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.)


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  1. I have a lot of routines, but I confess, fewer rituals. Maybe drinking coffee in the morning, but even then, I’m running after a toddler. Hmmm, methinks I need some!

    • Achariya

       /  August 31, 2012

      Running after a toddler is totally a ritual! Heck, keeping anyone alive past six is a deep meditation unto itself. 😀

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