As we prepared to celebrate my husband’s birthday recently, I was struck by the traditions we associate with marking the occasion of another year around the sun. In our house we set time aside from our busy schedules, making sure all those important to us are available. We plan a menu of the birthday-ee’s favourite dishes, purchase the traditional black forest celebration cake (I kid you not, this started when my parents-in-law bought the cake from the local patisserie to celebrate my birthday when I joined their family 31 years ago. We continue this for each family birthday, made even more special as we remember them this way now they have left us). We each hunt for thoughtful gifts to inspire & delight. When all this is in readiness, the ‘good’ dining room is set with all the best cutlery, plates, glassware, and candles.
Imagine us gathering around the table, expectant but comfortable in the certainty of the birthday ritual to come – yes, I said ritual, as indeed it is a ritual. I know what you are thinking when the word ritual comes to mind…it conjures images of candles, incense, perhaps sacrifice and religious paraphernalia, and could even be making you feel a little uncomfortable.
In the human experience we have rituals for so many of life’s milestones, transitions, and challenges as well as in our daily lives. Rituals are not routines, they return us to what matters, putting us in a state of mind where we break with the mundane patterns of the everyday and mindfully carve out a sacred time to be present and carry out a series of actions for a specific purpose. The word sacred comes from the Latin for power or strength and the power behind ritual is all about the intention.
Our ancient ancestors used the bond of ritual to create ties of kinship necessary for survival in a world rife with dangers. Ritual formed structure and hierarchy and helped define their place in the world. We may no longer need ritual for our physical survival, but what of our mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing?
We can customise our own rituals according to our needs, whether it’s finding inner peace, getting a good night’s sleep, attracting a soul mate or achieving important career goals. Serena Williams always bounces the ball five times on her first serve and twice on her second. She wears the same pair of socks for the duration of a tournament. Superstition? No, Serena’s sock ritual helps to put her in a winning mindset.
Rituals are not scary, they provide us with our framework, family, community, and cultural identity, mark important life events and transitions; a certainty in uncertainness and a way to bring us to a place of deliberate mindful intention. Special items can give the ritual added meaning and focus to increase the potency of the experience and add to the memory associated with the intention.
We practice ritual in Circle to build community, connection and to create a safe container for all who are present. A beautiful sequence of words and action with sage, candles, Tibetan bells and an invocation of our intention. I love creating the beauty and structure of ritual.
As a big fan of ritual, I have noticed it in my every day, from feeding Beal (my 13 year old ragdoll cat) grateful for the joy he brings our family. Standing in the same position in my Zumba class every week. Even my night time ritual of brewing my sleepy tea in the same mug each night no matter where I am in the world. Oddly, Beal has a ritual too; he joins me every night at this time – waiting until I am settled in bed and pick up my book and reading glasses before he, not so elegantly, jumps on to the bed!
Check-in with yourself now, what are your personal rituals? Does your family have rituals to mark life events and transitions? Do you rely on ritual for a mindset reset?
Rituals motivate us and move us; they bring us together to celebrate or mourn. Take a moment to bring your full self to these experiences no matter how small or significant, they are defining experiences – they are yours.
with love, light & protection