Routine, Rote or Ritual? The way I see it, it all depends on your consciousness.
We are creatures of repetition. Doing something again and again, as long as it’s not something we really dislike, creates some measure of comfort, maybe even safety. Think about the things you do upon rising in the morning: you shower, brush your teeth, comb your hair, get dressed, etc. If you’re really tired you can even do them with your eyes closed. It’s predictable. You have nothing to worry about. But perhaps you can recall, or at least imagine, your surprise at finding out there is no water when you turn on the taps, or no power when you flick on the switch. You get a second wake up call!
Being jolted out of your sleepiness is not necessarily a bad thing. While routines can give us structure, they can also lead to boredom and discomfort. When we use the term repetitious, we often imply dull, stale and tiresome. But the word ‘repetition’, by definition, simply means cyclical or recurring. So when does repetition start feeling dull and maybe even painful?
When we act in the same way again and again, our actions become easier. We program our consciousness. And soon we don’t have to be fully aware of every step in the process. Thankfully, repetition supports learning a new skill and can be healthy. For example, when we start driving a standard car, we have to think about the weight of one foot on the gas while with the other we release the clutch. If we had to always think about every action, we would find the experience distracting and debilitating as it drained our energy. But eventually, after practice, we arrive at unconscious competence.
Our habits are not really any different. We do them without thinking. The term ‘habit’ has a tendency to carry a negative connotation. We use it to refer to unhealthy behaviours like smoking or critical self-talk that have been cultivated over time. I would even go so far as to say that we don’t really like our habits. We keep doing them because there’s a payoff at some subconscious level, but we wish we could end the tedium of the pain.
And so the two connect. The factor that’s required to build a new skill so it becomes rote, is the same element that’s required to break the pattern of a habit – your consciousness.
Now imagine what your life would be like if you used your consciousness to change the repetition that is boring to uplifting and inspiring. It’s possible. Whatever you do, bring to it your full awareness. Whenever you do it, be fully present with it and grateful. Routine then becomes sacred ritual, turning the ordinary into divine. A friend once told me that by attentively taking her first sip of tea in the morning, she brings intentional blessing to the start of her day. No special tea pot, no special tea, just a few moments of consciousness.
Sacred ritual brings meaning to the emptiness in our lives. We ache for that connection to our truth, our soul. By slowing down, noticing and appreciating, we come into the ‘now’ and pay tribute to the divinity that is found in the simplest gifts of our living. We invite holiness into our daily actions and thoughts. Each repetition is renewed with light.
Ritual can also be made more elaborate and facilitated to express your soul’s individuality. Symbolic movement, soul-filling music, meaningful poetry readings or any contribution of your creativity and imagination can add intimacy to celebrations and rites of passage. When traditional religious practices fail to warm your heart and lift you into awe, enrich them with your genuine gestures. Connect to what is most true for you.
That same present moment awareness can also shift an unhealthy habit to healing. It helps you to compassionately witness the harm you may be inflicting upon yourself. Eventually, as you fully grasp your pain, you are more free to choose healthier behaviours.
When the transitions in your life hold you in pain or fear, you can use sacred ritual to acknowledge and release heavy emotions, accept and surrender to the lesson within the darkness, and move forward to new beginnings.
Take inventory. Which routines feel repetitiously dull? What habits of yours are craving your consciousness? How will you now illuminate your living with sacred ritual?