Always have been.
And I attribute much of my ability to stay focused, grounded, sane, fueled, connected and on-purpose – both personally and professionally – to the rituals I practice on a regular basis.
That’s just me. I’m the kind of person who can commit myself to something that matters, as long as there’s a ritual involved.
HOWEVER: There’s a key difference between ritual and routine.
Routine is the action.
Ritual is engaging in a conscious practice of mindfulness before taking the action.
Routine is the execution of ideas.
Ritual is the ceremonial acknowledgment of the importance of your ideas.
Routine is the activity.
Ritual is the intentional, purposeful and meaningful experience you layer on top of the activity to make it more worthwhile.
As Edward de Bono once said, “Ritual is a way of affirming that you belong. It’s a definite act of defiance that most people are not prepared to make.”
ASK YOURSELF: What rituals are you known for?
If you don’t have an answer to that question yet, perhaps these thoughts will convince you to install a few new rituals into your life:
1. Rituals dispel tediousness. By introducing a purposeful moment of mindfulness, you amplify meaning. You excite yourself about entering into a process. And discipline becomes a victory unto itself. After all, it’s not just about preparing yourself to do something, but feeling the experience the thing provides.
That’s how to create a sacred container around the action. It makes you feel more alive. And turns a mundane act into a memorable experience.
For example, every day when I sit down to write – even if I’m not especially in the mood – I honor the creative process. The ritual is a combination of mindfulness breathing and spiritual invocation, something I learned from Eric Maisel’s Ten Zen Seconds.
The cool part is, no matter how tedious, unspectacular or monotonous my daily writing routine is, I can always count on my ritual to enhance that experience. How will you prepare yourself to slog through what matters most?
2. Rituals preserve and release control. Rituals create an act of control in a moment of chaos. They build the spiritual foundation needed to relieve anxiety. And they provide a sense of structure, even when the rest of your world goes to hell – or is about to explode.
For example, before walking on stage to give a presentation, I always disappear from the room for about fifteen minutes. Not because I’m nervous, but because I need time and space to get into the zone. Here’s the ritual:
I go into the bathroom and practice a combination deep breathing, mediation, affirmation and visualization, while listening to a selected playlist of inspiring music.
It lowers my blood pressure, relaxes my pulse, oxygenates my blood, excites me about the upcoming performance and privately allows me to “get into character,” even though the role I’m playing is myself. Once that ritual is complete, I own the stage and the room is mine. How does ritual positively affect your control tendencies?
3. Rituals reinforce the why. The more you remind yourself of why you’re committed to something, the less likely you are to back out. The more you introduce yourself to the meaning of what’s happening, the less likely you are to lose motivation. And the more you infuse your process with a sense of deep purpose, the less likely you are to begrudgingly go about the activity.
As Joseph Campbell reminds us, “Ritual prevents people from wondering, ‘Why the hell am I doing this?’”
That’s why I take time each morning to revisit a few of my lists: Affirmations, goals, personal constitutions and the like. They fuel my why. They reinforce mattering. And they put my mind in touch with what I’m about to do. Your challenge is to craft a ritual that helps you dive deep into the motivation behind the path you’re taking. How will you focus your intentions?
4. Rituals build awareness. I’m not big on measuring. In fact, I think what can’t be measured, matters. However, there will always be certain things worth quantifying. For example, a ritual I began last year was to weigh myself on the same scale every Sunday morning – then to write down my weight on a yearly graph.
Not because I wanted to lose weight — although that did happen. It was more about controlling my portions, curbing my addictions, maintaining a healthier lifestyle, keeping myself accountable and confronting my bodily truth – and having quantifiable proof thereof.
Depending on my diet each week, this ritual can be exciting or depressing, surprising or consistent. But it’s always confrontational. And that’s why I love it: There’s no place to hide. Interestingly, after practicing this ritual for the last eighteen months, I’ve stayed in my target weight range, fit in my clothes better and even become more comfortable when I’m wearing no clothes at all. What measuring rituals do you practice?
5. Rituals are tools of communication. First, they communicate with yourself. That you’re worth giving this moment to. Second, they communicate with the divine. That you’re willing to honor the beauty of the present moment. Third, they communicate with other people. That they’re worth pausing for.
And fourth, you communicate with the world. That it’s worth slowing down and paying attention to. That’s what first attracted me to yoga: The practice of namaste, or, “the spirit in me honors the spirit in you.”
That’s exactly what you communicate when you ritualize your life: Honor, spirit and respect. And even if nobody notices but you, the accumulation of those daily rituals will slowly begin to unravel a deeper significance in your daily life. What do people think when they hear your life speak?
REMEMBER: Routines are nice, but rituals are necessary.
They turn tedium into meaning.
They turn duty into celebration.
They turn disconnected events into an ongoing story.
They preserve the sanctity of your being.
Life without ritual, isn’t.
LET ME ASK YA THIS…
What rituals are you known for?
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That Guy with the Nametag
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