Sunday, 14 December 2014

Ritual or habit - Is there a difference?

Following on from yesterday's post about ritual and community, I've been thinking about whether any of the things I do constitute ritual. I think they do.

On Wednesday nights I drive over to the other side of town to meet with 20 other people in a hall attached to a Russian Orthodox church. It's choir practice night. There are the greetings as people trickle in. People connect with each other and new things are discovered. We stand in a circle to warm up with music that is familiar before learning a new song or working to develop a work in progress. New friends are made and professional connections forged. There is much laughter and warmth and it's very special singing in a group and making eye contact around the circle.

I think this is a ritual. It is regularly practised. It creates connection and leaves me with a sense of refreshment and connection. Is it any wonder that choirs have been used as an indicator of community health

Each night I light a couple of scented candles. Sometimes I think of something particular as I do and other times I just light the candle. The lighting of a candle often forms part of sacred ritual. This is an accessible and private ritual.

Knitting is something I do everyday, along with reading, walking, playing music and brushing my teeth. Knitting is part of my daily ritual. I slow down, sit down and take up my needles. My hands know what to do without even looking and I soon find my rhythm. I delight in the rich colours as every piece passes through my hands. If I'm knitting for someone else, I think of them while I knit. Soon I feel calmer.

Not so long ago, writing was part of my daily habit. Is a habit the same as a ritual? I think it depends. Contemporary language has appropriated terms like "ritual" and "icon" from religious context and placed them in a purely secular, often commercial context. Sporting heroes and pop star celebrities are now referred to as icons and mundane actions like checking your phone are often referred to as rituals. Reality dating shows like "The Bachelor" hold a "rose ceremony" to remove contestants and "Survivor" incorporates "getting fire to symbolise life" into tribal council. Perhaps these are examples of things that have become ritualised. 

A search of the web for images of ritual resulted in pagan images. Interesting. To me a ritual has an element of purpose or mindfulness and something changes as a result of engaging in it. And there is an order or a sequence which is observed.

At the music camp I go to every year (Summersong), ritual forms part of the big celebration party held in the middle of the week. Often the experience is profound and individuals can engage in the experience as deeply as they wish. My first year at Summersong involved a moment that I can pinpoint as being life changing.

We were asked to think of something that we wished to give up. We then had to find a natural object that would embody this thing and bring it with us to the party. I thought about this, taking it very seriously; the idea resonated. After much deliberation I realised that I wanted to give up my hardness. After many years of being a union leader I started to recognise how the toughness I was required to have everyday had made me quite a hard person. I realised I had drifted a long way from myself. I found a stone from the lake bed to embody my hardness. As we filed into the hall we were greeted with deep eye contact and invited to sit and have our feet washed. It was exquisite. I clutched my stone and as I sat there, I could feel a hard lump rising through my torso. Soon, the tears started to flow. They continued for quite a long time. I was invited to discard my stone into a basket. As I did, the tears stopped. I felt like the hardness had left.

I don't know how this will sound to people who weren't there and I'm a bit nervous about sharing it. The reason I have shared here is to show that ritual does not have to be religious. The thing that defines an action as being a ritual, for me, is the notion of being purposeful and conducted in a thoughtful, conscious mindset.

As for the writing habit, I'm reinstating it and still deciding.

What rituals do you have in your life? Where did they come from? How do they affect you?

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