Embracing Ritual

I have a somewhat tenuous relationship with ritual in my daily life. There’s a part of me that longs for it—it makes me feel so grown-up, in the best of all possible ways, when I finish my night on purpose, with a cup of tea and a chapter of the book on the nightstand, instead of blearily stumbling to bed after too many episodes of an entirely forgettable sitcom.

But on the other hand, the idea of doing the same thing at the same time, day in, day out (the clock says midnight so I must be brushing my teeth) seems so stolid, so… uninspired. Dull. Limiting. Not who I am. Not who I want to be, anyway.

I’ve always kind of assumed ritual is the opposite of spontaneity, but I’m rethinking that. I think ritual is what allows spontaneity to be fun. Ritual creates a structure for daily life; without that structure, it is impossible to be spontaneous. A completely spontaneous life would just be chaos. A quick trip to crazytown on a train without a timetable.

So I’ve been thinking about what activities consistently make me happy—calm me down, make me feel the most like myself—and I’m working to establish them as daily rituals instead of happy accidents. Most of them are about slowing down and managing my day instead of letting my day manage me.

Here are a few of mine—there’s nothing earth-shattering here, I’ve definitely not reinvented the wheel, but these are the activities that consistently make me happy.

*   Half an hour with coffee and a book or notebook in the morning is better for me than rushing out with a travel mug in one hand and a toothbrush in the other. Those extra minutes of sleep aren’t as important as starting my day how I want to start my day.

*   I deal with life better when I don’t have to make wardrobe decisions in the morning. And when whatever else I need for the day (gym clothes, library books, school stuff) is packed and near the door.

*   A cup of tea and a chapter or so of a book lets me end my day feeling like myself, not a mindless drone in front of the TV or computer.

*   I’m happier when I go to bed with an empty sink and make my bed in the morning. The rest of my mess doesn’t seem nearly so dreadful when I stay on top of those two jobs.

(The word “ritual” to me is a bit more meaningful than just “habit”–habit is rote and ritual is mindful. The morning coffee and evening tea are obvious rituals–they keep me more centered and allow me to retain/regain a conception of myself as a thinking individual, they allow me to tap into what is important to me. The other two–picking out my clothes and cleaning up my kitchen–well, the connection to ritual is a little more tenuous. But I think they are rituals because when I have a little time, I can appreciate my wardrobe, I can appreciate my apartment–things I can’t do when I’m throwing on a t-shirt at the last minute or picking my way through a cyclone in my apartment.)

I know, I told you I wasn’t reinventing the wheel. These are basic. But these are the rituals that consistently keep me on an even keel. And you? What rituals keep you balanced?