Ritual is as old as human community itself, and comes in innumerable forms – from singing carols at Christmas to brushing our teeth. However, I’ve noticed that many of us feel that we don’t have the authority or permission to build the rituals we need and deserve in our lives. But in my experience, creating rituals which honour and reflect the life you have can be a deeply nourishing experience, and one I’d like to invite you to consider for your own life.
What is a ritual?
This is a question that has filled many books, but for our purposes, a ritual is a collection of actions we take to connect with ourselves, others, and/or the divine (whatever that means to us), and mark moments of transition in life. Examples might include saying a prayer, meditating, sending flowers to someone who is bereaved, or getting married. Though rituals vary hugely in purpose and form, they share the characteristic of repeating the same words or actions each time they are performed.
Why are rituals important?
Rituals invite us to step out of our usual busy lives for a moment and reflect, celebrate and acknowledge important moments in life, be that a big life change or simply the start of a new day, with all the opportunity that holds.
Why call it a ritual?
- It denotes a sense of sanctity. Of moving from ‘normal’ time to ‘sacred’ time
- It recognises the importance of the act. Though structured religion has inspired many beautiful rituals, it does not have a monopoly on the creation of meaningful rituals. You deserve to create rituals which help you connect with yourself and others, and mark moments of transition in your life. Call them what they are, and let the practice of ritual transform you.
- It encourages repetition and the forming of a new habit. Repetition can allow us to build something into our lives. And, over time, you may find you ‘drop into’ a more reflective, open frame of mind more easily as your body, mind and spirit become familiar with your new ritual.
Where to start?
Here are just a few of the spaces in your life into which you could weave some of the magic of ritual:
- Your morning routine
It is possible to go through an entire day and never really check in with yourself at all. In this state of auto-pilot, it is much easier to ignore the many subtle but real ways in which our body and mind try to communicate how we’re really feeling. A morning ritual can help you enter the day more mindfully.
Aim to create a time and space which gives you a moment to slow down and tune in. It might start with some meditation, some form of gentle movement or a few minutes of writing. Personally, I take a moment to write an affirmation for the day, starting with the phrase ‘may I approach today with ____’, tailoring it to whatever I feel I need that day. Consider how to introduce a sense of ritual to the actions, such as lighting a candle which you only burn at this time.
- Count daily gratitudes
Counting your blessings is scientifically proven to improve many facets of your health, but in particular, gratitude’s ability to connect us to the bigger picture is what makes it so beautifully nourishing for the soul.
Simply take a moment to write down or notice three things for which you can feel grateful each day. Start small – they doesn’t have to be huge miracles or achievements – in fact, better if they aren’t. If you start to find yourself listing the same things every day, challenge yourself to consider new things for which you are grateful.
- Observe a weekly rest or Sabbath
Give your heart, body and spirit the permission to abstain from work and creativity each week. It is a really powerful medicine and a wonderful form of self-care, and how you practice this ritual is up to you. More on this here!
- Mark moments of transition
This is where the magic of ritual really starts to make itself felt. Every community marks different milestones in life. Some of them are widespread, such as births, deaths and marriages. Other moments that are no less pivotal or important often don’t receive the same treatment. Examples might include professional achievements, a significant point in a therapy journey, or the end of a relationship. Or perhaps, the rituals that you have experienced in your religious and cultural background don’t resonate with you. I encourage you to mark all these liminal spaces in ways which feel safe and sacred for you. You might light a candle and take a moment alone, to simply acknowledge what has passed, and welcome something new into your life. You might open a bottle and dance around the kitchen table to a favourite song with a person you trust. You might gather your friends and family around you to share a meal, and invite them to share their blessings and reflections as you cross a new threshold in your life. You might use a sharing circle as a way to catch up meaningfully with friends you wish you saw more (more on sharing circles here). When you create a safe and sacred setting, it is pretty magical how it enables connection and the sharing of loving truth. Sometimes, all you need to do is to create the physical and spiritual space.
The blessings which ritual can offer to us as we navigate life, from the doldrums of the day-to-day to the major milestones, is one of the insights I wanted to share when I started writing this blog. Your life and its milestones deserve reflection, celebration and acknowledgement, and if your cultural and spiritual background doesn’t offer rituals which feel safe and sacred, it’s time to start building your own. You don’t need anyone’s permission – but if it helps, here’s me giving you mine! Get creating…