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The Importance of Rituals

I was never one of those people who naturally developed rituals in my day to day life. Sure, there were the special ones, like buying crackers the eve before Eid with my father, or putting up a star in December, but those fall more squarely into traditions rather than rituals.

The first time I remember coming across this idea of doing something repeatedly, everyday, as a way to relax or de-stress was when I picked up my sister’s book Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy, that was lying around the house. In the book, the author, Sarah Ban Breathnach, talks about the many simple routines she has in her life that serve as place holders. Between busy days that otherwise blur into each other, having a ritual is a way to stop, take stock, before getting caught up in the whirlwind again.

One of the rituals I remember clearly, although I read the book more than a decade ago, is having a draw full of small treats to reach for after a long day, whether it’s a small, expensive tube of hand cream, or a special box of chocolates, it serves as a way of treating yourself at the end of a long day.

Some people develop rituals naturally — there is an instinctual understanding that doing something small, and simple for yourself everyday is a way of resetting. My mother, for instance, makes yogurt every night, something that she finds a lot of joy in. Shower, put on night cream, come into the pantry, and prepare a pot of fresh yogurt for the next day. I’m sure nobody told her that having that something small that anchors your day is good for you, but this is something she has discovered through trial and error. For me, however, the power of rituals has been learned by watching the people around me, in the process, forcing me to appreciate the small details that would otherwise go unnoticed.

One of the first rituals that I developed, because I really don’t want to be making yogurt every night, and my nighttime beauty routine is erratic at best, is making a cooking playlist. For several years, this consisted of a Best Of by Frank Sinatra. It was the album that I listened to when I learned to cook, and for a few years after that, it was a part of the cooking process, just like washing my hands and putting on an apron. The wonderful thing about this ritual is that because I only ever listened to this playlist when I cooked, it had the ability to always invoke a certain mood. However the day may have panned out, stepping into the kitchen and hearing the first few notes of Come Fly With Me made the rest of the world drop away. Immediately, my mind knew that it was time to be fully present, focus on the sensory joys of cooking a meal for yourself or your loved ones.

Since then, I’ve had a few other rituals that I have centered my day around — making coffee in the morning while listening to a podcast, or taking a walk outside after dinner, when I’m in Kerala. These are not only bookmarks in my day, reassuring me that inspite of the chaos, things are alright, they also function as a break from regular programming, where our brains are swarming with to-do lists and other stresses.

If you’ve never made it a point to have a daily ritual before, I highly recommend it. Start with something small — maybe it’s putting on music while you’re in the shower, or sitting on your balcony every morning for a few minutes with a cup of tea and the morning’s paper. No matter how off- course the rest of your life goes, having something stable, and constant will be a source of joy and serenity.

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