It maybe something you do absently, or something you make a conscious habit of and do it as part of a routine. It is done the same way each day, and done mechanically and quickly when in a hurry. Perhaps this is what gave rise to the phrase “meaningless ritual”.
When you think about it, no ritual is really meaningless. It could be a greeting you give your spouse each morning. A shared cup of coffee for 10 minutes each day, enjoyed in companionable silence. It could be the shout of “I am home!” when you come home from a long day at work, and that is met with cheers of “yay!!”. Bill Watterson in his comic strip “Calvin and Hobbes” had an extreme form of this greeting where Calvin returns from school, shouting “I AM HOME!” and is met with an instant thunderbolt-like spring of joy, a hug and roll on the floor from his best buddy Hobbes. Calvin sometimes dreads this moment, calling Hobbes a catapult-butt and shivering right after shouting “I AM HOME!”. But he never fails to say that, and this particular theme kept repeating every so often, in different forms, with one never growing tired of the ritual.
It could be reading a bedtime story for a child, one the child will never forego no matter how late it is and how tired the parent. It could be the prayer one offers the divine each morning, adorning the prayer area with flowers, lighting a lamp and incense sticks, and spending a few moments chanting prayers or in deep meditative silence. You may not even know the meaning of the chants, or even if you do, may not really focus on what you are doing. Yet you start the day with fragrant flowers and incense, and meditate – and a calm descends on you. That very calm may permeate in your work, and contribute to your positivity in the mornings. Meaningless? I think not.
Rituals foster connections and cement bonds. They grow relationships, encourage reciprocity and bring peace and joy to a household. How would it be if one comes home, says with relief and joy “I am home!!” and is met with stony silence and indifference……?!! The whole tone of the day changes, doesn’t it? The evening goes downhill, the night extends interminably and one may even lose sleep thinking about the utter lack of reciprocity and kindness. It is a squandered opportunity for a connection, a sullen lack of celebration of anything in life, and an attitude that breeds negativity and sadness in the home. And that grows contagious, with one carrying over that attitude to others and spoiling their day.
Imagine then, if the “I am home!” is met with a smile and a hug from a spouse, or a child running at full speed and throwing his or her body at the parent who just got home, in complete joyous abandon, the way only children can do!! The rest of the evening is spent with the feet hardly touching the ground…..And with the minutes flying by. Oh – it is 10pm already? Where did the time go? With one simple ritual, cloud nine can be had for next to nothing right in our own home.
Small rituals bring so many opportunities for a connection – that starts with the ritual and builds deepening bonds as time goes by. Similarly, the send off with a hug or a kiss, to school or to work, is another ritual that looks insignificant on the surface. The hug maybe quick, even given absent-mindedly…..But let the person be out of town for a day and we start to miss the person, and the warmth. A week with the person gone and the heart aches. The phone lines get busy – “when are you coming home? I miss you”…..You can trace the sentiment to the shared bond, the shared times, and the shared rituals that look so routine and ordinary on the surface.
Even an elaborate prayer that is several hours long, done as per a set procedure and with several long mantras, many of which we may not understand – is never meaningless. It keeps traditions alive, and makes one feel connected to our ancestors. In how many households do we hear “My father used to do this pooja and now I am continuing it” or “my mother used to draw this particular kOlam and I learned it from her”. The father or mother may be in a different continent, or perhaps not in this world anymore, but that moment connects us to them…..and not just us, our children too. It is a slice of life, of family history. Those of us who like to pray mindfully, might then go and look up the meanings of the mantras, and learn something new in the process.
A friend of mine in the US calls his mother who lives in India everyday. It is a call lasting five minutes or less, with standard questions:
“Hello Amma, how are you?”
“I am fine son, how are you?”
“Amma, have you eaten? What was for dinner?”
The mother would describe her dinner, and ask the son the same questions.
This is the conversation in its entirety. Yet it is done day after day, with the mother awaiting the call, and the son remembering to make it. The son is married, with grown children in college. Yet he has called his mother every day for the last couple of decades and will keep doing so. Priceless love comes wrapped in the mundane…..
Back in my growing years, my father and I had a strange ritual. We were both night owls, with me studying late into the night, and my father coming home late from his travels. The whole house would go silent, and we would sit peacably and work. At one point we would turn off the lights and go to sleep. I would lie down, pull the blanket up to my neck, and wait a few minutes for the question that would invariably follow from the next room:
“Daughter, are you awake?”
“Can you get me a glass of water?”
*groan* (why does he wait till I comfortably pull the blanket and settle down and then ask this? But I don’t say this)
The water would be brought, and given. The empty glass taken back.
“Goodnight child. Sleep well. Ace your exams!”
And that was our nightly ritual. To this day, long after I left the parental home and went on to study and have my own family, and seven years after my father’s passing, I remember this ritual and smile fondly. That one moment each day, I feel connected to my father. That is the power of a ritual!
Is there an interesting ritual you want to share? Is there a ritual you have with each significant person in your life, that you believe deepens your connection? Is there a significant relationship in your life that has no associated ritual of any form? Would the connection be deepened by adding a ritual?