A ritual “is a sequence of activities involving gestures, words, and objects, performed in a sequestered place, and performed according to set sequence.” Rituals may be prescribed by the tradition of a community, including a religious community. Rituals are characterized but not defined by formalism, traditionalism, invariance, rule-governance, sacral symbolism, and performance. (Wikipedia)
We perform rituals in everyday life, without even thinking about it. It can be a natural human inclination to take on rituals from other cultures because they seem more special than our own everyday lives, and because we can have a tendency to disregard the ritual already existing in our lives. But, a beautiful way to value-add our existing daily life is to recognize the ritual already in our daily movements.
All of us have some forms of self-compassion rituals. These might be as simple as recognizing that that headache has just reached a state we can no longer simply ignore and making our way to the medicine cabinet to select the right headache tablet, tipping a few onto our hand, making our way to the kitchen to pour a glass of water, and making sure we drink enough to wash down the tablets. All of that can be considered a ritual, especially when we intentionally decide to think about it as a ritual. As described in Tehya Sky’s book A Ceremony Called Life: When Your Morning Coffee Is as Sacred as Holy Water, we can imbue our everyday existence with ritual just by bringing our awareness to those things that nurture us, that we do regularly, that we can potentially slow down to appreciate even more.
We can also use ritual to help motivate us. Here’s an excerpt from dancer Twyla Tharp’s book The Creative Habit:
“I begin each day of my life with a ritual; I wake up at 5:30 A.M., put on my workout clothes, my leg warmers, my sweatshirts, and my hat. I walk outside my Manhattan home, hail a taxi, and tell the driver to take me to the Pumping Iron gym at 91st street and First Avenue, where I workout for two hours. The ritual is not the stretching and weight training I put my body through each morning at the gym; the ritual is the cab. The moment I tell the driver where to go I have completed the ritual.
It’s a simple act, but doing it the same way each morning habitualizes it — makes it repeatable, easy to do. It reduces the chance that I would skip it or do it differently. It is one more item in my arsenal of routines, and one less thing to think about.”
I invite you to think about something in your daily life as a ritual and notice how different it feels when you do this. For example, how does it feel to consider your morning coffee as a ritual? Or your evening bed-time routine? Or your getting ready for the gym routine? Or your preparing a meal routine? How is it to slow down just one thing in your daily life and consider that as special, as an act of self-compassion and self-care? How is it to mark that thing in your day as self-compassion and self-care practice?
You might like to add something to this daily activity to help you consider it as a ritual. For example, at a retreat center I worked at there was a little figure of the Buddha sitting on the kitchen sink, an unusual place for a Buddha statue, but a very sweet reminder to slow down, breathe, and center. I’ve taken to having a Kuan Yin statue on my kitchen sink as a way to remind me of sacredness, even while washing the dishes. Every daily action in Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings is a ritual. He invites us to “wash the dishes to wash the dishes,” rather than washing the dishes in a distracted way in order to get past the activity of washing the dishes. This is mindfulness in action – being in the moment rather than wanting to rush through to the next moment – and introducing just one little ritual of mindfulness to our day to deepen our experience can be a beautiful act of self-care and self-compassion. Chris Germer says, “A moment of self-compassion can change your entire day. A string of such moments can change the course of your life.” Adding in just one extra moment of self-compassion through a ritual can change your day. And when you’ve added in one, maybe you’ll want to add in another, and another.
See how you go. How can your life be your practice and your daily experience be rituals of self-compassion? I’d love to hear from you – you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- A Ceremony Called Life: When Your Morning Coffee Is as Sacred as Holy Water by Tehya Sky
- Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey
- Ritual: Power, Healing and Community by Malidoma Patrice Some
- The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp
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