Rituals exist across all cultures and take all different forms. Rituals can be done in groups or performed in private. Some rituals are handed down to us, and sometimes we borrow or adapt them from others. And of course, we can also create rituals for ourselves.
At Buddha Groove, we’ve discussed the importance of rituals as they relate to meditation, but rituals do not need to be explicitly spiritual or meditative for us to participate. For example, many perform rituals to mourn loved ones or to mark an important time in their lives. We can also make rituals out of ordinary tasks, such as getting dressed or brewing a cup of tea. Anything we set our mind to, that we assign a series of specific steps to and that we embrace with intention, can be made a ritual.
Engaging in rituals benefits you. Here’s why.
Rituals Encourage Mindfulness Rituals give us an opportunity to take our mind off of distractions and focus on the task at hand. When we perform a specific ritual, we can immerse ourselves in both the performance of the ritual (the steps we take, the movements we make and the sensory aspects of it (What noises do we hear, what scents do we smell?). This is mindfulness at its finest, and it is why many rituals are so calming: just like in meditation, we draw our attention to into the present moment so as to peacefully observe and participate.
Rituals Increase Enjoyment Scientists at Harvard found that when participants were asked to perform a ritual for eating chocolate, participants rated their enjoyment higher than those who weren’t (those in the first group were asked to eat a candy bar in a very specific way, while the latter was simply directed to just wait and eat their candy bar). When we learn to transform certain aspects of our daily routines into rituals, we are invited to slow down and savor those tasks.
Rituals Decrease Anxiety Ever notice that baseball players cross their chests before stepping up to the plate? It’s not just mere superstition, the act of performing the gesture actually helps ease tension. Research has demonstrated that doing a ritual, especially before a stressful or difficult task, reduces anxiety and stress levels. Rituals have a profound power to help us feel comforted and in control, even in situations where we have so little control.
Rituals Build Trust Science has found that when individuals participate in the same rituals, they are more likely to build trust and cooperation with one another. This is one of the many benefits of group rituals in particular; they are a form of bonding. It is no wonder that certain rituals feel extra special when we do them with a spouse or a friend, especially if they are rituals that you have created together.
Rituals Help Us Live with Intention The intentionality and meaning behind rituals is what makes them feel so sacred. They are special because we have made the deliberate decision to perform them. This is the vital difference between routine and ritual: a routine is something we do passively and indifferently, while the ritual is empowering because we actively engage with it. Think of ways you can incorporate more rituals into your everyday life. If there are parts of your life that feel special and sacred to you, you can make them even more special by building rituals around them. For example, if you are a devoted runner, consider laying out your jogging clothes the night before. When it’s time to run, take a deep breath, do a specific set of stretches before and after, and give yourself a mantra.
You can also create a ritual for the mere pleasure of doing so. It is important to carve out space and time to engage in thoughtful, deliberate processes. Vow to take a walk at a specific time every week or eat a special meal with candles and music. When you engage in ritual, the mundane feels meaningful, no matter what your beliefs.