My phone alarm went off at five o’clock. I woke up instantly and looked out through the glass window. It was still dark. I drank about half a litre of water and freshened up for the morning. By quarter to six, I locked my room’s door, wrapped myself in a cotton shawl and showed up to the yoga studio where I waited for my yoga teacher and fellow students. Some days the studio wouldn’t open until six, so I would stand waiting in the still chilly winds of early March in Rishikesh. An hour of yoga was followed by a 45-minute class on breathwork after which we walked down to the Ashram for the morning prayer – each of us at our own pace. Even as I didn’t connect with the deity worship, I was in awe of the devotion of the elderly lady whom we fondly called “Maa” who did the morning puja. Every morning it was the same prayer, the same shlokas. The flowers picked for the prayer, though, were allowed to vary. After the one-hour puja, we went back to the hostel for the breakfast, which on most days was nothing grand. We learnt a mantra to recite before we began eating. We were to wash our plates, bowls and spoons after meals as a part of karma yoga. The rest of the day comprised classes on philosophy, mantra chanting, sound healing, body alignment, nature walks and svadhya or self-learning with breaks for lunch, dinner and a 40-minute break post lunch during which some of us napped or asked each other questions about books, comics and reincarnation. We were seven participants from different walks of life sharing a daily routine and multiple ritual practices. This was my life for five days during a retreat.
Almost a year later, I am sitting across from my boyfriend in a coffeehouse and telling him how I miss being spiritually devoted to something. What happened in these five days that I often find difficult to repeat now?
Living in a fast city with slow-moving traffic can make most of us live out our routines on auto-pilot. We walk towards the train platform on auto-pilot. We drive home on auto-pilot. We eat our meals on auto-pilot. We brush our teeth on auto-pilot. While doing things on auto-pilot saves our decision-making energy, it turns off our ability to connect with ourselves. Our routines can become rituals for mindfulness if we bring a change in our mindset towards the tasks at hand.
What is the meaning of rituals?
Rituals are simply self-created ceremonies that add meaning to our personal lives and move us deeper into our spiritual lives. By marking something as important, we take a moment to honour that thing and do it consciously, deliberately and joyfully.
Five ways daily rituals help us celebrate life
Rituals, especially spiritual rituals, act as a link between our external and internal realities, between the secular and the divine, and between the ordinary and the exceptional. The origin of rituals can be traced back to religion, and significant milestones in life are usually marked by religious ceremonies. However, these milestones inherently have a spiritual aspect to them, acknowledging the mystery and fluidity of human life and our connection to the wider universe.
Rituals give us a sense of belonging. Rituals awaken the everlasting aspect within us and show us how our personal lives are connected to a much grander plan.
Rituals connect us with the natural world, especially the seasons. The constant shifts and turns that the seasons take remind us of our own life cycles and rhythms. Rituals help us recognize the interdependence and interconnectivity of all forms of life.
Rituals provide a structure to our lives. Engaging in daily rituals provides us with a sense of stability and steadiness in an often chaotic world we inhabit. They instill a feeling of calm.
Rituals connect us to our family. Traditional rituals and cultural rituals provide a bridge between our present life and the lives our ancestors would have lived. Carrying out a ritual enables us to access, honour and reinforce our connection with our shared identities and legacies.
In a way, rituals are prayers we do for ourselves. A prayer to have faith in something outside of us irrespective of what life situation we’re in. Through a ritual, we not only see our deity or idol in the things that we do, but we see ourselves in those things. Eventually, through ritual ceremonies, we worship ourselves.