There is a certain joy in ritual

Updated Oct 12 2015
Guest post by Cass
Refreshing rituals. (Photo by: Lali MasrieraCC BY 2.0)

There's a certain joy in ritual. For me, a ritual is a repeated task or set of actions performed because of their importance, with reverence and regularity.

I grew up in a home affected by Asperger's. With that came a certain sensitivity to large changes and spontaneity, and we ran our lives according to the clock, with most days fully planned out. Mostly it was my parents who planned our day-to-day. When plans fell through, or plans were failed to be made, the day felt unsettled and we itched for our routine to click back in to place. Planning and daily ritual brought certainty and ease to our home life.

Now that I am an adult living on my own, I have found myself settled in to my own daily rituals. My adult home is not obviously shrouded by the needs of Asperger's. I am rediscovering the comfort, peace, and calm of daily ritual. I find my ritual most important during my most emotionally sensitive parts of the day — right when I wake up and start my day, and as I wind down to end the day to get ready to refresh and renew myself.

My mornings are a series of actions set up to emphasize my daily priorities: mainly good nutrition, getting myself to work, and caffeine. My evenings are meant to help me wind down and get me to sleep.

At a broader level, I am discovering a self-need for social ritual. Although I must cope with my own diagnosed severe social anxiety, on some level, I have always found social ritual very powerful.

More than once, I have been moved to tears by the community of a church service. I look forward every week to picking up my CSA share and chatting with my local farmers. I set aside the money and time to attend a weekly yoga class and make a point to talk to the other attendees. These weekly to-dos help me feel grounded in myself and grounded in the world around me that can feel so large and complicated.

Coming to find peace in ritual has not been without struggle for me. I am in conflict with the line between harmful obsessive ritual and helpful calming ritual. Some rituals I would love to incorporate in to my life, but I have not yet been able to perform the ritual without the accompanying obsession. For now I must let it go and leave these rituals out of my life. I focus on actions that respect myself, that ease me through times of sensitivity.

It's these daily rituals that help me achieve happiness in my life. While at face value, following a specific set of actions may seem difficult or complicated, the reason it works is because, in actuality, the rituals make life more simple. Simplicity during the times I feel most sensitive to worry is like a little gift to myself, the gift of certainty. There are so many times in a day that I worry about what's next. When I know exactly what is going to happen next, I don't worry about it. Reducing worry in my life is one of my major goals in my search for personal serenity.

So I encourage you to think about your priorities and make a ritual out of it. Daily ritual can help make sure you perform tasks important to you, whether your goals are health, well-being, reducing anxiety, or getting more social time in your life.

  1. I so feel you when it comes to finding balance between OCD type rituals (I have mild OCD that manifests when I'm particularly anxious or stressed) and the kind of rituals that help calm anxiety and stress in a more healthful way. I bought some passionflower tea to make when I'm anxious and don't want to take medication, but I think the act of making a cup of tea is almost more calming than the passionflower itself! It's one of my favorite rituals.

    • I'm a fan of lavender tea. There is some clinical research to support that when used regularly over time it is as effective as xanax for anxiety.
      Another good one is tulsi/holy basil tea. It's been used for a long time in India as a natural remedy for stress.

  2. I have always established loving, wonderful rituals only to dash them to the ground in a few months time. Somewhere in my head is a voice that tells me that I can't be the spontaneous, free, funky person that I imagine myself to be if I follow routine and ritual. The fact that these rituals generally help me feel more grounded and happy does not matter to the nagging voice. Thank you for reminding me of the beauty of ritual and that rituals can actually be wonderful on their own.

    • Any tips for fitting your rituals around another adult, who you love and live with, but just seem to need them as much as you do?

      • This is like my household too. I try to be a good loving partner and do the ritual for my husband. Like in the morning, when I make coffee for me, I also get his coffee mug and fill it with his morning coffee.
        At night I encourage reading in bed together, or for him, meditating in bed.

      • I can speak for my situation, which is a small home with a husband and dog.

        We both have rituals that are very important to us. Mostly they're different, and a few are shared. My most important rituals are related to de-stressing (such as changing my clothes and having a sit-down after work) and his are mostly around sleep (getting things ready for the next day, waking up in slow stages). Our shared rituals are mostly around preparing food and spending time together.

        When we first moved in together, I found it took time and lots of communication to get our rituals in place. I hadn't lived with a partner previously (I'd lived with roommates but it felt different with a partner) and I didn't think of my rituals as rituals, they were just "what I did". When another person entered my personal space, at first I felt encroached upon. And I didn't even know why! I felt like I was off-kilter and I didn't feel satisfied with home time. Turns out, I had allowed my rituals to lapse or change in the presence of another person, and it was making me feel anxious.

