The importance of ritual: Creating your own closure

wind hughes

How we live life is the sacred ritual

What do you think of when you think of ritual?  I think of ceremonies:  weddings, funerals, graduations, inductions, baptisms, etc.  I bet some think of religion.  I bet others think of fraternities and sororities.  What else?

But those aren’t the only things that can be ritual.  Some people have a “going to bed” ritual that helps put them in the right frame of mind to sleep.  Others have a “waking up” ritual that helps them manage to drag themselves out of bed in the morning.  I guess you could call this a routine instead, but when you hit the point where you feel wrong all day because missing a step (like deodorant, brushing your teeth, or worse yet, coffee!) or being interrupted throws everything off, I think that can qualify as ritual.  There are rituals for big events (Would it really be a graduation without that silly cap?) and for small events (Do you greet people in a standard way – perhaps a hug or a kiss?  A friend of mine makes sure that “drive safe” are the last words spoken when her husband leaves for the day.  Basketball players often have a routine they do before taking every free throw.  Even weekly staff meetings can be rituals.  And forgiveness – that can have ritual too.).  And rituals, including wedding rituals and burial rituals, have been around for thousands of years.

Why do we need ritual?  What does it do for us?  Ritual makes us feel that a time, space, or action is sacred.  It allows us to step back from ourselves, to gain perspective, and to process the meaning of an event.  It also marks important moments for us.  It gives closure, legitimacy, formality.  If you finished school and there was no graduation to attend, no yearbooks to sign, no other mechanism for formally separating from your classmates, would you feel you had graduated?  If a coworker left your workplace without saying goodbye or having a goodbye party, how would you feel?  If you decided to join your life romantically with a partner, would you want some variety of event to commemorate the occasion (like a wedding, reception, or at least saying vows in front of a few close friends)?  Some people don’t feel the need for rituals, true, but most of us do benefit from one ritual or another.

There are plenty of standardized rituals, but sometimes those aren’t right for us.  Ritual doesn’t have to “follow the rules”.  Don’t want to wear white at your wedding?  Ok!  Want to have a small gathering instead of attending graduation with thousands of others?  Ok!  I recently spoke to an individual who hadn’t had the chance to memorialize a family member who had recently passed away.  She seemed to want to mark his life somehow, but wasn’t sure how.  Perhaps she didn’t feel like it was ok for her to create ritual.  Perhaps she felt like she didn’t know how.  Perhaps she felt like she didn’t have permission from others who cared about this individual.  I talked with her about how it was ok to create her own.  The magic of ritual is this:  if it is your ritual, it doesn’t have to serve anyone else’s needs.  You can create your own ritual for you.  

I know people who are unable to visit the graves of those they love who have chosen to find their own place to remember their loved one.  A beach, a field, a specific chair he/she loved, in the stadium of his/her favorite team – all of these places can be sacred spaces for us, as long as they work for us.

I do have a few of my own self-created rituals.  I remember a loved one every year on the anniversary of his death by telling stories with friends and family.  I invite those who knew him, but I also invite new friends who did not know him.  I serve his favorite ice cream.   This storytelling time is a sacred space for me, and helps me to feel that the loved one is still important in the world.  I didn’t know how to do it – it happened by accident!  It was just what my heart was asking for on the first anniversary of the death, and it has since become a fulfilling ritual.  I also reflect annually on the date of a big move for me – I use it as a moment to stop, take stock, and review my year in a written way.  It helps me look at where I’ve been and where I’m going – and then decide if that’s where I want to go!

My point is this:  Be willing to create your own rituals.  If you feel a need for closure or a need for formality, that’s ok.  You can create it.  If you have a ritual, but it doesn’t feel right anymore, you can change it.  That’s ok too. Ritual is important for us.  Ritual helps us understand, helps us deal with change, helps us forgive, helps us close, helps us move forward.  I encourage you to embrace ritual in your life.  Let it help you.

If you feel you need help creating ritual, dealing with change, forgiving, or moving forward and are near Orlando, give us a call at Life Skills Resource Group in Orlando at 407-355-7378.  Our experienced Orlando counselors, psychologists, hypnotherapists, and life coaches are here to guide you and give you the support you need.

With high hopes for your rituals, Krista