When you hear the word ritual, what do you think of? Religion and worship? Dry, antiquated activities that have no meaning in your immediate life? The truth is, ritual is a part of all of our lives, every day. Many of our habits are in fact rituals. Think of your morning routine – the way you get out of bed, wash and dress yourself, prepare your morning meal, get ready for your day. These activities are all part of your morning ritual. And you likely have many more rituals… such as the way you eat your meals, or drive your car, or do your work, or take breaks from your work, or “decompress” in the evenings, or go to bed (or put others to bed).
Have you ever wondered what ritual is for? We know that we have these repeated, almost unconscious activities that we perform on a regular basis. But why do we do them? Why are they so compelling? Why, if someone suggests changing one of our rituals, do we feel so threatened?
I can’t find the exact reference, but I remember reading once in one of Marion Woodman's books that ritual is the way we connect with the divine. That is, rituals are designed to take us on a journey from our waking, conscious, everyday selves to a special place/time where we can connect with the deeper collective energies – what some people would call God, or the creative source, or the inner self. And in a world where organized religion no longer plays a central role in many people’s lives, our rituals become secularized, and diluted. So a woman creates a ritual of secretly buying food from several different stores, and in the moments when she can be alone and unobserved, she binges until she vomits. Or a man collects favorite porn videos and images in a secret file on his computer, and looks at them late at night when his disapproving wife is asleep.
I recently started reading Spiritual Hunger: Integrating Myth and Ritual into Daily Life, by Allan G. Hunter. I’ve always been fascinated by ritual, and our hunger for it. I’m also taking a deeper look at my own rituals, and asking myself: Are they empty? Or fulfilling?
Have you ever thought much about your personal rituals? Can you identify them? What do you think your rituals are trying to connect you with? Are they succeeding?