The Gift of Ritual

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Sometime during the year after Boy 2 was born, depression snuck up on me. I had experienced several bouts of it since adolescence, but it took a while for me to figure out what was happening since it came on gradually and I had some legitimate stressors to pin it on. Once I finally accepted that it was more than just situational stress, I got some counseling.   Just as important, I thought about lifestyle changes I could make—more exercise, a regular meditation practice, etc.  I was talking with my husband, Gurpreet, about that and he said very definitively, “You need to do prayers.”  

I was skeptical. He is very dedicated to Sikhism, his religion. It’s a pretty cool religion—some of the main tenets are service to others, equality, and respect for other religions (the latter being the reason you see a couple of Hindu deities, a Buddha, and a Native American bear fetish on the altar along with with the first Sikh Guru!).  But I have not converted, nor have I ever identified with any particular organized religion. If I had to pick one for myself, it would probably be Buddhism, since it gives concrete tools I can use (meditation). In any case, I had never done formal prayer.

In his tradition, you do paath, which means prayers, every day. Part of that process is lighting jyot, which is a small, dense, wicked cotton ball soaked in ghee (clarified butter). This is always done with shoes off and head covered (it doesn’t matter with what—it could be a dish towel as long as your head is covered!) Then, with the jyot light burning, you do your prayers. In his case, he reads from the Sikh holy book.   I have seen him do this every day since I’ve known him. While it is part of the prayer ritual for the person doing it, the lighting of the jyot is also meant to bless the house each day. So in a Sikh family, while everyone typically does their own prayers, only one person lights the jyot for the family and home.

Gurpreet said he wanted to turn this ritual over to me. He was convinced that the discipline of doing this every day would be healing for me. I was skeptical that it would help me, but I was moved by his generosity in giving me this practice that was so important to him. I asked if he really wanted to do that—wouldn’t he miss doing it? He said reading from the holy book was enough for him, and as long as someone in the house lights the jyot, it doesn’t matter who does it.

So now it is me who lights the jyot every day. I read from my 365 Tao book and say a few prayers. At first, I was going through the motions, really just doing it in order to graciously accept this act of generosity and love from my husband, and because it allowed me to participate in his traditions. That was enough, and I didn’t expect it would do anything for me beyond that. But it has. This one small discipline has grounded me in my home and my family. It is a daily reminder to focus on what is most important. My prayers are mostly centered around gratitude, which helps me stay positive more of the time. (One of my favorite yoga teachers says, “The mind of gratitude and the complaining mind cannot coexist.”)

Soon after I began, I added another component to this practice, which I learned from my mother-in-law. Whenever she has visited, she would bless the children by placing her hands first over the jyot flame, then on the children’s heads, saying a prayer for their health and happiness. I started doing that, too, and this small gesture has worked magic in my relationship with my children. I know they love it, and it helps keep me in the right frame of mind so I can be with them more and more in the way I want to be–with joy and ease.

My depressive state that started all this was characterized mostly by extreme irritability rather than the weepy sadness of previous episodes. In fact, it was the realization that I had been speaking to Boy 1 in ways I never thought possible that prompted me to do something about my situation. Even when you’re not depressed, let’s face it–it’s easy to get caught up in the challenges and relentlessness of parenting and dwell too often in a mindset of drudgery rather than gratitude for the amazing little people with whom we are entrusted. Blessing them every day helps with that. This small act reaffirms or brings me back to this: “Oh, yeah. These children are a blessing from God. I love them like crazy!” Funny how easy it can be to lose sight of that!

It’s also a wonderful way to connect my kids with their father’s culture and extended family. I love that I’m doing for them what their grandmother did for their father and his brothers growing up in India.   And while I have no plans to formally convert to Sikhism, this practice connects me to the traditions of my husband and his family. It’s a win-win for everyone.

My depression is gone now, and I am left with this enduring daily ritual that has enriched my life and created deeper connection and love within our family.  And having experienced the power of ritual, I have since created a few of my own.  I am so grateful to my husband for this beautiful gift.

© Camille Williams and Wake Up, Mama!  2015

12 thoughts on “The Gift of Ritual

  1. I love these new posts! Your boys are lucky to have such an awake mama, and you’re lucky to have such a spiritually grounded husband. 🙂 My depression also manifests as extreme irritation rather than extreme sadness–got to keep an eye on that. Look forward to reading more!

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