The Rituals that Feed Me
From my 12 Days journal:
The point is that I could do a lot better with a little self-care… Creating a couple of daily rituals would be a simple place to start. Nothing profound. Nothing that can’t be done alone, without adult supervision. But I need to put myself at the top of my list. Heck, I just need to place myself somewhere ON my list!
Rituals are different from routines. They are meaningful routine behaviors. Where routines keep us organized and focused, rituals keep us fed. In other words, rituals (at least for me) constitute a kind of regular self-care-in-practice.
As I’ve slowed down over the past couple of days, I’ve realized that the two kinds of rituals most lacking in my life right now are those that bring me clarity and those that bring me calm.
Rituals for clarity
Rituals can bring clarity to our lives and ground us. They can help us remove the clutter from our minds and help us focus. Morning pages, as popularized in Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, are a ritual of that sort. First on the list of “basic tools” for awakening creativity, morning pages are “three pages of longhand writing, strictly stream-of-consciousness.” These handwritten journal entries are a brain dump, first thing in the morning, and they can be about anything or nothing at all: the dream you had last night; a dream you have for the future; a nagging fear; the thing that one person who sits next to you at the office does that nearly drives you mad. Doesn’t matter. The point is to just keep writing, even if it means repeating a phrase over and over until you get unstuck. No stopping. No composing/editing/perfecting. No inner critic. (Mine has a loud voice and stinky breath, so she’s difficult to ignore. Ignoring her takes practice.)
After reading an article in The Elephant Journal about them, I decided to give morning pages another go. I’ve been attempting them as a discipline for decades, with varying degrees of success. I decided to approach them as a ritual, rather than a discipline, and it’s made all the difference in my perception of their value. I’ve been at it for less than two weeks now, but I’ve already noticed a difference in my mental state. Because I get all that mental jabbering out onto the page before I even finish my first cup of tea, I’m not listening to it throughout the rest of my day.
On some mornings, I find I am priming my creative pump. Several of my jottings have included working out a design problem or a turn of phrase I’d been struggling with. My subconscious mind had been chewing on it all night and was ready to produce results, if only I moved a pen across the page. Oh, it’s not that my pages revealed the end result — but they moved me far enough down the path to seeing it that the solution would form more quickly and fully later in the day.
On other mornings, I’ve found myself gleaning insights into my own personality and perspectives. These little “Aha!” moments are some of my favorites, as they often articulate vague feelings or help me discover or uncover attitudes underlying what are often baffling behaviors. Bringing them into the light and giving them shape provides the impetus for change.
I’ve also found that not doing my morning pages has an effect. I skipped a day last week, and I felt out-of-sorts and cranky all morning. I made sure I picked the pages up the next morning and have been faithful ever since.
Rituals for calm
Over the years, some of my routines have tipped over into rituals because they begin to take on a spiritual aspect. Yoga, for instance, went from fitness routine to spiritual ritual as my focus shifted away from merely moving and stretching my body to focusing on how breath joined body and mind and expanded my awareness and awakeness. (I have a degree in English, which is kind of a license to make up words. Go with “awakeness,” ok? Way better than “awakitude.”) Yoga requires me to focus on my body: balance, tightness, any strain that occurs. Breathing properly as I move helps me support the movement, keep it safe. The overall effect is one of paying attention, really listening to and being aware of my body and breath.
I’ve found that, during yoga practice, my attention becomes so acutely focused that things I’ve not noticed before come to the surface of my awareness. Some of them are physical (“Huh. Where did that little twinge come from?”), and some of them are emotional (“Wow, that asana really opens up my chest and makes my heart feel light!”). When I’m done — depending on the focus of that day’s practice — I usually feel energized, centered, and calm. I move into my day more relaxed and through it more able to let things roll off my shoulders.
I’ve been practicing yoga off-and-on for almost two decades. As with all of my routines and rituals, I’m too easily thrown off-track. I am, however, determined to work it back into my routine and grow it back into a self-care ritual.
Yoga is, for me, a kind of moving meditation. Over the past several weeks, I’ve also been working on various methods of sitting meditation, treating them as a night-time ritual, before I go to bed. I sleep better and wake up more refreshed when I meditate the night before. Because meditation comes with no space requirements, I can do it anywhere, at any time. I just need to tune into my breathing, expand my awareness, and let go.
Because it’s that simple. Even if it’s not that easy. They call these things “practices” for a reason, you know.
Feeding my center
Incorporating a few key rituals into my life has started me on the path to feeding my center, getting me grounded, opening me up to creativity and new ideas. One thing that has become clear to me: Where routines need to be somewhat flexible and adaptable to life’s unexpected upheavals and demands, rituals should be sacrosanct. That’s a heavy burden to place on an activity, but here’s the thing: The importance I place on rituals is the importance I place on my own well-being. If my rituals are not important, what I am telling myself is that I am not important. And I’ve discovered that this attitude doesn’t serve me well on any level.