The irrationality of our rituals…..
Do you catch yourself regularly doing something expected yet unexpected. And when you rationalise it’s impossible to explain?
Let me elaborate. It has dawned on me I carry out idiosyncratic rituals that have no rhyme or reason. I suppose I have never, contrary to my desire, been a carefree person, but neither have I thought of myself particularly superstitious. Yet, I can’t help myself. Expected yet unexpected foibles which make little sense.
Most of us barely notice how important rituals are to our life but without them something feels amiss. I’m not accommodating practices as necessitated by religion or behaviours dictated when being part of a group (the chanting to start a football match for example). What I’m suggesting is personal, at times deeply so. Rituals that bestow upon us feelings of control, mental strength, self belief or simply allow us to proceed with our day.
A ritual is different to a routine or a habit, although admittedly the path between is narrow. lifehack.org explains, a ritual is a ‘meaningful practice, internally motivated’ or another definition I found suggests it can also be ‘a predefined sequence of symbolic actions’. It holds no importance in it’s own right; rather it is the ramifications of the ritual which reign supreme — although this is not always evidently logical. These tendencies are not governed by a checklist or rules other than we alone determine or imbue belief in their consequential output. In some ways not being beholden to parameters or constraints our distinctive rituals whether personal, public, private, happy, neutral or weird, bolster our individuality.
On fearlessculture.design it mentions ‘Before every serve, Nadal repeats the same sequence — butt scratch, shoulder, shoulder, nose, ear, nose, ear, right hand in pocket’. Michael Jordan donned his North Carolina shorts underneath his Chicago Bulls shorts in every basketball game; Led Zepplin sit down and have a cup of coffee together pre show; Robert Plant irons a shirt before he enters on stage and Serena Williams wore the same socks non stop when on a winning streak. These solemnities have emerged as lightening rods to fortify the person with whatever the heart necessitates; almost tricking the brain by inferring causal links. With an essence to empower can there exist dark perspectives to such personal rituals? At an extreme they are a form of manipulation. Or a mental crutch displacing what we need to be thinking or doing, holding us in limbo. Perhaps we won’t take as much care or work as hard because we believe our ritual will lead us to success. If our expectations are disappointed do we shift responsibility; blaming our failure on the implementation of our ritual rather than our preparation. Will our worries debilitate if we cannot execute our steps as anticipated? At an extreme can such practices cause us to be rigid; fragile and inhibited?
Curiously, although we consider ourselves coherent beings, I believe we would each be protective of our personal rituals. Clasp them closely, unwilling to tangle with logic. Even the most free spirited of us. It’s perplexing in some ways nature, usually so rational, sees a use in these practices for the living. Perhaps nameless personal observances have been occurring for millennia because our brains are hardwired to source some sort of predictability from the stimuli encircling. Anthropologists suggest we carry out a greater number of customs in times of uncertainty or transition. Stress in particular pushes us to gravitate towards what we feel we can control in order to offer us comfort and release paralysis. Anxiety arises because we cannot make predictions or forecast the future and so a rite helps us create a beginning and an end to our life vignettes. Without these personal inclinations we can feel alienated; un-moored; stuck. For some, rituals help mark time and offer much needed meaning.
During lockdown my daily ritual to retain my sanity (apart from 4pm bubbles) was to commence the day by applying almost full make-up and dabbing on a choice perfume. These meaningful and purposeful acts allowed me some semblance of marking the beginning of my day, a raising of the curtains to signal to the cogs of my brain to initiate whirring. These trivial acts fostered calmness and somehow helped me to pull myself together in what was becoming a fug of monotony. I always drink my hot Baileys’s in a particular glass; it feels satisfying. Anything else conveys little warmth. Each morning I deliberately consider and wear a piece of jewellery from a loved one, a talisman against the difficulties of the day. Tasks are added and crossed off my daily to do list post the event — it proffers on me that sense of progress I so crave and no matter my muddled state, I always peruse a few pages of my book at night in bed, so putting at bay my feeling of wasted time….
On the beautiful website Brainpickings I found this wonderful quote by Anne Lamott from her book Stitches:
‘Order and discipline are important to meaning for me. Discipline, I have learned, leads to freedom, and there is meaning in freedom. If you don’t do ritual things in order, the paper doesn’t read as well, and you’ll be thrown off the whole day. But when you can sit for a while at your table, reach for your coffee, look out the window at the sky or some branches, then back down at the paper or a book, everything feels right for the moment, which is maybe all we have’.