Have My Rituals Turned into Routines? What’s the Difference?

Category: Musing

I have always found travel to be a portal for wonder and a reboot of my own ability to feel awe. A change of scenery—especially out of the country—shakes my reality and reminds me how small I am and how little I know. I’m in Mexico City in this picture, taking a much-needed break in my routine.

We took an amazing tour of the pyramids in the ruins of Teotihuacan. In 2003, a tunnel was discovered beneath the Feathered Serpent Pyramid, and more than 150 thousand artifacts and statues were discovered along with many human remains that were sacrificed to the gods. It was mind-blowing to think that just twenty years ago, these 1,800-year-old artifacts were just found. They were discovered under the point known as the “axis mundi.” If you’re into astronomy, spirituality, and anything a bit “cosmic,” you’re gonna want to check out axis mundi.

Unlike the pyramids in Egypt, these structures were built strictly for ceremony. They weren’t crypts; they were solely for rituals. Ceremonies and rituals were performed, and offerings were made to the gods with the hope that blessings would be returned so that the local people could live fulfilling lives.

I tried to process that something of this size—that took an estimated twelve thousand to fourteen thousand people working simultaneously for years—was built solely to perform rituals. It made me wonder about the role of rituals in my own life, work, marriage, and everyday existence.

For instance, every morning I do yoga and meditate. I’d like to consider that a ritual, but lately I think it’s more of a routine. I wonder what the difference is. I love getting on the mat, stretching, and practicing poses, but lately I’ve been looking at my watch to ensure that I can get my meditation in before I start the workday. These practices are a critical launching pad for my day. Without them, my “channels” aren’t as clear as they could be, and that affects the quality of my presence and listening.

There are days, though, when I approach the mat with reverence; with gratitude; and with a sort of blessing, intention, and appreciation for my practice. That it feels more like a ritual. And somehow, when I approach it as a ritual, the ripple effects spread farther. The quality of my presence during the practice is different. I’m noticing things that are more subtle, that flexing a muscle can change my balance, that moving my foot two degrees allows for a lengthened stretch. And the noticing creates a reverence for the body. This is an amazing vessel that seems to stick with me and do all these things for me while I’m busy focusing on something else.

I don’t know if I have the same reverence when I’m conducting my routines. Lately I’ve been trying to create a discipline of capturing notes between calls and including in the notes what I learned about myself, the situation, and the people in the call. I then end with something that I’m grateful for as a result of the call. It always causes me to pause and realize how fortunate I feel to be in conversation with so many different people who have so many different perspectives. I’m just now realizing that this discipline became a routine and that now, accidentally, it has become a ritual.

It’s super easy for me to explore this territory and go right to a grand aspiration that sounds something like, That’s it! I must have more ritual in my life. I will turn my yoga practice into a ritual! When I tell my husband I love him, I will do it from a place of ritual versus habit! Before I sit down and eat my dinner, I will implement a ritual of gratitude! Before I get on the treadmill at the YMCA, I will perform a ritual! I’m already noticing the laundry list of places where I want to turn routine into ritual.

But maybe I’ll just start with noticing what routines in my life invite more presence and intention? What habits and disciplines feel sort of empty right now? Where can I apply a mindset change in an upcoming conversation or meeting to experience it differently? What routines in my leadership are having less impact because they’re more of a checklist item than a ritual?

When I know I’m going to get on a call that will have some crunchy or difficult energy, people in conflict, teams not getting along, a leader who’s confrontational and has low self-regulation skills, I always sit quietly for at least two minutes before the call and silently ask for guidance, support, compassion, and the ability to create a safe space for people to be open and trusting. I then light a candle that sits next to me while I’m on the call. I want to honor this practice as a ritual. I don’t do it for every call, but I know when I want and need to do it. I guess that’s the other thing about ritual; if everything is a ritual, does it all turn into routine? I’m not sure. I think I’m getting myself confused.

So I’ll go back to noticing. Even while writing this blog, I ask myself, Why? Why even share this with others? What am I looking for? If I’m really being honest, I’m not looking for likes or recognition. I’m really looking for conversation and connection; I’m trying to sit with these bigger questions together and not figure them out alone. I am really curious about how you see the role of ritual and routine in your life and what you’re learning as you go. Humor me for a moment and imagine us on the stoop chatting about this. What would you be willing to share with me about ritual and routine?

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