Ritual turns the ordinary into the extraordinary

Ritual or ceremony are valuable to our lives as human beings and have been since the beginning of time. It is how we have always welcomed new babes into the world, anointed new leaders, or marked any important milestone. We still cherish moments like birthdays, weddings, and festive holiday reunions. Even funerals are rituals we crave to manage the emotions we feel at the time. But I would argue that ritual is necessary EVERY day, not just on big occasions.

Do you notice what happens when you perform or attend a ritual? The rest of life is silent while you take it in. I remember exactly the look on my mother's face at my wedding after we took our last turn around our holy book, signifying the marriage was sealed. I had a blessing ceremony for each of my three children with women from my community and I can remember exactly what was said in each blessing to me. I was present, really present, for those moments. Ritual and ceremony bring us in, they anchor us to what is going on right there, in the now. Whether they are intensely joyous or sad moments, rituals reorient us to life as it happening in front of our eyes.

In our fast-paced days, we are often rushing through our tasks to get to the next one while juggling incoming calls or emails. In this way, we may be missing much of what is happening right in front of our eyes. This fast paced life often does not serve us, and we need to counterbalance it if we are to care for ourselves well. We NEED ritual to slow us down, to make us remember what is truly meaningful in our lives.

This is why I urge both patients and the physicians I train to find ritual in their days. It can be a way to turn the ordinary into the extraordinary and thus, find the beauty in what may seem mundane. It brings us back to the moment. I do workshops regularly with young physicians about sustainability and avoiding the emotional fatigue of being a caregiver in their roles. And I always ask them, "What is your ritual before clinic?" Or during, or after? In short, how do you receive the day as the extraordinary experience it really is?

The majority of the time there is silence on their parts. We take for granted that the work day itself may be our ritual. But that is our activity of the day, our ordinary routine. How do you make it less mundane, and instead remind you of its meaning in your life?

For me, before starting clinic each day, I do a personal meditation that reminds me to have compassion, not only for my patients but also for myself, because I am only human. And in between each patient, it is crucial that I take a deep breath or two (or more, if I need it!) so that I pause to realize this is a new patient, a new moment. My hand on the doorknob of each exam room is my touchstone to remind me that I need this. Some visits can be emotionally taxing or even frustrating, and I have to be intentional to not take the previous visit into my next one. So I stop, I breathe, I reset. These are just a couple of brief things I do each day but they are critical to making me more present, instead of wrapped up in my thoughts of the past or the future.

At home, we have rituals together as a family. Maybe you have these too. They are important to help kids feel grounded and secure. When we sit together for dinner each evening, we share our "ups" and "downs" for the day. If my husband or I forget, in fact, our kids remind us because it is so much a part of what they are used to doing. It is a "sacred" part of our meal. When we go to bed at night, we also share our "gratefuls."  

If you cannot think of rituals at this time for work or home, think instead of "ritualizing" what you may already be doing each day. Maybe you have a cup of coffee each morning and you can commit to doing that in silence so that you have a chance to reset and slow down. I know you must brush your teeth or wash the dishes. Why not slow down and just do the task at hand as a special task, something you are lucky to be able to do every day? Even the act of just slowing down and being mindful is ceremonial.

I am so grateful for my rituals, large or small. They give me the chance to really BE with life instead of racing through it.

Find a ritual that you can commit to for at least a month so that you can see if and how it changes your day. You may feel better about your day. You may see it differently. No risk in finding out! And if you do, share your ritual with me so I can learn new ways of making my day extraordinary.

Live well,
Tanmeet