“Don’t confuse the teacher with the lesson, the ritual with the ecstasy …”
― Neil Gaiman,
Since leaving the world of traditional employment to set up my own shop, I’ve found myself doing a lot of the same things over and over again. Not because I’m inefficient (though I sometimes am). Or forgetful. (Though that happens too.)
It’s mostly because I’ve realized how much I crave sameness: the repetition of a thousand small tasks that in themselves bring quiet joy. Quite simply, I’ve become quite enamored of the power of ritual.
Ritual helps me make progress in the things I truly care about.
Take Saturday mornings. Or should we go back to Friday night? One of my most cherished rituals begins at the end of the work week, when I roll up my sleeves and mix up a batch of old-fashioned cinnamon rolls. (Here’s my favorite recipe, by the way!)
Those rolls go into the refrigerator before our Friday night date with Redbox. On Saturday morning, I pop them into my 100-year-old oven. There they rise, brown and glowing, into the melt-in-your-mouth treats we look forward to all week.
On weeks when I don’t have time to make cinnamon rolls, I’ve noticed that Saturday gets off to a rocky start. My brain isn’t as ready to sit down to my creative tasks, or handle the thousand little household chores that are neglected during the hurry-flurry of the work week.
It’s as if my mind needs that little milestone, that (sweetest) marker of passing time, to shift gears into a a new phase of the week.
And yet it’s so tempting to skip the ritual for almost any excuse.
Especially when life just gets so … darn … busy.
I see this cycle even as it’s about to happen: I commit to the ritual. I enjoy its benefits for a time, in terms of psychological health and increased productivity. But these benefits bring with them increased opportunities. And increased opportunities bring increased busy-ness. Busy-ness is the enemy of the ritual.
Suddenly I’m back where I started: committing to the ritual all over again.
Which is ironically what ritual is all about: the repetition of an activity that in itself brings a kind of meaning. Of wholeness.
The key to breaking this cycle, I’ve found, is to accept that busy-ness is no substitute for being, and that weekly rituals are as important an activity as finishing the next installment of a story or holding those individual client meetings.
Moving forward means committing to the belief that I must go back again. And again. And again.
My calendar has to reflect my need for ritual. My schedule has to make enough time, no matter how “busy” the rest of life may seem.
In my creative practice, taking two steps forward truly is about taking one step back.
Ritual never tasted so sweet.
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What beloved rituals do you have for keeping your days or your weeks on track?