Traditional cultures have always known the benefit of ritual
I’ve experienced this while sitting in circle with Aboriginal elders, singing as the women prepared food together. The coming together in song and community brought a reverence and intimacy that made the chopping of the vegetables a complete joy. The simple ritual of food preparation became a celebration, an opportunity to be with each other and enjoy the abundance of life. Another memory of the power of ritual I have is sitting on the land in circle, in the Andes preparing a Despacho (sacred offering) with shamans.
Being out on the land in this way, remembering Pachamama (mother earth) and all she gifts us with; water, air, food, life itself, felt so right and so good to have the opportunity to express my gratitude in a tangible way. Other potent memories of ritual include the sacred devotional offerings I’ve been taught to perform by my teachers in India and have shared in, during sacred rituals in the moist, balmy temples of this land still so connected to the sacred. I love the bhakti of Puja, where we offer symbolic items honouring the Divine, or the rituals of purification, dance, and chant, that are outwardly different, but inwardly the same, across the planet.
These are really special rituals I’ve been blessed to take part in, but you don’t need to travel to the Andes, Ganges or Uluru and other sacred places, to perform rituals. Certainly, Indigenous Elders bring extra power to the rituals they perform, as they are part of an unbroken lineage of spiritual connection and ritual, and any opportunity to learn from Indigenous teachers is very precious. Their rituals are a vital part of their everyday lives and they have an expanded consciousness and connection to the land and the Great Spirit. But you and I can imbue our own lives with greater potency, peace, and joy, through embracing some simple daily rituals.
In essence, a ritual is about bringing sacredness into your life, and about honouring something greater than you and I. It is about honouring the mystery, and the bringer of life in all things, from the flowers to the trees, to the birds, the tiny caterpillar glistening on a fresh leaf, or the waking sun, and the moonlight. There is a divine force that moves through all things, like a river, enlivening all of life. It is the same force that moves the plant to flower, the wolf to howl, or lights up a baby’s face. As we become more aware of this higher force moving in our lives and express our gratitude for it, it expands and colours daily life with radiance and light that connects us to all living things.
Ritual is the passageway of the soul into the Infinite. – Algernon Blackwood
The science behind rituals
Associate Professor of Psychology and Cognitive Scientist, Christine Legare has studied rituals for many years and has discovered there are a few key ways in which people trust rituals. What makes a ritual feel effective, is the same from ancient Egypt to modern-day Brazil. Christine says that rituals reflect how our minds work. “We don’t actually know how most things work,” she says, “so we do a lot of imitating.” According to Legare, in a chaotic world, rituals offer us the illusion of control over what we want to happen.
A series of investigations by psychologists have revealed interesting new results that are not surprising. Their research demonstrates that rituals can have a causal impact on people’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. Other experiments by psychologists, into grief and ritual, showed that people who engaged in a ritual after the death of a loved one or loss of a close relationship felt less grief about the loss.
Rituals, like birthday celebrations, weddings, funerals, coming of age parties, are an important way we gather together with our communities and loved ones. Today rituals have become more secular and materialistic, but essentially the desire behind them is the same, to connect, celebrate, and be grateful for life and its expression. Increasingly ancient rituals are returning and finding a place in modern society: rituals such as blessing way ceremonies for mothers before they birth their child or rituals for girls as they enter womanhood and start menstruating.
Today there are camps or outdoor activities for men and boys, Women’s Healing Circles, Full Moon circles, Earth Healing Circles, and so many more beautiful ritual gatherings that are evolving as we acknowledge our primal need and desire to be together in sacred ways that are healing and transformational for us. Yoga, at its roots, a deeply sacred practice, and preparation for higher connection and communion with the Divine, may start off as a form of exercise for many, but quite soon becomes something sacred that nourishes the spirit as well as the physical.
Ritual is a terribly important, binding cement in a society. If we abandon formality and rituals, we’re actually weakening the relationships that exist between people that bind. – Alexander McCall Smith
Simple rituals to practice
There are some very basic rituals you can add to your life that will greatly enhance and transform your outlook, and over time, your life. Yogic wisdom says that thoughts lead to actions, your actions become habits and your habits determine your character, and ultimately your character determines your destiny. As the late Wayne Dyer said:
You do not attract what you want, you attract what you are.
Rituals put us in contact with the forces moving the universe, that energy that is within all life. We are said to have about 25,000 mornings as an adult. How will you start your day? Will you start with sacredness, with a ritual that sets your day as an amazing opportunity to be alive and connect with other people and animals, an opportunity to express your creativity and enjoy this beautiful planet, or will you drag yourself out of bed going: “Oh God, another day of work!” Starting your day with a simple five-minute ritual can change the way you experience life over time.
