Saturday, August 1, 2020

The Power of Rituals

With 2020 bringing an unprecedented series of challenges, it's a hard time to feel settled.

As the year lurches along, many of us have stepped back from the news and sought solace in rituals, like long daily walks.

Studies have shown that rituals help us feel in control when there are a lot of unknowns in our world. For anxiety-prone people (shooting my hand straight up in the air here), rituals can be calming.

While rituals have their roots in ancient religions, they can be anything we do with regularity, with a sense of purpose, just because. Rituals provide an ongoing way to structure our lives. The ritual process provides a sense of stability and continuity amidst the ever-changing world. Like that daily walk. Or that morning cup of tea or coffee, savored slowly.

My friend Andy's morning ritual involves brewing a cup of coffee just so, then sipping it while doing one game of Sudoko before starting her day.

For me, it’s a variation. During a museum internship in London many years ago, the art department where I worked took a 10-minute break together for tea and biscuits, twice a day. From the department director to the janitor, they all took turns bringing biscuits (cookies) to share.

So although I work at home alone, around 3 p.m. I break and have a fresh pot of silver jasmine tea and a buckwheat fig bar, reheated until just crispy. It’s a cozy and calming few minutes. (And sometimes I think about those heady days as a student in London.)

In a Psychology Today article on rituals I read while prepping for this post, some really resonated with me. They say rituals connect us with nature and the seasons.  By watching the constant shifts and turns in nature, we recognize our own cycles of life, our own rhythms as humans. Rituals remind us of the interconnectedness of all of life.

While I don't have such lofty thoughts when out hiking/walking in nature, walking throughout the seasons does make me feel more connected to the places I pass through. I especially feel this connection on silent meditation hikes that I occasionally lead, where we walk in silence.

Every autumn, I also watch for the peak of golden larch season in the North Cascades and head out for a hike to catch the glorious display. (Now they call it "Larch Madness" or a "Larch March.") My autumn wouldn't feel quite right without a ritual walk amongst those shimmering golden trees.

Rituals provide us with a sense of renewal. They offer us a time-out from our everyday routine, habitual existence. Metaphorically, rituals can provide a time to rest, replenish, and restore our selves.

My morning meditation practice, which has its roots in centuries old rituals, is lovely way to start the day. I don't hit every day, but when I do, sitting silently, focusing on my breath, trying to "stay in the room," in the moment, instead of letting my mind wander all over, is calming and balancing. This year, that's gold.

My meditation is done via Zoom, with my laptop propped in front of me while I sit with people in the Seattle area, Michigan, California, sometimes Florida, and Georgia. Maybe there are people logging in from more locations too.

And then there are rituals I've been doing for years, for no particular reason. Every time I walk on a beach, I go down to the sea's edge and dip my fingers in the salt water.

Before COVID-19, a loose group of us met most mornings at a local bakeshop when it opened at 7 a.m. for coffee/tea and pastries. This diverse collection of people, from an economics instructor, a professional photographer, an insurance company owner, a former chicken farmer, a software engineer, a retired Boeing engineer, a cook-chef, to this writer/editor, was anchored by our matriarch, artist Carolyn.

This morning ritual offered a dose of camaraderie, often laughter, and friendship as we gathered around a table and traded stories before heading off to our respective days. It went on for over a dozen years, with people coming and going, until the pandemic. And fittingly, Carolyn chose a perfect time to move on to the next realm, whatever that may be, with her passing in March.

Here she is at her 95th birthday party we threw for her last year. Wasn't she beautiful?

We all miss Carolyn and mourn her death, but she lived a long, fascinating, often whimsical, and productive life.

So we create new rituals as others fall away. They anchor us, give us solace, and maybe connect us to something beyond.

Have you relied on rituals more than normal during the pandemic? I'd love to hear about any of your rituals in a comment below.

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons!

In between blog posts, visit Pacific NW Seasons on FaceBookTwitter, and Instagram for more Northwest photos and outdoors news. 

Labyrinth walking, another ancient ritual.

Zen rock garden, translated to "ritual space" in ancient Japanese