way of a Facetime connection. This ritual evolved over the years, added to by new significant others, births, passings; even new technologies altered the specifics of this much-anticipated celebration. But what that next generation will experience is the profound joy of the ritual as their parents carry it forward.
Rituals are experiences we put our personal stamp on so that what we experience matters more. They sharpen our awareness and deepen our appreciation of people, things, and time itself. Where is there a place in your life for ritual? Start by asking yourself “What can I do or do differently to:
- honor what matters
- elevate the ordinary
- celebrate small things
- connect with others
- get moving from a place where I am stuck?
Start small. Here’s a ritual that may resonate: my sister ends her Saturday housekeeping marathon by marking the moment. She turns on some background music and lights a seasonal candle. It could be as simple and celebratory as that.