I wake before dawn. I get up, brush my teeth, light a candle and some incense, make a pot of tea and take a cushion outside, where I sit in the open air and meditate. To close my meditation I inhale and spread my arms out wide, sweeping my hands up above my head into prayer position. As I exhale I chant ‘Om’ and bring them to my heart, then ‘shanti, shanti, shanti’: offering peace to myself, to those close to me, and to the whole world and beyond. I pour a cup of tea from my favourite pot, hold it in both hands and savour that first sip, before enjoying the rest of the cup in silence as I contemplate the sky.
This has been my morning ritual for years now. I love the quiet, peaceful start to the day; the sense of connection with the universe; the perspective it brings to my mind. I carry the ripples of it throughout my day and it enriches my whole life.
But for the last six months I’ve been travelling, waking up in a different city every day, usually on a tourbus with 15 other people. Although I maintain the core element of my ritual – the meditation – no matter where I am, the open air and teapot are not an option on the road; and although I prefer to begin the day with silence, of course I’ll say good morning if someone else is up early. The tour is now over but I’m travelling in Asia, still over a month from going home, and my ritual keeps me grounded. It made me think this morning about all of the rituals in our lives and the effect they have on us.
Rituals are far more than habits or patterns of behaviour. The dictionary definition is ‘a ceremony consisting of a series of actions performed according to a prescribed order’. We ascribe meaning to the actions of a ritual, and thanks to the extraordinary power of our subconscious minds, a placebo effect can take place. I know from extensive experience that sitting in meditation makes me feel calm, connected and able to engage with life with far greater clarity. I’m also aware that, because I now connect my ritual with feeling that way, that itself has a powerful influence in reinforcing that effect. I expect to feel that way after my ritual, so I do. Rituals are a very practical kind of magic – they form a bridge between our conscious and subconscious minds.
Of course many rituals are not an everyday thing – one of the most profound ones I’ve ever undertaken took place at night on a beach in Bali, signified closure on a deeply painful part of my life, and will never be repeated. I’ve used rituals to celebrate graduations; to bid farewell to a home; and to open and close yoga retreats. Every new year I have a ritual I perform, sometimes alone, sometimes shared with others. We all have festival rituals like Christmas; family rituals; and rituals to mark episodes in our lives: births and birthdays, marriages, anniversaries, until finally our loved ones mark our passing with a closing ritual to honour our lives.
So they’re a deeply important part of human culture, which in these disconnected modern times can be a wonderful means to re-engage with ourselves, our loved ones, and the things that actually matter. It’s the intention behind a ritual which gives it power and significance.
Do you have regular rituals in your life? Here are some more ideas you might like to try:
A bedtime ritual: to reflect on the day, feel gratitude (even if it’s just that it’s over and tomorrow is a new day!), and prepare for a restful sleep. Absolutely no tech allowed!
A new moon ritual: for setting intention for the creation and manifestation opportunities of the moon phase ahead, I be bring together items representing the five elements of earth, fire, air, water and space and writing down my intention.
A full moon ritual: for symbolically releasing what no longer serves me, and offering gratitude for what’s good in my life. This one might involve fire – writing down what needs to go on a piece of paper that I place into the flame.
The great thing about regular rituals is that they serve as markers on your journey and a chance to reflect and direct. When you bring this kind of awareness to how you’re living, it brings a quality of appreciation. The real secret of rituals is that they remind us to wake up, and make it almost impossible to sleepwalk through our precious lives.