R is for Rituals

Years ago, the first three hours of my weekdays were MINE for my morning ritual.

(Before you ask, the answer is yes, I had a full-time job at the time.)

I got up at four, meditated for 45 minutes, and walked up the street to be at the gym by five.

There, I did whatever exercises my body desired for two whole hours before giving an ounce of attention to urgencies of the day.

Do you have a morning ritual, or do you rush into a routine?

Just to be clear, following a prescribed procedure doesn’t a ritual make, necessarily; “prescribed procedure” could also describe a routine. What makes the difference between the two, I think, lies in the intent behind them.

To put it simply, you could say that…

Rituals are about changing your life.
Routines are about getting your life done.

But more than intent, what ultimately separates a ritual from a routine, for me, is their impact on my emotional state:

Rituals are grounding.
Routines tend to become exhausting.

Taking that view, you might see how rituals and routines can morph into the other. For example, when I first started weight lifting, it was as part of a routine imposed by my swim coach for faster times. But later, the pursuit became something more.

Who knew that when I got amused about people “pumping iron for Jesus,” that I’d one day do squats and bicep curls as part of a spiritual practice. I won’t pretend that I didn’t love the buns of steel I gained from it, but the real reward from my ritual was that life flowed easier.

For example,

I started to feel centered for longer periods of the day.

Serendipitous things started happening.

I got through tough situations faster.

And, most importantly, my intuition—my guidance system—became sharper.

Much sharper.

But just as these and other benefits arose, they were quick to subside when for weeks here and there, I rushed into my day by getting outwardly busy instead of inwardly still.

If you’re looking for life to flow easier, try a morning ritual before officially starting your day.

Before you protest about not having hours to spare before work, hear me out—you only need the time it takes to start your day mindfully; maybe all that means is reading a daily devotional or some other inspirational material.

Me, I take as long as I do with my ritual because I relish alone time; these days that’s anywhere from a few minutes to two hours.

I’ll discuss some of these steps another time, but here’s what my morning ritual is looking like now:

  1. I lay in bed after waking, contemplating things or daydreaming about a passion project.
  2. I drink water and make my bed.
  3. I stand barefooted on my acupressure mat, take deep breaths, and chant a mantra for 108 rounds.
  4. I stretch: first my back, and then my legs and arms for 15 minutes while repeating affirmations in my mind (or thinking Ouch, ouch, ouch if I’m stiff and cold).
  5. I do squat hops and/or swing a kettlebell to raise my heart rate for at least five minutes.
  6. I take a walk, weather permitting, while rolling things over in my mind.

When I’m at my parents’ place and my mornings are busy with poaching eggs, I get as far down the list as I can. But I make sure—always—to make a pocket of peace before bed:

Currently, my nighttime ritual is to doze off listening to “miracle music” while thinking pleasant thoughts (or the most pleasant ones that I can muster).

A benefit of this practice, it seems, is sounder sleep, which makes the next day easier all around.