Whether you’re just discovering the concept of ritual or whether you’ve been thinking about it for a while, whether you’ve never consciously thought about what role ritual might play in your life or whether you’ve already experimented with creating personal rituals, you’re probably looking for ways to make ritual more real for yourself. You’ve read some about it (perhaps on this blog). You’ve gone to a workshop or two. You’ve heard people talk about it. You’re curious. You want the vibrant, intentional life ritual offers to help create. Where do you start?
This blog post and the ones that follow are dedicated to helping you get started in practical, concrete ways by providing sets of questions that can stimulate your thinking and creativity. You don’t have to reach into some vague, undefined something to begin creating rituals and ritual consciousness in your everyday life. You don’t have to wait for something extraordinary to happen to show you the way. The tools and the materials are already embedded in your life. After answering these questions, it is my hope that you will have a better idea of where to look for them.
Answer these questions with what first comes to mind. Add detail if you want, but don’t get stuck in trying to be too perfect or complete for now. One of the best ways to work with questions is to live with them, hold them as a light but consistent presence. Post the questions that most intrigue or puzzle you on your refrigerator. Jot down notes every so often. Try reading the questions to yourself before you go to sleep at night and see if you dream about them (a ritual in itself!). If you start getting stressed out, let it go for a while and allow your unconscious mind to keep processing on its own. Ideas and answers may come to you at the strangest times!
Let’s start with your daily routine.
What is the first thing you do when you wake up?
What is your first daily contact with another person, animal, news source, etc. like?
How do you prepare your food?
What are you doing while you eat?
What position does your body spend most of the day engaged in? How much variety is there in how you position your body?
What activity does your mind spend most of the day engaged in? How much variety is there in how you use your mind?
How many different activities do you typically do at once (multitasking)?
How do you know when one activity is complete and you are ready to move on to the next?
What do you do if you get tired or bored?
What is the most meaningful part of your day?
What is the part of your day you most dread?
What is the part of your day you most enjoy?
What relaxes you the most?
What is the last thing you do before going to sleep?
If other questions come to mind, sparked by these, write them down and answer them too.
You will begin to get a picture of the shape of your daily routine as it is now. Perhaps you will become aware of which parts of your day seem to flow well, in contrast to those parts of your day that no matter what you do feel difficult or onerous. Perhaps there are parts of your day that seem to run on autopilot.
You may already be incorporating ritual into your day, particularly in the parts that seem to flow well. Maybe you take time each morning to be thankful for being given another day. This is a ritual. Maybe you always bless your food before you eat. This is a ritual. Maybe every time you get tired you take five minutes to meditate, or twenty minutes to nap. These are rituals.
Becoming aware of these rituals gives you the opportunity to ask yourself if you want to add even more consciousness to these parts of your day. If you bless your food before you eat, maybe you also want to bless it as you prepare it. Maybe you want to visualize, as you wash your dishes, your worries and fears running down the drain with the dirty water, clearing your mind for whatever is next. Maybe you want to send a blessing with the water, that as it leaves your home it may carry healing to your community.
Remember that ritual is conscious action in sacred space. You create sacred space by holding the intention to be present and aware of what you are doing. You act consciously by doing something that is in accordance with both the intention of holding sacred space and the larger intentions you hold for the kind of person you want to be, what you want to experience and create.
You can also work with the parts of your day that do not flow so well within the context of ritual. Recognizing that there is a lack of flow offers you the opportunity to bring more consciousness to what happens during those parts of the day. Maybe you have noticed that you tend to zone out in front of the TV as soon as you get home from work and that you don’t have the energy to cook dinner, so you end up eating food that you consider unhealthy for convenience’s sake. You can incorporate ritual here. Ritual will provide supportive structure in the form of intention and action that embodies and follows through on your intention.
If your intention is to eat healthier, you might try adding that intention into a part of your day that already feels solid and clear, to work around the problem you have with feeling too tired after a day at work. You could add planning dinner to a gratitude ritual you do every morning as you drink a cup of coffee. (Write: I am grateful that I am going to eat these foods tonight, and list the foods you will prepare and eat.) You might create sacred space in your kitchen, or refrigerator, and in the morning (perhaps while speaking a blessing) intentionally place the food that will become your dinner in your sacred space (this takes some advance planning to have the food ready!). You might try changing your evening routine so that instead of turning the TV on, you spend some time writing, or painting, or whatever you like to do that feels joyful and effortless. There are many options. You can choose based on what feels good to you. You can try more than one thing.
Making changes to your daily routine can bring up unaccustomed feelings. Ritual always moves in the direction of providing more clarity and consciousness to your life. You are no longer acting on autopilot. You are deciding what you want and bringing it into your life. There may be parts of you that felt comfortable being unconscious. Maybe it meant that you didn’t have to face something, like anxiety or inner conflict. Maybe you’re also afraid that you won’t be able to maintain the changes. Your daily routine is often a direct and intimate reflection of who you are, so when you change your routine, it can feel like you are changing yourself!
I have three suggestions. One, continue using ritual. If ritual is a tool that you resonate with, know that you can apply it anywhere. I’m not talking only about persistence here, and sticking with something that feels uncomfortable. I’m also telling you that you can become fully aware of the uncomfortable feelings, and you can create ritual around them. Lay the feelings out as if they are questions, and sit in your sacred space with them. Speak them, embody them, create symbols for them. Enter the feelings into dialogue with the universe. Create and perform ritual actions that bring the feelings into the relationships you would like them to have with the changes you are making. If you would like your feelings to support your changes, you might have a bowl of water represent your feelings, and a bowl of earth represent your changes. Pour the water into the earth and watch how the consistency changes and becomes more fertile.
Two, don’t do this alone. One benefit of creating communities that honor ritual (a topic I will address in future posts) is that there are others around you who understand ritual, what it is and how it benefits us, who can help you to incorporate ritual into your life. They may be able to offer ideas for rituals that you hadn’t thought of, or they may be able to support you in other ways, not least of which is affirming that what you are doing is important. If you don’t yet have a community, at least one other person is better than none. Find a coach if you can. This is a big part of my vision for my work: helping people on a one-to-one basis move through their own personal paths to bringing ritual to the places where it feels best and most supportive in their lives.
Three, make one change at a time. Let that change solidify and begin to feel natural before you make the next change. Incorporating ritual is an ongoing process.
Blessings as you look at the places where you can incorporate ritual into your daily routine. Next post: connecting with your personal symbols that can add power to your rituals!