Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Importance of Rituals in Self Care

I recently attended a workshop by the amazing and inspiring author, Thomas Moore. He was speaking in relation to his newest book "A Religion of One's Own: a guide to creating a personal spirituality in a secular world."  Even though he spoke about his purposeful decision to use the word 'religion' in the title, I found myself wishing he had not done so, because the use of 'religion' may turn people off who might otherwise enjoy and connect with his message.

Moore's major point in the book is that we can all create our own "spiritual practice," whatever that may look like. His central theme was that we can individually create practices that speak to our heart, and help us find balance and peace, emotionally and spiritually. For me, I understand this in a context of creating self care rituals.

A part of making this work for you is finding rituals that you can incorporate into your practical life. Rituals can be part of the traditional religious experience, such as attending church or participating in the formal sacraments, as in the Catholic tradition. But more importantly, they can be really ANYTHING that nurtures you and your heart, and helps you find connection and balance.

Rituals can be daily, weekly, annual, or once-in-awhile activities. If it speaks to you, if it forms connections with others or your surroundings, and gives you peace, it should be considered part of your self care rituals. Something as simple as meeting a friend for coffee at your favorite coffee shop once a month can be a ritual that nurtures you. It could be attending an annual baseball game with family or friends.

I know for me, when I enter Fenway Park, I feel energized and excited in a way that not many other places make me feel. That park is a sacred place to me, and attending an annual game with people I love is one of my most valued rituals, and I consider it part of my self care.

For many people, sports-related activities have a true ritualistic nature. Think about the guys and girls that get together every Sunday for food and football. Or others who meet up on the golf course. It is a communal gathering that has traditions and rules, and can ignite a spark inside us that we may rarely find in other activities.

 A daily ritual for  me is attending yoga class after work. For me, knowing that I will be able to attend a class that will nurture my body and mind, helps me get through the day-- even when it has been full of draining tasks.  Attending this ritual also helps me to transition from work to home life. It allows me permission to observe myself without judgement, and helps me to let go of feelings of guilt or sorrow that I could not have done more to help someone that day. When I leave that yoga class, I feel more centered and am less harsh on myself for the things I wish I could have done better that day.  I leave it there, and am able to be more present for the rest of my evening.

Having a morning ritual is a wonderful way to start your day. It doesn't have to be intricate or take a lot of time, either. A friend of mine describes her morning ritual as taking the few minutes when she is waiting for her tea water to boil, to sit in silence and just breathe. When the tea kettle begins to whistle, she pours her tea and drinks that in silence while she reads the newspaper. This is very simple, but for her, having that consistent start to her day, can make all the difference.

Connecting with nature can also be a part of your rituals. Hiking a certain path through the woods, or walking down the beach are forms of self care rituals. Incorporating mindfulness into your time with nature can also help you find peace and grounding, and appreciation of the beauty all around us, even on days when your world may feel harsh and small.

Growing up, my siblings and father and I would hike a local hill called Lantern Hill every Columbus Day weekend.  Looking back, I realize this was a special ritual that we shared. It was the time of year when the leaves had changed to the bright golds, reds, and yellows of a New England fall. We would hike to the top and look out, taking in the beauty of the New England foliage all around us. For me it was a bittersweet ritual about taking in nature's beauty, but also saying good-bye to the leaves that were about to fall, and preparing for the transition to winter. For someone who does not enjoy the cold dark winter season, there was something very comforting about knowing that we would be back to do it again next year.

What do your rituals look like? You may already be doing some of these things, but never thought about it in this context of self care rituals.  Are there more things that you can purposefully engage in on a regular basis to improve your self care?  Take a few minutes to think about one ritual you can add to your repertoire, or one you can continue doing in a purposeful way to help take care of you.

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