Rituals like: Space clearing, Gratitude, Blessing your food, Prayer, or Chanting can greatly enhance your life. Being in nature is one of the most blessed resources we have. I love to sit in nature and reflect. To listen, to be with myself, on the ground, at one with all of life. Watching the wind move through the leaves, or the first rays of light shoot forth into the sky, sitting under the stars, walking in the local national parks, or being beside a river in the rain forest, is deeply restorative. Nature helps us reset. By bringing in regular mindful times in nature you can truly transform your life. Just sitting, being and listening in nature can bring forth insights, understanding and answers. Problems are solved and life resets itself, the pieces naturally falling into place.
Creating a sacred space in your home is one of the most beautiful and health-giving rituals you can do. Creating some sort of an altar where you can place images of loved ones, masters, elements of nature, crystals, or whatever you are inspired by or that connects you to Source, instantly elevates your space to something more sacred. Sitting at your altar and feeling gratitude, or meditating, is a great way to connect to your heart and to all of life. Temples and sacred places around the planet were made sacred by the devotional practices and rituals that took place within them. Your home and your body can become temples if you treat your space with reverence. You can sanctify the space in your home through conscious cleaning and space clearing. Regular smudging or use of sound, sacred music and chants, and burning incense can keep your home a sacred space that will nourish and support you.
Rituals are habits that support you during challenging times. A regular ritual, such as a meditation or yoga practice, brings the inner resilience and pathways of neural calm so that you are resourced when you are faced with potential derailment from life’s road trains.
We do spiritual ceremonies as human beings in order to create a safe resting place for our most complicated feelings of joy or trauma, so that we don’t have to haul those feelings around with us forever, weighing us down. We all need such places of ritual safekeeping. – Elizabeth Gilbert
Rituals bring relief when everything is falling to pieces. Having a daily sacred practice of some sort holds you together when things fall apart. Because relationships do break up, jobs end, friendships have bumpy bits, people die, illness hits, and the unexpected happens. And it’s at these times, that we need an inner resilience, something that can help us navigate the foggy territory of human suffering. While yes, sometimes we need to fall apart, it is helpful to have something to fall into, a cushion that will break your fall and support you to eventually get back up again.
Some of the best rituals that will help you develop this inner strength, peace, focus, calm and somatic, grounded serenity, are Yoga, Yoga Nidra, Meditation, nature-based shamanic meditation, and self-inquiry. I start each day with a little ritual of placing my hands on my heart and giving thanks for life, and the opportunity to be alive and to enjoy all the beauty of this world. I send prayers for all beings, very much along the lines of the Buddhist prayer:
May all beings be free, may all beings be happy, may all beings be free from suffering.
And I send out healing energy to the world. This is my way of giving back. And it connects me to all of life everywhere. A self-healing ritual I do is to sit or lie down in stillness and focus on my breathing, so I drop into a more internal state. Then I listen to my body, my heart, or connect with my inner child, and discover what is going on for me at an inner level. This way, I can release feelings that are there and can connect with my deeper wisdom and feelings, so I stay connected to my inner reality and what is really going on for me. There are many simple healing rituals you can do that can keep you healthy and balanced, it’s a matter of finding or creating something that works for you.
There are many sacred chants in ancient seed languages, or light languages of power, such as Sanskrit, which carry more potency as they are closer to the source. Words can divide and words can be a pathway to divinity. Sacred chants alter your physicality and your surroundings. Many years ago I started to teach myself some chants that I enjoyed. I would chant while I was cooking, cleaning and driving. And over time I started to learn different chants. The repetition anchored them into my consciousness and for example, when I had sick babies or nights of comforting my eldest daughter who had colic, chanting supported me to stay present and be there for her. You can also chant a powerful mantra internally as a way of purifying an atmosphere when you are in a difficult or potentially explosive situation, such as conflict. Some simple and powerful mantras are the mantra Om, Om Mani Padme Hum, or the Moola Mantra. Or you can chant your own mantra such as “I am peace.”
Keys to creating rituals
- Start small
- Make it a daily commitment.
- Do something you enjoy.
- Be kind to yourself if you forget or don’t do your ritual.
There are so many rituals to choose from. The best is to create your own ritual that suits you and your life and your spiritual beliefs. Basically, a ritual must evoke something greater than yourself. It must bring you peace, and help you to experience your true nature