Dr. Sadeghi writes in his book that our secular world has given up many of its rituals. Rituals, or traditions, within cultures connect people. In Blue Zones of Happiness, Dan Buettner writes that we need a connectedness to be happy. Ironically, in our growing world that is becoming more one, more secular, making our world smaller, we are becoming less connected. I know that I feel extremely disconnected, and lonely, in one of the most populated cities in our country, right in the thick of the concrete jungle. We rush from one thing to another, we sit in our cars, on an overpopulated freeway, alone. We don’t take part in the little things, the little rituals, that connect us, make us who we are, make us who we once were as a people, connect us to where we came from, and to eachother.
I grew up in a home full of tradition, or even rituals. I know it’s one of the many things that I love about Denmark. In fact, Blue Zones of Happiness refers to Denmark as one of the happiest people. It is not necessarily ritual based on religion, but it’s ritual based on who they are as a people. In my home, we sat down for a home-cooked dinner every single night. It was not a chore, it was not taken for granted, it was not an exception, we loved to do that every single night. Not only does dinner give us physical nourishment which we take for granted these days, stuffing our faces on the run, but the process of sitting down to dinner, taking it slowly, connecting with the others at the table, sharing your day, your thoughts, concerns, triumphs, and your meal, gives our minds and souls nourishment. It connects us. It was a ritual. Maybe it was a tradition. The dinners associated with special occasions or holidays were certainly steeped in tradition, not for religion, but for connecting with one another, and with our family and ancestors that cherished those rituals and traditions before us, connecting us, rooting us. That meant so much to us that to this day I stubbornly refuse to give any of it up!
Yoga has taught me that it is all in the process. In one of my early yoga classes, at rush hour in the morning, the teacher, along with many of the students, came in, rushed, out of breath, tense, rushing to throw a mat down, get it done, get out. Her first insight in that class was that we all rush to place after place throughout our day, we rush to the freeway, to sit for such unbearable time, then making us late to pick up our kids, or get to a meeting, at none of which are we truly present, we are looking at our watches and phones to make sure we can rush out of there to the next place. But our mat gave us our time to have a process, the process was our practice. Take in the process, not thinking of where it’s getting us later. Some of us in yoga may rush to try to achieve a challenging pose, but it is not about the pose. It is the practice that gets you to the pose. And sure enough, that day, while focusing on my process, I seemed to float into a pose almost effortlessly that had challenged me previously.
I know that I rush and rush, to meetings, to kid things, to work, to work-out, and get irritable and late, and push my son along, get us out the door… oh wait, forgot to take the dog out, “Quick Lily, pee, fast!” (Poor dog!) I hate this about my daily life. When I go to Denmark, I ride a bike. This process, a little activity, fresh air, watching my son giggle on the bumps, is far more enjoyable than sitting in my car on a freeway. Granted, a bike in LA would NOT be enjoyable! In Denmark, we sit for dinner with family. In LA, I try to recreate my childhood ritual of sitting down to dinner, but cooking for one and a child is not as fun, and having a non-verbal child also tends to make the conversation a little challenging. But we try, for the sake of ritual, or tradition, and that makes me happy. I think that Danes, generally are better as taking in the process. The concept of fast-food, or eating in your car, is unheard of. After all, it’s far more challenging to eat on a bike! Meals, even coffee breaks, are a process, a chance to stop and be social, to connect. The society is much more connected to one another through their life as a whole. This being a theory in Blue Zones on their happiness. I could speak a lot more on this topic, but for now, back to my process…
In Meditations from the Mat, today I read, “The master sticks to her tools,” Lao-Tzu. Also one I’ve read so many times before. Meaning, roughly, stick to your rituals and your process, these are your tools. In the case in this book, it being your yoga practice. It becomes such a ritual, a routine, a habit and second nature, that no matter the times, good, bad or middle-ground, you have your practice, your ritual; the master has her tools. If we make that practice a priority, you will find a way to do it no matter what. It may not be yoga for everyone. I have many rituals, running, those sit-down dinners, and yoga. In choosing a practice, or yoga, or a ritual, making it a priority, we are building a shelter for our spiritual selves. Through those practices and rituals we connect. Through connecting we feel belonging, we feel rooted in where we came from, and where we are currently in our process, we are happy. If we have a horrible time in life, or if we have an amazing time happening, when we sit down to dinner, or sit down on our mat, or hit the streets to run, we connect by bringing those experiences to that practice and connecting, with ourselves for a moment, or with others. We remove ourselves from the events, or that process, to connect and reflect through another process, our practice. “Our practice is a shelter we build for our spiritual selves. It is the work we do to safeguard and support the possibility of spiritual growth. The winds of life constantly wear away at this shelter, but if we stick to our tools, the shelter will hold.”
Added footnote, an hour later…
On reflecting, I wonder about Charlie and those on the autism spectrum being so ritual based. My child and others with autism love routine and habit and ritual, it grounds them, it gives them contentment. You can see it happening as they perform their ritualistic little habits. Perhaps it makes them feel connected while they are often quite disconnected socially, or sensorily. Perhaps another ritual, another practice would help even more. Perhaps in understanding the connection that is created through ritual we may better understand those living with autism.