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By Claire Bidwell Smith
In the dawn of this fresh new year, there has never been a better time to embrace and introduce the art of ritual into your life. If 2020 taught us anything it is to expect the unexpected, and frankly, most of us are still reeling from all that last year brought. Making an intention to incorporate ritual and ceremony into your life this year, could very well be the thing that gets you through whatever lies ahead.
Ritual is an overlooked tool that can add vast therapeutic benefits to your life. It’s something I first discovered during a time in my life that was full of grief and change. Incorporating some simple rituals made me feel grounded and gave me a deepened sense of self and helped me feel more connected to the world around me. Recent studies show that we are more medicated, depressed, and anxious than ever before and that the average person in the US is lonelier than ever before. And that was before the pandemic!
Until we are finally out of this worldwide crisis it is vital to continue creating community, deepening existing relationships in your life, and you got it – embracing the art of ritual. All of these are paths that lead towards greater happiness.
The dictionary will describe rituals in a way that makes them sound boring, describing them as a religious or solemn ceremony consisting of a series of actions performed according to a prescribed order. But rituals can be way more playful than that!
Essentially rituals are patterned, repeated ways in which we evoke compassion, gratitude, awe, bliss, empathy, abundance, and even ecstasy.
Creating rituals can bring a feeling of calm, reverence, and grace. It’s really about taking everyday things and layering them with meaning. Turning ordinary experiences like cooking a meal, or taking a bath, or exercising, and turning it into a spiritual practice. You can practically take anything you do regularly and apply intention, attention, and repetition in order to turn it into a ritual.
But in case you’re still drawing a blank here are some ideas!
This can mean new exercise regimes, cleanses, detoxes, taking breaks from sugar and alcohol, and certain unhealthy habits. Rather than just diving into them, light a candle and take some time to meditate at the outset, tapping into your intention for health, and envisioning and feeling gratitude for the results. Doing these meditations at various points in your health journey will help you feel connected to why you are doing this in the first place, and help you stay on track.
Sabbath, or Shabbat, is the Jewish practice of rest and provides a model for a modern ritual we can use to take time away from technology, work, and social obligations. Creating an organized ritual around taking breaks from things like this helps us to truly step away and feel invested in the rest and rejuvenation we receive by doing so. I love co-opting rituals from various religions. Just because you weren’t raised a certain way or aren’t ready to fully convert to a particular faith doesn’t mean you can’t find creative inspiration in their rituals.
Cooking and gathering for meals is a rich and rewarding realm in which to create rituals. Use family recipes to conjure up a sense of feeling connected to your extended family. Tell stories about where the meal came from and tell stories about the person who used to make it. Create rituals around the dinner table in the form of prayer, toasts, or sharing positive parts of your day. Doing this repetitively throughout the month will give you a greater sense of connection to your family.
In 2015 a Stanford University study revealed that those who took a ninety-minute walk through a natural landscape had reduced neural activity in an area of the brain linked to risk for mental illness compared to those who walked in an urban environment. Figure out how to get out in nature, whether it’s going for a hike or a weekend getaway, and take time to tap into the landscape around you, giving thanks for our planet. Check out companies like Getaway who provide tiny cabins nestled in nature (including a cell phone lockbox).
Kids can take part in rituals too! Rituals around the start of the school year or seasons like summer could include shopping for new clothes, talking about hopes for the year or season ahead, and reflecting on the one before. Cooking and meal rituals always resonate with kids as well. And I don’t know any kid who doesn’t relish at the opportunity to get out in nature.
There are tons of rituals around astrology and the moon. I’ve done plenty of full moon dances and rituals with girlfriends that are often silly but surprisingly potent. Read up a little on various astrological shifts or what different phases of the moon represent and start creating your own ritual. Subscribe to someone like Chani Nicholas or get this Moon Book about lunar magic to get started!
Taking time to think about loved ones who have either passed away or are far away, is a beautiful way to stay connected to the people we love. This can be as simple as lighting a candle and looking at photos or listening to meaningful music and can be done on certain anniversaries or just anytime you’re missing your person. You can also do things in honor of the person, acts of service, or donations. Even just close your eyes and send that person love and let yourself receive their love in return.
Claire Bidwell Smith is an internationally renowned author, speaker, and grief expert. She is the author of three books of nonfiction: The Rules of Inheritance, After This: When Life Is Over Where Do We Go? and Anxiety: The Missing Stage of Grief. Her books have been published in 18 countries and Claire offers grief support and online courses at www.clairebidwellsmith.com.