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The Art of Ritual: Embracing the Sacredness of Life

Updated: 6 days ago

By Brenda Riojas I Start Wondering Columnist

Life is sacred, and honoring the gift of each day compels us to look at how we spend our time. Rituals--actions we carry out regularly for different facets of our lives--can help us remember to value the moments before us.

Think of the Japanese tea ceremonies that make an art of serving and drinking tea. The ritual elevates a moment. Think too of the rituals in your life to mark milestones – a birthday or anniversary, a family gathering, a passing of a loved one

Naturally, in a world brimming with distractions, it is easy to take some daily rituals for granted. 

As I navigate the transitions in this phase of my life – becoming a grandmother, dealing with post-menopause, and going from empty nester to sharing our home with my 92-year-old mother-in-law, I need to find some balance, get back on course. In the mix sits my overambitious tendency to work on multiple projects.

In February I led a retreat on spiritual journaling. I pointed out that establishing a ritual helps create a habit of journaling. This could be the simple act of lighting a candle, preparing a cup of tea, and designating a specific space and time of day. The key is to create space and time.

In these days of changes and adjustments, I recognize the disruption to the rituals I relied on for focus. This includes the loss of a dedicated writing space when my desk was moved and repurposed as a coffee station. Given the limitations of quiet and space in my home, I am trying to reestablish some rituals to sustain my writing.

Finding Your Rhythm

Photo by Mor Shani
Photo by Mor Shani

I value the Ora et Labora (pray and work) schedule the Benedictine Sisters maintain at the Monastery my husband and I attend for retreats. Ora et Labora, the motto inspired from the Rule of St. Benedict, promotes balance and discipline by establishing set times for each. It serves as a ritual indicating time for prayer and time for work. The rhythm facilitates a welcome focus and consistency. 

Ritual can do the same. A series of blog posts by Joannie Watson about rituals provides a nice overview about their value in our days. Watson notes that rituals set us up for success. “The power of ritual is the power of habit.” 

Most recently, I read an essay by Rebecca Hazelton, “Adventures in Anaphora.”

She shares, “Humans are pattern-seeking animals, pre-tuned to the music of language. We are pleased when we hear patterns in language, perking our ears in recognition, and can be both vexed and delighted when those patterns are broken.”

While Hazelton was talking about poetic devices, specifically anaphora (a repetition of a word or phrase in following lines)I can see the connection to ritual.

Rituals set a pattern to alert the mind and body of what comes next. They indicate the start of something worthy of our time.

Reading Hazelton’s essay, I saw more connections to ritual. It sets the tone. It speaks to the musicality of our lives. It speaks also to the consistency we need, even amid changes.

Embracing Intentionality

Created by Myka Alley with AI

Ritual prompts intentionality. It reminds us we have a commitment, an appointment. A ritual can be like a familiar refrain in a song. 

When I write I find it helpful to prepare a cup of tea, light a candle, and say a prayer.

It cues my mind to focus. When beginning an art project, I like to lay out my supplies and put on an apron. It serves as preparation and focuses my attention. I find I also like to include a warm-up activity. Spritzing the watercolors and painting a few strokes.

In creating your own ritual, the key is to find what works best for you in preparing a space, scheduling time, focusing the mind. These are crucial as we embark on creative projects and get into a flow state. 

Throughout the day, we might have a variety of rituals – a morning ritual, an evening ritual, a ritual before cooking or a creative project. It can even signal to the brain to put away fears, quiet the internal judges. It makes a statement – “I am showing up, and ready.”

Sometimes playing music in the background helps. For me the type of music depends on the activity. For example, a morning of weekend cleaning calls for some upbeat music. Listening to Diana Ross and the Supremes gets me moving. 

Ritual can also signal a closing. At home, my husband and I have a simple ritual of blessing each other before we leave the house. At work, after our meetings, a colleague and I write for seven minutes. Before setting the timer we each contribute a word or phrase to incorporate into the writing to serve as a springboard. 

Examine the ways you incorporate rituals in your day. What are the rituals you have adopted? What do they signify or introduce? How to they enrich a moment? What are the rituals you take for granted?

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1 Comment

Thank you, Brenda, for offering this reminder to slow down and savor our lives. I'm finding that I have two rituals--one is writing in my journal first thing in the morning and the second is ending my work day and spending time in the courtyard with my pup, Hero. Both of these provide a nice bookend to my day and make it so much richer!

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