In my last post, I wrote about a prayer ritual from my husband’s religious tradition that I do every day. Since then, I’ve been thinking more about the role of rituals in my and my family’s lives. It’s kind of funny that I’m writing about this, because I used to hate the word “ritual.” It conjured up vague but frightening images of biblical animal sacrifice. Or something. Either that, or it was synonymous with routine, which I used to equate with boredom and rigidity. Either way, I had no use for it.
I love the word “ritual” now. This was a gradual change, and I never noticed or thought about it as it was happening. Without ever planning it that way, I keep adding rituals to my life one by one, and now they are my spiritual container, my guideposts. Initially foreign and even a little bit forced in some cases, with time and repetition, most of them have become part of me now—as comfortable and familiar as a favorite pair of broken-in shoes. They are reliable reminders to focus on what really matters. On the harder days, they help me hang in there. On the best days, they create more joy in our lives.
Candlelight dinners: Candlelight dinners tend to be associated with “special” occasions, or dinners for grown-ups only, not so much with everyday family dinners. A few years ago, I decided I love them and there is no reason not to make them part of our daily lives. When we are able to all have dinner together, which we manage maybe 4-5 times a week, we do candlelight dinners as a way to honor our time together at the end of the day. The act of lighting them is a tangible reminder that I am blessed to have this wonderful family and we are blessed to all be together for dinner. On the harder days, it reminds me to take a deep breath and try my best to let go of the stresses of the day. This small ritual makes me better able to slow down and be fully present for the brief time we are all sitting down together, since my boys never sit for long (and come to think of it, neither do I!). And the boys love to blow them out at the end and watch the trails of smoke go up.
Making the bed: For most of my life, I viewed making the bed as a pointless waste of time. Around age 40, I decided to try it for a while after a couple different people said that for such a small thing, it made a big difference in their lives. I have had the same experience and I’m fully converted.
The difference kind of reminds me of the Seinfeld episode about George Costanza wearing sweatpants all the time. It feels just right to wear sweatpants out of the house once in a while, but if that’s all you’re ever wearing, maybe something isn’t quite right. By the same token, while it’s nice to let it go once in a while, if days go by and I haven’t made my bed, I know I’m off kilter somehow.
So I make my bed (almost) every morning now. It helps me start my day with a clear intention to take care of things and create some order, both internally and in my external surroundings. And it’s so much nicer to get into at night!
My husband, Gurpreet, and I were talking about this as I wrote this post, and he showed me this video of a commencement speech by a Navy Admiral. I love what he says about the role of bed making in Navy Seal training. The whole speech is worth watching, but you only have to watch up to 6:11 minutes to see the relevant part (if you must, you can skip to 3:45).
Family Hug: Every morning when Gurpreet or I leave for work, we do “family hug”—we call the kids to come from wherever they are in the house, and we all do a big group hug at the door. We started this when Boy 1 started kindergarten. We homeschool now, but at the time he was in brick-and-mortar school. He had just turned 5, and while he had been to day care and preschool before, this was his first time going anywhere for five full days. The first few weeks were tough for him. We started family hug as a way to show him that we draw strength and love from our family as we go out into the world, and our love for each other can carry us through the day. It stuck, and almost 4 years later, we’re still doing it. The other day, our beloved Emily (AKA Menini), my friend and the kids’ babysitter, did it with us. That was awesome.
Morning Pages: I just started this one a couple of months ago. I write three unedited, no filter journal pages (almost) every morning as part of a program for nurturing creativity from The Artist’s Way book. I LOVE this and have not had any difficulty being motivated to do it, as long as I’m up before the kids and can have a quiet 15 minutes or so to do them. At the end, I write three things I am grateful for and three prayers.
Sitting Meditation: This is my tough one. I have had many stops and starts in the decade or so that I’ve been trying to get disciplined about daily meditation. The benefits of meditation on physical and mental health have been well established, and I’m a firm believer in all of it. Besides all the research, during times when I’ve done it regularly, I’ve experienced firsthand how much it helps my stress levels and increases my ability to respond calmly rather than react in difficult situations. And yet, I’ve had the hardest time being consistent. Part of it is my all-or-nothing syndrome—if I don’t have 20 minutes, I do nothing. Then days go by and I get out of the habit, and then weeks or even months can go by. I have renewed my commitment to this practice by creating the ritual of getting my butt on the cushion every morning, even if it’s only for 5 minutes. I know that once I get there, I often stay longer, but even just the 5 minutes is OK.
So I think I’m finally done with my own excuses! If I can’t find 5 minutes, that’s bullshit, obviously. Inspired by this Zen Habits blog post, I set up some accountability for myself. I picked a friend who I know meditates every morning, and for the next few weeks, I am emailing her at the end of each week to report to her on how many days out of 7 I’ve done it.
And by the way, if you think you’re incapable of meditating because you can’t stop your thoughts—guess what? You don’t have to stop them! You just have to practice observing them without pushing them away or following them around, and practice “coming back” when the mind inevitably wanders. My chatterbox brain (AKA “monkey mind”) and I were very happy to find information on Insight Meditation, also known as Vipassana Meditation. For a great introduction, click here.
Kids’ prayers before sleeping: My kids recite a traditional Sikh prayer every night before going to sleep. Occasionally, they sit up on the bed with eyes closed and prayer hands, which is the sweetest thing to witness. Usually, they say it once they are laying down under the covers. They have been saying it pretty much since they were able to string words together, and now it is second nature to them. The prayer is in Punjabi, and their dad has translated it for them a few times, but they don’t fully understand the meaning of the words they are saying. I don’t think it matters, though. Most of the time, they do it without any reminder. This tells me that the prayer ritual is comforting for them and has become part of them. They know they are talking to God, and that is enough.
I would love to hear about your rituals! Please add what rituals have enriched your life, or any you would like to adopt, in the comments.
© Camille Williams and Wake Up, Mama! 2015