In this world where technology and consumerism have become our religion, we’ve largely lost something magical: the ability to elevate something into the realm of the sacred.
I’m not a fan of Catholic priests, but if you watch them perform the Eucharistic ritual in mass, it feels like a moment of true magic. If you watch a Zen priest performing similar rituals, it feels like a moment that is lifted into sacredness. Yoga practitioners before their altar, Muslims worshipping at mosques, Buddhists at their temples — they all practice this kind of sacred ritual.
What we’ve lost is this idea that there is an element of the divine in the world. I’m an atheist and don’t believe in God, but I believe in the divinity of every living being, every object, every breath. These aren’t just ordinary things to be taken for granted, but ordinary things to be deeply appreciated.
And so I’d like to advocate for the idea of ritual.
We can lift an everyday act into the realm of the divine by turning it into a sacred ritual. What I’ve been trying to practice is the art of turning what matters most in my life into a ritual.
What would it be like if you turned what matters most in your life into a ritual? (Hint: if it’s in your life, it is important, as you’ve chosen to include it in your limited time.)
In his book The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz writes in his chapter on the Fourth Agreement (“Always do your best”):
“ I make everything a ritual, and I always do my best. Taking a shower is a ritual for me, and with that action I tell my body how much I love it. I feel and enjoy the water on my body. I do my best to fulfill the needs of my body. I do my best to give to my body and to receive what my body gives to me.”
The ritual of taking a shower, then, becomes an act of appreciating the body you have, taking care of it, and fully loving it. It’s an act of devotion.
What would it be like to bring this art of devotion to everything that matters most in our lives?
The Elements of Ritual
So what would a ritual contain? It’s an art, so you can make it however you like. However, some elements to consider:
- Create your environment: A ritual might have an altar, a temple, incense, etc. But your ritual doesn’t have to have these particular elements — the important thing is to consider what environment you’d like for this ritual, and how that environment will affect the practice. By taking care to create the environment, there’s an element of mindfulness and intention that is missing from most of our actions. An example might be to have flowers and music and sage as you do your yoga practice, or to eat dinner with phones off, a candle burning, and silence in the room.
- Intention: As you start, set an intention for the ritual. What would you like to practice during this ritual? How do you want to show up? Set the intention, and then carry that intention throughout the ritual.
- Bring presence: A key part of ritual is to be as fully present as you can. This is another element missing from most of our daily actions, but if we elevate something to ritual, it can increase our presence.
- Deep appreciation: Ritual is about bringing full appreciation to the act. A daily shower ritual is appreciating your body for the miracle it is. Daily eating rituals is appreciating not only the nourishing food, but the people who put their life energy into growing, transporting and preparing the food. A daily writing ritual might be an appreciation of your connection to your reader. We often take things for granted — ritual brings the appreciation for life, the world, others and ourselves back into our lives.
- Contemplation: Ritual can be a space for contemplating what’s important to you, what you are afraid of, what your aspirations are, and more. Again, this isn’t something we normally make space for, but what if we created that space?
- Connection to aspiration: What do you want to create in the world? Who do you want to be? How would you like to show up, to shift yourself, to serve others? Ritual is a way to connect to these aspirations, so that we can be more resolved to live them.
- Lift to sacredness: We take the ordinary things in our lives for granted, but what if we lifted the ordinary to sacredness? This doesn’t require a belief in God (though it can) … it’s imbuing a power into an action. The word “sacred” comes from the Latin “sacrāre,” which means to consecrate, to dedicate. That usually has holy connotations but can simply mean to be devoted to something that has power. What if we could see the mundane as powerfully sacred and magical?
- Close in gratitude: A ritual has a closing, which might be simply gratitude for whatever you just did, how you practiced, or what you are devoted to. Give a small prayer of thanks to yourself, to the world.
These are some elements to consider — you don’t have to include all of them, and there are many others you can pull in from traditional rituals that range from the pagan and Druids to shamanic to Vedic and more.
Rituals to Consider
Any act that you do each day, that’s important to you, can be considered for something to turn into a ritual.
For example, some that I’ve been experimenting with:
- Start of your day: How would you like to start your day? Can it be with intention, gratitude, reflection? With aspiration and appreciation? With meditation and quiet?
- Getting ready: When you get yourself ready for the day, will it be a rushed affair, or one of slowing down, appreciating your body, taking care of yourself, loving yourself?
- Writing or other work: Whether your work be writing or phone calls or building a house … you can elevate that to ritual by creating intention around it, appreciating what you’re creating, pouring yourself into the act, bringing mindfulness to it. How can you elevate it to ritual?
- Email & messages: We normally just dive into checking email and messages, but what if it became a sacred ritual of connecting to others, of carefully considering issues, of crafting language? Can we elevate the act to one of deep presence and appreciation?
- Eating: With eating, we can simply fuel our bodies and put food down our throats, phones or TVs distracting us … or we can elevate the eating to an act of nourishing and loving our bodies, connecting to others and the earth that has provided for us, connecting to loved ones’ hearts.
- Exercise: We can rush through exercise, just trying to get it over with. Or we can bring it to the realm of the divine, letting it be an act of love for our bodies, an act of connection to our environment, an act of full presence and highest purpose.
- Yoga: Is it just exercise and stretching, or can it be a ritual of full devotion and surrender, of practice of our highest selves?
- Meditation: We can sit there, waiting for the final meditation bell to ring, or we can let it be a ritual of practice for what we’d like to train in. Or simply a ritual of full appreciation for the moment.
- Sleep: Is sleep a matter of being on devices until we’re so tired we can’t check another thing on social media? Or a time when we reflect on our day, prepare for our time of rest, slow down and appreciate our lives?
I have to confess that I have not perfected the art of creating ritual for all of these things — I’m still learning, still experimenting. I have a lot of growth to do here. But when I do it, I’ve found it absolutely profound.
Elevating What Matters Most to You
What is important to you? If it’s in your life, you must care enough about it that you’ve included it. Our hours are precious and limited, and we can take care to only place the things that matter most into that limited space.
So what you’ve included in your life must matter tremendously. Why not craft a ritual for this thing that matters so much?
If you care about checking social media, messages, email, news, blogs — why not make this act into ritual?
If you care about your relationship with someone, why not create a connection ritual where you fully connect with them?
If you care about reading, why not make a reading ritual?
If you care about your meaningful work, why not create a ritual for practicing with that work?
I invite you to create ritual around the deeper practice of your meaningful work with my latest creation:
Originally published on ZenHabits.
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