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.