        So we began talking about our rituals. I phrased my rituals as "these are the things I need in order to feel safe and relaxed in our home". He had rituals of his own (who knew!) that came to light as we talked. And we figured it out in time. Some of our rituals have evolved as our lives have changed, and that's OK. The rituals find a way of fitting our life at the time.

        The most important thing for me has been to say out loud what I need. There's something very powerful about saying, "I need this. This is important to me." My husband loves me and wants me to be happy, so he tries to respect my rituals. And I try to respect his. And mostly it works. 🙂

  3. This was lovely. I am also very calmed by rituals which, for me, is one of the hardest parts of having depression. It's sometimes hard to maintain rituals that give me comfort when I'm depressed (cleaning the house, cooking for the week on Sunday, getting in some craft time) and then the feeling of being thrown off makes the depression worse. On the flip side, sometimes just forcing myself to do one helps boost me out of the fog a little. It's a delicate balance.

  4. For years I thought I was reveling in a free and relatively unstructured life (I'm an academic and a writer so there's lots of home time), but I've realized that I actually do much better and get more done in a satisfying way when I make what I call a framework for my time ("schedule" sounded too restrictive). That framework contains the time I take for myself in the morning as well as the time I carve out to write. Rather than making me feel constrained, it's given me so much more time to enjoy things. Thanks for your thoughts.

    • I'm really liking your use of the word "framework." Stress made the word "schedule" somewhat toxic, so I think I need a new word.

  5. *stand up and applauds* I am so impressed by the level of self-love expressed in this post! Since you are a human I am assume that you have days and moments when you don't really feel that way, but the fact that you could write this indicates to me that you are in touch with it and come back into it when needed, and your rituals provide you with a way to do that. I grew up in a house with a lot of ritual as well, due to a sibling with OCD symptoms and a parent with both a lot of trauma and a lot of therapy behind her. I do not have any issues with anxiety but I still find rituals and routines extremely important to my well-being simply because it's what I grew up with as normal (I also find it very important to shake it up and ditch them periodically, but again no anxiety issues for me). Since having a child, I've also noticed it helps her to have a rituals as well, particularly at bed time. Rituals are like reassurances that all is well and right and good. I guess at a neurological level, too, they help trigger the appropriate state of mind because you've conditioned yourself by having them in the first place. My sibling with the OCD tendencies was helped tremendously by neurofeedback but has also told me that managing her symptoms in a similar way to this article was what taught her self-care, self-awareness, and how to put valuing oneself into action. Seriously, I can't get over how good it makes me feel reading this to see how much self-acceptance and love you've put into it. Bravo.

    • Rituals are tough for OCD. Because something that could be a comforting and helpful ritual can turn into something obsessive or destructive. For me, that was prayer. It was really difficult for me (a Catholic) to give it up. But ultimately, I do not see religion as a destructive force, but a force for good. If my faith is causing me harm, I can't keep observing it in the way I was.
      What ended up happening is that I broadened my idea of what prayer is, so now I do a version of Christian meditation, and I'm generally very grateful for the wonders I see in my life.

  6. This is not 100% related, but the post reminded me of the book "The Rosie Project." The main character has Aspergers, and one of the things he does is cook fairly elaborate meals, exactly seven dishes, which he can make without thinking at all. (The book is basically a romantic comedy, and is adorable and fun)

    I really relate to the post, though; I definitely have a wake up routine that is slightly obsessive, but not harmful.

  7. I love so many things about this post. I took a lot of anthropology and religious studies classes in college, and we spoke a lot about ritual. In my own life, I don't think I would have been able to live abroad for six years if I hadn't found a Catholic church with weekly English Mass. The ritual, the community, the one hour a week when I'd know exactly what to expect in a life that could be chaotic. It kept me grounded.

    My husband suggested a new ritual about six months ago, and it's become my favorite time of day. We set the alarm for one hour before we need to get up. When the alarm goes off, I get up, put the kettle on, and come back to bed for snuggles until the water boils. Then I get up again, make the tea, and bring it to bed. We sit in bed and talk about our dreams and our plans for the day, and I knit. It's Husband Time and Crafty Time and Tea Time all rolled into one: pure bliss.

    • That sounds wonderful 🙂 I try to do something similar at night before bed. My husband can't always join me at bedtime, so on those nights I cuddle with my cat instead.

    • That's so lovely! I'd love to do something like this, but 5.45am is already early enough for my alarm to go off… Perhaps I can implement this in the afternoons.

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