When I lived in Florida, I taught with a lovely woman who had once been a New York City Rockette. We shared an office and on Monday mornings often discussed what we had done over the weekend. My friend didn’t just plan her classes for the week, she also planned out her entire wardrobe for the week, choosing and prepping each outfit she would wear and arranging them in order in her closet. This careful focus impressed me as my own usual habit was to grab for the first laundered dress I saw in my closet. I’ve thought often since then of the sense of careful command and readiness she must have felt in starting her week this way.
The whole process of dressing to start your day does have a certain feeling of ritual to it, even for me, in part just because it is a sequence that we (at least most of us) repeat at the beginning of each day. I do pay attention to how I dress (not, perhaps, to Helen’s level, but still . . . ), and I feel a certain rightness when the process goes as I plan. Dressing for the day is somehow about more than assuring coverage of body parts, but is a formal (at least thoughtful) preparation to meet the events that come in a day. In other words, the process of dressing prepares, even arms one for the day.
I’m not the first to see dressing as a formal part of arming one’s self for events to come. In Medieval literature, knights are often described as they don their armor, with vivid details being given to each item they put on. A prime example can be found in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight before Sir Gawain goes to face the Green Knight (who can function even after his head is cut off!) (lines 566–590). This detailed preparation leads to success.
Like preparing a meal, dressing our bodies is a process that can be experienced as ritual, allowing our attention to settle as we reflect on how we want to present ourselves to the new day. It’s an opportunity to start anew while remembering what is important in the unfolding of our lives each day. How would you frame dressing as Ritual in your life? You’re invited to share.
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.
I belong to that era when families ate meals together at regular times. It was family time and nothing was allowed to interfere. My sister and I knew that bickering was not allowed at the table. If we slipped and … Continue reading →