It’s that time of year again. When our inner critics kick in and start making resolutions. To look better, think better, act better, live better, love better. We delusionally think these resolutions will revolutionize the world. Or at least our world.
The real power lives in what we actually do every day, not what we aspire to do. Rituals are not only comforting, they’re transformational. And worth cultivating. So where to start?
Sacred Space... Infuse your ritual with spirituality. You’re going to be doing this over and over, make it more than just another item to check off your to-do list.
Consistency Counts... You know yourself—your natural rhythms, the times of day you’re up and the times you’re simply spent. When planning a ritual, choose a time of day when you’ll be ready to show up, even on your off days.
Keep it Simple... Writers who can only write when they are sitting covered by dappled sunlight with a cup of exotic tea brewed to 140 degrees in a sound-proof room, not surprisingly, rarely write. Don’t sabotage your ritual by complicating its parameters.
Make Sense(s)... If your ritual calls to your senses like a siren beckoning, you’ll show up. Anchor your ritual outside the realm of the head, making its allure more than intellectual. Seek out smells, textures and sounds that soothe your spirit. Make them part of your ritual.
Be Flexible... Consistent? Yes. Rigid? No. Your ritual will evolve along with you. Be open to changes that will enhance your experience. Consider keeping the sensory elements intact while allowing the active elements of your ritual to morph.
So what would a ritual that followed those loose guidelines look like? Owing to each of our unique natures and proclivities, a million different rituals—each ringing with meaning—could emerge. I will share mine with you, not as a formula to emulate, but simply as an illustration, a path that’s worked for me.
Because I have embraced my night owl tendencies and know I’m most relaxed and receptive in the evening, I have scheduled my ritual for just before bedtime. To increase my chances for sustainability, I have combined it with my nightly bath. Since I’m not likely to skip that important part of my physical self-care, I’m not likely to shortchange my spiritual self either. The key is transforming it from a utilitarian task to a sacred one. The metamorphosis—lighting a few candles and putting some calming oil in the diffuser—takes only a few moments, but its effect is profound.
The soft glow and scent mingling ylang ylang, lavender, patchouli and blue tansy speak to me of serenity. The sound of the water beginning to flow carries much of my tension with it. A splash of oil in the bath takes care of the rest. If it’s cold out, I add the additional glow of my toasty little space heater. When I’m warm, I’m relaxed. That is the part that remains consistent, the setting of the scene. After an unhurried bath, I wrap up in my robe and sit on my meditation bench (in my bathroom), still basking in the glow of the candles, savoring the taste of peace on my palate.
Then I might spend the next 15 or 20 minutes meditating, simply watching the dancing flames of the candles. Most nights I explore a spiritual work. It could be the Bible (I use the Inclusive Bible, the first egalitarian translation), but it’s just as likely to be something else. Recently, I worked through Sue Monk Kidd’s Dance of the Dissident Daughter for the third time. Before that, it was Priscilla Warner’s Learning to Breathe. Currently, I’m halfway through Joyce Rupp’s Prayers to Sophia. The text helped me with the multi-sensory aspect of my ritual, calling for participatory responses at the end of each prayer. I don’t often evoke sound or song in my meditations, but thanks to a prompt, I lost myself a few nights ago humming a song to Sophia. I have come to end each session by dipping my fingers into the warm wax of the candle by which I’ve been reading (pictured above) before blowing it out. It softens and soothes my spirit as well as my skin.