When we think about rituals it’s often churchy events that spring to mind, or pagans dancing around fires! For those of us who are non-denominational or atheist there are no common seasonal rituals beyond those which are now so materialistic that it is difficult to recognise them for their original importance. And we forget that having a life run by a clock and electricity is a very recent way of living for humanity. Many of us miss out on the deep satisfaction of a full ritualistic experience because we no longer fit our lives around the sun and seasons. Instead we: live in homes in which we can regulate temperature; have bedtimes well beyond when we are tired; and buy fully prepared food and clothing.
We are somehow separate from the world; when our brains rather we were not.
Human brains thrive when they have frequent experiences of events with beginnings, middles and endings. Although we think of rituals and stories as the most obvious resources, baking, sewing, building, creating sculptures and other art works, modeling, even (damn it) cleaning could be considered ritualistic.
The commonality is that we begin in one place and, after acting upon the resources or within the event, end up somewhere else.
Within families we often have rituals, which we don’t name as such: some of us eat together each day; some have popcorn and movie night each Friday; some brush their teeth and then have Dad read a story before bedtime; we bake on Mondays, do the washing on Tuesdays, mend on Wednesdays…oops that was our grandparents; chores completed each day are a form of ritual and even getting dressed to shoes in the morning could be considered ritualistic.
The importance of properly finishing things becomes apparent when we look at rituals in this depth. Closing the drawer after putting ones clothes away; putting the dishes away when they are dried; zipping up our backpacks after putting our lunchboxes in – all these are examples of completion.
I reckon the effect of completion is like a sigh: where the body and brain experience a release of tension. Without these release-experiences is it no wonder so many westerners are constantly wound up and stressed? We experience such shallow lives when we live without rituals.
In our house daily rituals hang around for varying amounts of time. When we had babies the bedtime ritual was different from what it is now; we have had the occasional school term where one night a week we eat in relays, but usually we eat together; our mornings have changed since we moved and will change again when Mr Butterfly turns three and starts kindergarten (preschool) later this year.
Weekly rituals fit around the children and their (few) activities. Except for Saturday and Sunday mornings when the older boys get up and listen to stories on the radio from 6.00am to 7.00am.
Seasonally we are very fortunate that the school provides us with harvest, mid-winter lantern festival and spring nodal points and, due to school, we have a season table in our lounge. But we have added in making dutch bread on Good Friday and planting bulbs mid-winter; we have our own All Hallows week which ties in with autumn and ANZAC ( http://www.anzac.govt.nz/significance/index.html) and focusses us inward as the days draw closer.
Rituals can be anything you chose them to be. The key is regularity and the journey from beginning to end.
Decide on a few and add a few as you travel through the years – rituals create memories and make us feel good – so why not?
Happy Harvest from Down Under…