This morning I woke up questioning everything, which is something that happens relatively frequently. Anyway, it got me to thinking about ritual.

Human beings need rituals. I’m not talking about big, elaborate religious ritual (though that is relevant). I’m talking more about defined patterns in our lives that help us stay grounded and make sense of what we do every day. Like the order in which you get ready for work or school. The ways in which you learn to cook. The way you clean your house, brush your teeth, correspond with people you’re close to, navigate city traffic, and many other basic daily rituals. Some people are more ritually-minded than others, and I’m definitely one of those ritually-minded people.

For instance, my morning ritual goes something like this: wake up, pet the cat, put on glasses, put hair up, use the restroom, get dressed, deodorize, brush teeth and wash face (since I shower at night), gather puja items, spend 20-30 minutes doing puja/meditating, go brush hair and put on makeup and jewelry, make lunch, gather fruits/milk/nuts/asst offerings and put them into a small bag to take to work to eat before breakfast, put shoes on as I’m leaving. It’s a pretty constant ritual and it throws my day off a little if it changes (but I’m not so inflexible that it ruins my day). A good friend and I joke often when I get stressed because things aren’t happening according to neat patterns, that “there are rules!” I’m not a particularly flexible person. (Unless I plan to be. I can be flexible for a whole day if I tell myself beforehand, “today I’m going to be spontaneous!” I know that it’s not very spontaneous if you plan it in advance.)

So this new path my life is taking? It’s at once exhilarating and immensely terrifying. On one hand, it’s a level of ritual that’s beyond what I knew as a child. It’s a definite, deliberate ritual for most parts of a person’s life, plus other very specific ritual for the spiritual parts of a person’s life. Portions of it reflect things I like about my family’s traditions, like music and candles and incense and bells and consuming a bit of food to take a blessing (though the equivalents are organ+choir, diyas, frankincense, sanctus bells and communion, which are more similar to the temple/puja experience than I realized). I like that. On the other hand, it is foreign enough to what I grew up with that it seems like it breaks all convention (what? you don’t sit in pews? there is more than one representation of God? hold on. give me a minute). It doesn’t match the ritual I’m familiar with. And that makes me question things.

When I talked to my mom about it (we talk a lot about this stuff; she’s gone through a lot of similar exploration in her spiritual path, from devout Catholic monasticism to Native American Shamanism to a sort of Episcopal-based theistic humanism), she asked me why I needed to choose a system of beliefs at all. I’ve been asked that by a lot of people since, mostly friends who are either agnostic or theistic humanists, and my answer is always, I need the ritual.

At the moment, it’s making me crazy not to know which ritual is the best for me (patience is another thing I’m working on learning). In the meantime, because they do give me an inner calm that is unlike anything I’ve experienced in my life before now, I do my pujas and meditation and japas, and I sort of know deep down that when the time is right, I’ll know.

But it’s going to drive me nuts until then.

About HappyGoth

By day, I'm a graphic designer. By night, I'm a knitter. I'm doing my part to keep Hotlanta stylish. I imagine that if you don't already understand the title of the blog, you're probably confused and perhaps slightly annoyed, but never fear - I do have a reason (and it's a good one). Having gone to hear Stephanie Pearl McPhee, and then having been inspired to blog about knitting, I found myself wondering what to call the blog. I recalled a conversation I had with Mouse and the Chicken Goddess about why it is a Bad Idea to anger knitters - this conversation was following SPM, aka the Yarn Harlot telling the assembled throng about Those Who Do Not Understand Knitting and Therefore Belittle It Much to the Chagrin of Others, or TWDNUKTBMCO, which is not the acronym she used but is the one I'm using because I forgot hers - that is, we are numerous and we all have very pointy sticks, easily transforming into an angry mob. Therefore, knitters = angry mob.
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6 Responses to Ritual

  1. Aamba says:

    People say that to me too, why do you need to have a specific belief system? I don’t know why, but I do. If I ever grow beyond needing that label, I will know, but for now I need the structure and guidance of a system, even if I don’t follow it dogmatically.

    • HappyGoth says:

      Totally! I think the people who ask this question fall into two groups:

      1. People who feel strongly that they don’t need a belief system.
      2. People who feel strongly that their belief system (which is not Sanatana Dharma) is the correct one.

      I am not in either of those groups, and eventually I just shrug and agree to disagree. I need the grounding that a structured system brings into my life.

  2. surya says:

    Congrats on taking up what can prove to be a hard belief system and good wishes with your blog.
    Talking of rituals, there a plenty of them for hindus, im not one who takes them seriously, but my wife prays every morning.

    Sorry to sound like a silly oldman, but then- all hindus (including my america born two kids) take a bath EVERY MORNING, with some very rare exceptions like sickness, travel etc etc. Puja before bath is frowned upon; bath -> puja ->breakfast is the accepted sequence of morning routine !!!

    • HappyGoth says:

      I am working on that whole scheduling thing. It’s been difficult, because my habit of showering in the evening has been a lifetime in the making, but it’s just a habit, and if I work at it I can learn a new one. I also have a hard time waking up early enough for that, so I will need to change a few things! I’ve got the puja -> breakfast bit down, though!

      Thanks for reading the blog, and for the encouraging comments. It’s been really nice to get positive reactions and advice from people who are born Hindus. I know it’s not a replacement for a local Hindu community, but it’s still very helpful!

    • myownashram says:

      Would you forgo puja if it was not possible before breakfast? I like the shower, puja, eat order, but that’s not always how it works out with two small kids. I’m approaching things with the attitude that it’s better to do puja imperfectly than not at all. What’s your take?

      • HappyGoth says:

        I try my best to do things in a consistent way, but if I can’t, I do my best to do what I can. Like, for example, when I go out of town and stay with other people.

        I think it was Surya who pointed me to this story (if it wasn’t, I apologize to whomever it actually was):


        Shabari did her best out of love for Rama, and when I start to be hard on myself for not being able to do the “perfect” puja, I remember Shabari, and do what I can. Even if I can’t offer much or do an elaborate puja or have to wait until after the things that usually precede it in my routine, I make a little time to say hello and offer a little something (once it was a single dried apricot, because that’s all I had), and visit with Rama like the welcome and beloved guest he is (it really helps to think of God that way, actually).

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