For years, I ate oatmeal every morning in a blue pottery bowl along with a cup of hot coffee in a mug before I dashed off to class. This sequence of choices and actions became a ritual for me. I found I enjoyed the preparation of this repast as much as I enjoyed eating it (though the maple syrup and berries did help with the latter). I wrote an essay about this moment in a writing class one semester in graduate school and was surprised by how many people responded to the idea of personal ritual and became engaged in discussing the essay and their own experiences of ritual.
This experience began a continuing awareness of the many personal rituals I develop for myself without even being aware of them. First, I simply chalked this experience up to the formation of habits but soon realized more was going on than just habit. I noticed as a repeated sequence unfolded, I felt a certain settling, a calming of thoughts, and even a pleasure in the repetition of the process. So, I began to wonder: What is ritual?
Google’s online definition of ritual is “a religious or solemn ceremony consisting of a series of actions performed according to a prescribed order.” Although eating oatmeal out of a blue bowl or even preparing the meal certainly had no religious connotations for me, I can almost accept the word solemn though the word doesn’t quite capture the experience. I didn’t really feel solemn as I had my oatmeal breakfast so much as a quietening and a lightening of spirit.
This distinction takes us into the realm of spirituality, often interpreted as religion, but spirituality for me, as for many others, is a larger concept that includes religion within it. I’ll return to this aspect of ritual in a later post.
So, I allow personal rituals to punctuate my day, not deliberately developing a ritual but just observing as one develops. I recognize that ritual occurs in many parts of my day—during repeated chores like washing dishes, preparing meals, dressing for the day, even exercising. I wanted to explore a few of these rituals in Writing from the Self. I’ve discussed meals this week; next week I’ll explore the ritual of dressing, either for the day or for a particular activity.
Do you have rituals in your day? You’re invited to share.