Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Power of Rituals

A ritual is a way of ordering life. And so people in recovery—where it takes a long time to return order to our lives—often create and value rituals. Rituals have power. Our faith communities teach us rituals to help us find faith and meaning in our lives. Almost all professional athletes have rituals—the order in which they dress, the things they do on game day, the special movements or gestures that precede their competition. Performers and artists have rituals. Dancers are governed by ritual. And after many years of recovery our rituals help us too.  

Many of us have rituals for our prayer and meditation practices. I light a candle each
morning at my little altar in my bedroom—that altar is also part of my ritual. The altar makes it clear to me—only me—that this is prayer time. I’m sure my higher power does not care about the location or the accessories but having the altar, small prayer rug and that candle help me to pay attention to what I’m doing.

For meditation I have a small brass chime that makes a soft sound. I use the chime to start my ten minutes of meditation each day. It’s a reminder to my brain, “Oh that’s what we’re doing now.” Recently I began to use the timer on my phone to alert me when my sitting time is over. It’s a ritual and a helper: I don’t have to keep peeking at my watch when I’m meditating. 

Do you write a gratitude list? Do you write your tenth step inventory at night? Or do you say it out loud in the car as one friend does.  For many years in Overeaters Anonymous I called my sponsor every morning to commit my food. That external monitoring helped me get clear about my choices, and making the call was a daily ritual of commitment --and humility. I still write down my food every day. It is a ritual of  honesty with myself, and a commitment to my good health.

Do you have any rituals you use at meetings? I know a woman who tried to always sit in the same chair, and another who always sits in the front row to make herself pay attention. Years ago someone taught me to, “Always look at each person as they speak, it will help you hear them.” Do you have something you do as your gesture of being present at a meeting?

Rituals reinforce habits --and recovery is really a series of positive, healthy habits. Having a ritual erases any  question of, “Should I or shouldn’t I?” The renowned choreographer Twyla Tharp talks about her artistic rituals in her book, “The Creative Habit”. 

She writes, “Rituals are the mechanism by which we convert the chemistry of pessimism into optimism.”

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More on creating good habits, practices and rituals in recovery in the book, "Out of the Woods" published by Central Recovery Press.

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