I write a lot about the power of routine as ritual, or taking our day-in, day-out practices and turning them into meaningful, intentional activities that enhance the overall quality of our lives. But what does that really mean? And how to we turn these rote activities into sacred practices? First, we have to understand the difference between routine and ritual.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, routine is defined as “a sequence of actions regularly followed.” Pretty straight forward. It’s the stuff we do regularly without fail, whether they are good for us (waking up early to exercise before work) or bad (always hitting the vending machine at three in the afternoon). Some are more mundane: pay the rent at the first of the month, take your six-month visit to the dentist, get an oil and lube for your car.
We are so used to these things as basic parts of adult life that we never really think too hard about them, unless something is out of joint (not sure how you will pay your rent, a sketchy dentists, weird nosies coming from your car’s engine). Hell, our routines are so ingrained, we often zone out while caring from them. Have you ever driven home from work via the same rout you take every day and have no memory of the drive? That’s you on autopilot. Your routine is so second-nature you disconnect from the actual activity you’re doing.
The second definition of routine is equally telling. It defines it as “a set sequence in a performance such as a dance or comedy act.” So routine is not just a basic repetitive schedule, but something we perform, consciously or unconsciously. It’s all about how important we want people to see us. Running from one thing to the next practically shouts that we are so busy, so interesting, so important! It also broadcasts our values. Do you value squeezing in one more thing at work over finishing a few minutes early and leisurely heading home to enjoy some self-care? To you pack your weekends with activities and experiences, or do you create time to dally? Each decision shapes how we see ourselves and how others see us.
But these definitions of routine only take is so far. Only far enough to get us thinking about how we see ourselves and how we want others to see us, in fact. But what about what we want to feel, experience, and enjoy?
That’s where ritual comes it.
Ritual is about consciously, mindfully tending to our daily tasks, taking comfort in the familiarity and pleasure in how they ground and nurture us. We welcome in the healthy and the good and actively eliminate the life-diminishing and bad.
In order to do that, however, we have to change how we look at our day-in, day-out. It’s not a place we need to escape from (who hasn’t fantasized about running away to a distant land when life gets complicated or dreary?). It’s not a collection of minutes that fills our head until the real fun—a weekend, celebration, or happy event—can happen. It’s about finding joy in the life we create for ourselves one small, deliberate act at a time. I’m reminded of the Ten of Cups in the tarot here—the homey gratitude card that asks you to step back and appreciate all the simple magic of your life that you’ve worked hard to create.
The first step to unplugging from rote activities—aka mindless routine—is to find enjoyment in the things we often perceive as One More Thing To Do. Celebrate chores, rather than dread them by turning them into rituals that help you unplug from your workday and reconnect with yourself. So I have to turn my compost—good. Dirt in my fingernails grounds me and feeding the worms connects me to nature. So I don't know what to cook for dinner—I 'll start with sautéing an onion and let my farm fresh ingredients speak to me. Taking the extra time to cook a healthy meal allows me to nourish my whole being and enjoy the sensuousness of sautéing vegetables. It allows me to slow down and reconnect to the deliciousness that is life. Throw in a jazz record and a glass of wine, and you've got the makings of a divine evening.
Now, doesn’t that sound lovely?
Each and every task becomes a devotional act to the energy I want to welcome into my life and an expression for gratitude for the abundance I have painstakingly cultivated. A celebration of my hard work and a deliberate conjuring of more good energy.
What routines will you transform into sacred rituals?
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