From routine to ritual

Ritual of going out for pizza

Recently I’ve been thinking about the difference between a routine and a ritual.

The first word, routine, talks about all the stuff that absolutely must happen to get the day done. I used to have close to zero routines in my life, and I liked it that way. The only things that got done every day were the bare minimums for self-maintenance, like brushing teeth and picking up food from a cheap restaurant and heading to work and sometimes, sleeping. (Ah, my 20s.)

After I had my kid, this kind of life suddenly transformed into one that was full of routine. We had to wiggle another small person into our lives, and her needs far exceeded our own. In order to get anything done, we had to plan it, and our life became structured around the routines that kept three people fed, rested, and clean.

We got older and realized that this routine had to work in some creative and physical well-being for the whole family, or else we’d all feel worse inside and out. We worked in routines about exercise and pursuing hobbies, and this has totally been good for us. This guy over at the Change Blog has written about 24 habits that he does daily, and the list seems to be a good solid routine for nurturing the mind and body. My own is much more scattered, and I’m absolutely not a morning person, but in the best possible world…

Ritual of weekend pancakes and bacon

But “ritual” is another thing entirely. Routine keeps us going, but I began to realize that the feeling of nourishment, of giving extra life and energy to the soul, happens when the routines of daily life explode into something more universal. I recently read an article from Yoga Journal that helped me think about the meaning of rituals. I noticed that the  most simple and powerful rituals are built around routines that we do anyway, and that my family was already doing a few that humans have done for centuries.

The first is to bless the food that we eat every night, and in our family we do so by raising our glasses to cheers each other. This is a way to acknowledge that it’s awesome to be in each other’s presence, and that sharing a meal with family is a blessing. The second is saying a bedtime prayer. My kid and I repeat a Buddhist prayer in Sanskrit every night, and follow it with a more general Universalist blessing. I began this ritual simply to help calm her down for the night, but it’s lasted seven years, and it’s a moment where we can acknowledge our love for life and the world.

Great Blue Heron from my daily walk

These are two tiny rituals that take a few minutes each, but are cumulatively powerful. I realized also that my daily walk around the neighborhood was becoming a ritual, too. Lots of research has been done about the power of daily walks, and I believe it. While the body moves through different landscapes, the brain digests the day. I have the luck of living somewhere beautiful, and while I walk I say a mental hello to my favorite trees and lakes as I pass by. I fall into the trap of thinking of my human body as a discrete entity bounded by skin and cut off from everything else, but it is not. Bodies are constantly taking in the environment through eating, breathing, and the senses, and I suspect that any ritual that brings me into conscious awareness of this connection is a meaningful one.

So what are your daily routines and rituals?  Is it connecting to family or friends through texts? Is it a strong cup of tea in the morning while staring at the internet? (That is one of mine.)



Awesome Aging

Today I stumbled across an excellent article about creative aging. Creative aging is something that I see some admirable seniors around me doing without even being conscious of it. University professors or business-owning seniors tend to think of it as simply doing their jobs: keeping abreast of new ideas, hanging out with a range of different age groups, traveling to expand their horizons, and constantly solving different types of problems to keep their brains young.

Today’s article addressed  a different problem, though. What happens when you reach that point in your life, but have no resources to travel, or any access to a vibrant environment?

In California, Tim Carpenter and John Huskey are attempting to solve this issue by integrating affordable housing with centers that promote more creative, active lives for seniors:

The Burbank [senior art] colony is the showpiece of EngAGE, an organization started in 1997 by Tim Carpenter. He was working for a health care company that built primary care centers for senior citizens when he met John Huskey, a Los Angeles developer of affordable housing.

Carpenter and Huskey began to talk about how to combine what each of them was doing. They had originally contemplated establishing acute-care health centers in senior apartment buildings, but now had a different idea. “We live in a society that’s very acute-care based — we wait till someone’s sick,” Carpenter said. “We decided to try to get people to take on healthy behaviors without having to go to the doctor.”

I especially love their conclusion that the modern health system works to fix things that are broken, but that real healing occurs by living active, engaged lives. One of the most interesting conclusions discussed by the article is that the activity that promotes the biggest increase in problem-solving ability in seniors is… acting!

The researchers Helga and Tony Noice (she is a psychologist, he is an actor) gave nine 90-minute classes to a group of adults. Some did theater training, some trained in visual arts and another group did nothing. After four weeks, the differences in cognitive function were astonishing. The theater trainees scored nearly a 60 percent increase in problem-solving ability (with visual arts, that ability declined) and the gain was sustained. The Noices believe that theater is especially good for the brain because it requires engagement on many levels — emotional, physical and intellectual.

Put down that Sudoku!

Here are a few more resources:

July in a slightly larger nutshell

July marked our three year anniversary in Orlando.

We spent most of this month in water, beating the heat.

The Monkey went to visit Cido and Diane in Athens, and I began a whole lot of awesome dental work. Six visits later (three cavities, one crown replacement, and a deep gum cleaning) I think I can finally say that this fun thing is done.

The husband and I also had our ten year anniversary. We were too busy to celebrate, so we’ll do it next year. (We’re both kinda relaxed about this stuff.) He’s still barefoot in the kitchen for me, so things are working out.

Then Monkey and I decided to fly to New York and hang out with the Stone family. Monkey really enjoyed playing at the family farm and meeting all kinds of relatives, and we went on some adventures with Grandpa too.

“Can I please take home an alpaca?”

Then we spent more time at the beach!

And suddenly it’s mid-August and second grade begins in a week! I’m not sure where all the time went. We still have a visit from Grandma to round out the summer.

I’m looking forward to: Weather in the 80s instead of 100s, a more regular schedule and earlier bedtime for a certain small person, some resolution on our house hunt (soon please, universe), and a peaceful year of normal stuff.

My ambitions are very small, maybe I’ll achieve them?

June in a nutshell

One week the Monkey was in school, and the next week she was out of it. Suddenly she was done with first grade, and summer had begun! Monkey spent her summer doing the kind of fun camps that I totally want to do: art camp, gymnastics camp, science camp, and violin class with her favorite teacher.  I was jealous!

We spent every weekend in June and July carefully combing Orlando for houses that we both liked and could afford.  We put an offer on a short sale, and we’ll hear about it eventually. Perhaps before we retire. (Hopefully sooner.)

My husband began an internship at my workplace (it’s been nice to see him every day!) and went through the ritual hatting.

Grandpa came to visit and we saw the swamp.

This is a picture of the swamp upside down.

And I rounded out June by going to visit some old friends in New York City. It was a great time, and really nice to reconnect. Someone invent a time/space portal so that I can do this more often with all my friends!

And suddenly it was July.