Perhaps it’s nothing more than the rituals of life that propel us and give us the will to keep going.
The mechanics of ‘now I do this’ and ‘then I will do that’ determine what actually gets done. It certainly is true when crisis or depression hit as we are reduced to our most basic patterns. It is also what breaks down in those cases of high anxiety and which leaves us trapped in a suspended state of animation, when we can’t even resume those rituals and carry on.
Rituals are at the core of high performance preparation—a plan, a to do list and set of goals to accomplish, to reach for. It may not seem so lofty when the goal is ‘now I put on my underwear’ and ‘now I floss’ but rituals are the ladder we’ve built our existence upon– and linking them to bigger tasks can move us surreptitiously toward achievements that have been out of our grasp.
Is a regularly scheduled track workout a ritual? Is it a ritual that my mom put the coffee into the coffee pot before she goes to bed rather than in the am before she’s about to pour the water into the machine? I think it’s probably something deeper about who are at this time in our lives– and what we want to be propelled toward.
What I see with my parents now is it literally is that ritual is what keeps them going. It’s what was missing for my mom when my dad was first in the nursing home. “Now what do I do?,” she would say. You could see she was drifting, with nothing to replace the tasks and organizational needs that were in place when they were both home—the home of everyone of their 65 years of marriage—the home where they spent about 358 days of each of those 65 years. The rituals became more than habits, they became instinctual survival techniques. Is it a ritual that a robin go out looking for worms each day? Call it what you want—it’s what keeps them alive.
Rituals are not permanent like habits or addictions can be- but they are lasting. They don’t define us entirely but they do put a cover on our book and show the world what we spend our time doing. Yet we also have our internal rituals, that the world does not see yet what perhaps are even more defining who we are every day. Where we keep our anxiety—how we hold our stress—where our minds go when we are sad, shaken, in doubt, fearful.
Yet there is a paradox. The rituals that sustain us can also appear to be traps of boredom and lifeless, mindless exchanges that sap life of its newness. For isn’t creativity the antithesis of ritual? Yes but. Yes but some of us need to first be bored to create. Some of us need the calming waters of ritual to clear our minds to build, to recharge for change. The repetitive ritual is the steady, flat foundation on which we build. That foundation is where the rituals end and the creativity starts that set the course for how we assault the world. A cup of coffee on the couch before the day starts may be the last act of boredom as well as the first act of creative expression that day offers.
What are the rituals that you, intentionally or not, work your way through during your day? Do they support what you want to accomplish today? Do they also lead you toward the larger endeavors that you aspire to? Can you attach to them something tiny and easy that can slowly build into a better version of you?