The Redemption of Routines: Meditations on Ritual

I, like most people, have a certain routine concerning how I like to start my day. A glass of orange juice with my vitamins, take the dogs outside to do their business, and coffee while I mentally piece together my day. When I travel and my morning ceremonies are frustrated, it seems to send my very being into a tailspin. Even if at some point I still have my O.J. and coffee, I need to regroup from my morning traditions being upset. What is it about rituals that can mean so much to our disposition?

Whether we realize it or not we all take part in rituals. These may range from our morning observances, what we listen to on the radio during the drive to work or how we unwind at sundown. And while the word ritual can be intimidating, I might suggest that we see the sacred lingering around our daily lives and embrace an awareness of ritual.

The chief reason many people seek therapy is because life has lost its meaning. This may be in regards to loss of joy in one’s work life, lack of intimacy and connection in marriage or even manifest as an overarching depression that has reciprocity in body, mind and soul. This loss of fervor with life is quite common and many of us try to escape this by convincing ourselves that the world is no longer a captivating place. We buy into the idea that the foods we consume are simply calories to fuel our bodily machines. We convince ourselves that the items we purchase and welcome into our homes are nothing more than objects that serve a single purpose. We are deceived into believing that there is no longer a place in this world for rituals.

The Experience of Ritual

I recently visited friend while he was roasting his own coffee beans. The experience was enchanting to say the least. He began by showing me the berries that after the alchemy of roasting would become our drink. They were young, ripe and smelled almost grass like. As I foolishly placed one in my mouth, I was reminded that there was a process that had to take place before the beans could be used to brew the dark and rich drink I have grown to love over the years.

He placed the raw coffee berries into a roaster and as we sat talking you could hear the beans spinning while being toasted and rolled over heat. The hulls began to break off as the heat turned the coffee berries from a ripe green to a golden, oily brown. The aroma of the newly roasted beans filled the air.

As he took the warm, oily orbs out of the roaster he let me look at them. The transformation was staggering. When the beans were placed into the grinder the scent seemed to increase. They were crushed for us. How remarkable watching something so alive be burned and broken for me. It seemed almost spiritual.

The newly ground coffee was then put into a French press with hot water poured gently over the powdery substance that was round and ripe no less than twenty minutes before. I watched and waited as the water became oleaginous, black and beautiful. My mug was filled with the robust liquid and as I sipped I was thankful for the sacrifice of the once alive coffee beans.

Buying coffee at a chain java joint is a different experience. I want it instantaneously so I can get moving with my day. As I explained my quick fix mentality to my friend, he agreed that if the end product was all I was seeking, then yes, the convenience of a chain store couldn’t be beat. But if I was looking for more than simply having a need met, having my cup quickly filled and being out the door and on my way, then the ritual of roasting was far more appealing.

When I scoffed at the time it took he explained to me that this was one of his weekly rituals and that it was during this time that he would let the sound of the roaster and the smell of the beans wash over him. He carved out this time to reflect on life’s process and contemplate on what was going on deep inside him.

He used the time to ponder what husk might need to be burned and removed from his own life. Like the beans, he wondered what alchemistic process might bring his own hidden character out to be experienced and enjoyed. He not only used the time to refine and cultivate the coffee beans, but also his soul.

Can Ritual Heal The Soul?

What would happen if we were to re-examine our daily lives and embrace the everyday in a way that created room for ritual? Is it possible that we may be missing out on much in life that may be fertile soil for the experience of ritual? Upon looking we could find that the everyday in life is more deep and meaningful than we ever imagined. We might begin to feel displeasure with the hurriedness and speed of lives that make no space for lingering and possibility.

Dishwashing may seem less like a chore and more like a meditation on the practice of cleansing and what part of our souls needs washing. A drive to work may not include tuning in to listen to a local radio station but rather tuning in to listen to our heart’s longings. It could mean we miss checking our email during our lunch break and take a few minutes to meditate in silence or read the daily office (dailyoffice.wordpress.com). Walking the dog may no longer be one more thing we have to do before days end, but a time where we can see the beauty of an animal enthralled with the very smell of nature.

Productivity or Peace

At some point in time we come face to face with a choice that does not have a clear answer; the so-called fork in the road of our journey. Embracing ritual may take repurposing of our lives and refinement of our souls. To walk the path of ritual we may have to forfeit getting ahead at work and maximizing our profits. The pursuit of ritual may go hand in hand with forsaking of productivity.

Embracing such a ritualistic life may mean refining our idea of pleasure and amending many habits. Living a life steeped in ritual may not lead to productivity but it could transform our hearts and bring peace to our souls.

– D. Jeremiah Simmons

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