There’s something about having just turned 39, and moving into a new year, that has me reconsidering how I engage with the world. I know -- I’m a little early for an existential crisis and a little bit late for resolutions. I am nothing if not paradoxically prompt and procrastinating.
One thing I’ve been thinking about, in particular, is how much I’ve become a creature of habit, but too often in a haphazard sort of way. Here and there, for better or worse, when I do something once, I tend to do it again … and again … and again. Case in point: about a year ago, when my youngest was sick for an entire week straight, she regularly woke me up at 4 a.m. When she got better, I found I was still unable to sleep past the early morning.
At first, this wake-up routine was annoying, an unintended consequence of something more consequential. But then it shifted to something of more substance. I started looking forward to beginning each day in quiet solitude, drinking a steaming cup of Barry’s Irish tea, brewed in the same small white mug, cream and sugar in first. Did I already mention that I can be quite the creature of habit?
Essentially, I started to fill my cup by filling my cup. Early mornings with my mug were a way to recharge my introvert batteries, basically by doing whatever I wanted before anyone else in the house woke up. It was sometimes writing, sometimes working, or sometimes just wondering about the world. It was the winner's choice, if you will.
But, slowly and surely, I started to push out writing and wondering in favor of work. And in so doing, I lost the worthwhile. Some of this push was circumstantial -- a temporary influx of random contract work, the scramble that seems to always come with the end of the semester in higher ed, and a change in my husband’s employment status. However, some of this push was also due to my own inability to keep going with something that was me first, to retain the ritual.
Now, in an effort to better understand that inability, I’m sitting here in the very early morning, typing this meta text, and wondering in real time: What’s the rub with ritual? How can I actively rework a routine into something more substantial? Is it possible to shift a bad habit back into a good one -- especially a second time?
Read on for my reckoning with ritual, wherein I attempt to answer these questions through careful reconsideration of both ritual’s form and function.
Start From Somewhere Stronger
For those who are already experientially evolved, this may come as no real surprise, but I am discovering that, at least for me, a routine is often an afterthought -- a movement absent intention. As my wander into work revealed, a routine might be useful, maybe even necessary, but it isn’t always nourishing.
A ritual is something else. A ritual is both an act of strength and a structure of support. It is for the self and from the self. A ritual sustains because it starts from somewhere stronger: self-first and self-fulfilling.
There is power in consciously exchanging the standard for the sacred. If I want to reclaim my ritual, I necessarily have to begin my day mug first. I have to make my prerogative my starting point.
Put Ritual on Replay
Although I’ve thus far created quite the contrast between routine and ritual, when it comes to encouraging the latter, I’m going to suggest something that may now, and accordingly, seem a smidge scandalous: ritual could learn a thing or two from routine, especially when it comes to regulation.
Routine knows how to stick around -- it remains via a kind of unconscious rinse and repeat. There is an ease to its reiteration. Maybe the first step to sustaining ritual is to make it more regular, to create a space for it to become more commonplace. Maybe ritual, like routine, should be more rote.
Once claimed philosophically, a ritual has to be cherished by way of praxis. I must make my ritual meaningful by making it methodical. I need to recognize its relevance through daily repetition, as is and as intended, always. In short, I need to put my ritual on replay.
After a reckoning, a ritual can be successfully (re)worked, right? My relationship to ritual is a work in progress.
And because public accountability can be a powerful prompt for possibility, I’m going to create a real-time resolution with you all: 2020 and 39 will be my year(s) to move mug first, my year(s) for refueling via conscious efforts to start stronger and to put ritual on repeat.
What rituals might you like to reclaim, repurpose or realize this year? Let’s move mug first together.
Niya Bond is an online educator, F2F academic adviser and Ph.D. candidate in the higher education program at the University of Maine, studying online teaching and learning. Her writing has recently been featured at “University of Venus,” Faculty Focus and Women in Higher Education.