Learning to Love Ritual

I thought rituals were only for old and religious people, neither of which I ever intended to be.  I thought habits were copouts, interfering with a creative and interesting life, and definitely not for me.

It’s interesting how much we change as we age.

My changes came like an underground movement, they snuck up on me until they were so obvious that even I couldn’t miss them.  It started with having friends who didn’t live near me, and all of us with full time jobs, so in order to see each other, we had to make a plan.  It was just easier to have that plan remain regular from week to week.  Then when I had children, it became part of my survival to have weekly get togethers with that same set of friends, weekly get togethers with another mom and her daughter, weekly get togethers with a mom and her kids from my job.  We could trade off making meals, watching the kids was easier with other adults around, and even easier with children their same age.  The weeks slipped by, it was okay to be a single parent, and I could have regular grouse and gossip sessions (or celebrations) about whatever was the news of the day.

This continued until all of our lives changed so much that it was impractical to keep going, and I lost regular touch with my friends.  I tried having regular get togethers with other friends, for writing, for walking, but they didn’t really take.   Then I got cancer and everything changed again.  One of my old friends started coming to see me on Thursday evenings before she went to dinner with another friend.  She brought me gifts each week, all different kinds of things.  She knew that eating was an issue for me, and she brought treats, once she brought CD’s, it was very wonderful.  I wasn’t the greatest company, but she didn’t mind, and she didn’t waver.  She was and is a faithful friend, and I am truly grateful that she didn’t get scared off.  Another friend and I have wonderful lunches and do our handwork together every two weeks.  We used to get pedicures once a month, but I had to stop, so now we talk and knit/crochet.  We are both retired from work because of cancer, so we talk about our treatments and side effects, and can even talk about some of the serious things that a person with cancer thinks about.

I’m not sure of the difference between ritual and habit, except that a ritual probably has deeper significance, perhaps spiritual significance in one’s life.  I do know that everything I do that becomes a habit also becomes a deeper part of my life, so I believe that habits can become rituals by virtue of being consistent.  And I do believe that they are extremely important in keeping me on track, keeping me functioning, evening out my moods, and giving me purpose to every day.  I also realize that habits give us a solid home base, which then allows us to vary from that home base, be creative, step out of the box so to speak.  I think our creativity can actually be increased by having a good habit from which we can “stray” safely, and I think that is true for both children and adults.

I now have many rituals and habits; taking my class at the senior center, riding my recumbent bike in the morning to a funny episode of “I Love Lucy,”  walking the dogs and meditating, eating my granola for breakfast, knitting while I watch a little TV,  and writing to my cousin.  Sarita and I have rituals together, hanging out in bed and talking on Sunday mornings, walking by the bay with the dogs after that, parallel “playing” whenever we get to be home together (with all of our fiber projects, art projects, writing projects, music projects). During my cancer year, we meditated together (or rather Sarita meditated, and I fell asleep).  We’ve decided that we’ll have a ritual until it doesn’t work for us anymore, and then we’ll make a change.  That seems to be a perfect way to live.

Our dogs even have their habits and rituals, snuggling in their own beds after running outside at 10:00 p.m., then jumping into our bed after eating breakfast at 6:00 a.m.  In fact, making something a habit seems to be the best way of training them, and as smart as they are, they learn habits quickly.  Lucky for us, that makes them good travelers, and basically happy to be anywhere, as long as we are there.

I have one ritual/habit in particular that is a favorite — spending Thursdays with my daughter and grandson.  We have about 4-5 hours together, some of it is eating lunch (or not eating as is often true with the grandson), and letting him play.  He loves knowing the toys here, where and what they are, so that he can choose what he wants to do on a particular day, and that gives him an independence that he wouldn’t have if it were different here every week.  While he plays, my daughter and I catch up on each other’s news or talk about things we haven’t talked about this much ever, and we now take a nap towards the latter half of the time.  That works for all of us; me because I’m exhausted after a couple of hours, him because he’s kind of grouchy if he doesn’t get a nap, and my daughter because she’s always tired and looking for the chance to rest.  We cuddle in my bed together, I read three books to him, and then we all fall asleep.  Or, I pretend to fall asleep until he’s out, then I read.  The dogs are snuggled in the covers with us, it’s very cozy, and we all wake up feeling good.  I can’t help but think it’s the best of all worlds — I get a renewed relationship with my daughter, and get to develop a relationship with my grandson.  Even though I have limited energy, or maybe because I have limited energy, I get all these things.  I guess that’s enough to finally knock out all stereotypes I had about people who liked rituals and had habits.  It’s a pretty good deal.

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