Personal Rituals to Stay on Track

Personal rituals help us stay on track and increase retirement happiness.

One of my favourite books, From Beginning to End — The Rituals of our Lives, by Robert Fulghum explores both public and private rituals that define the patterns of our lives.

I have read and re-read sections of the book during different stages of my life.  Fulghum’s writing provides comfort and validation. He gives ideas for happy times, for celebrations, for grieving, and for daily living.

Rituals as life markers

Rituals assume more importance as we grow older. We learn to appreciate how rituals give meaning to life passages. We appreciate that rituals offer a sense of order and rhythm to the days, weeks, and seasons. They make birthdays and anniversaries into special occasions. Rituals also help us to cope with grief and loss. 

The most basic rituals in all cultures include rituals around birth, marriage, and death. Such rituals often involve elaborate ceremonies.  They create traditions. Culture, values and beliefs are instilled into families and groups through rituals.

In addition to formal rituals, practises surrounding family, food, holidays and everyday life consume most of our waking hours. Our habits, likes, and dislikes shape the days, weeks, and months of our lives.

Personal Rituals

All of us have personal rituals that make no sense to others.

When I was in graduate school, one of my colleagues wore the same shirt to all exams.  He usually got results in the 95 – 99% range which he attributed to his ‘lucky’ shirt that was never washed! Perhaps he was superstitious — certainly, his behaviour was ritualistic!

During my recent vacation that involved five weeks of travel with friends, the personal rituals of daily living were what I missed most.

Since returning, I am more aware of how personal rituals give structure to mundane aspects of every day. 

Getting started routines.  While travelling, I shared rooms with friends whose morning routines varied and always required some adaptation. I missed having quiet time as the day started. At home I drink my morning coffee while languishing in bed and chatting with my husband.  This is the time when we plan the day, play with our cats, and discuss the morning news. A leisurely start to the day sets a tone that provides energy to face whatever comes later.

Evening routines give a structure for ending the day. This is one time of day when television news provides background noise for winding down and getting ready to sleep. I floss my teeth and do self-care routines while listening to the TV as most news items that provide ‘info-tain-ment’ and don’t require much attention!  One of my travel companions enjoyed the ritual of a glass of sherry and some quiet conversation before going to bed.  That’s a routine worth learning and one that I aspire to incorporate into my life!

‘Arrival home’ routines signal a transition from the outside world to the privacy of home life. My husband has a standard, happy, “I’m home” greeting that he calls as soon as he comes in the front door.  My ‘arrival home’ ritual is to wash my hands and have a drink of water.  It’s a  signal to my inner self that I’m washing away the external world. While travelling, there was no daily ‘arrival home’ so I missed this routine and struggled with the sense that I always carried the external world inside.

Physical exercise rituals. Travel in South Africa involved constant vigilance about security.  In many places, walking outside of the confines of a hotel or guest house was impossible even in a group. Yoga practise was a challenge in small guest rooms. I missed the mental and physical boost from vigorous exercise that I get from swimming and from aqua fit classes.  I missed the community of yoga students with whom I practise.

Solitude rituals.  Time alone keeps my emotional balance and restores mental clarity.  It’s as essential as physical exercise for boosting my energy levels and reducing stress. While travelling with friends, there was constant company which I enjoyed.  The downside, for me, was no time for reflection or for mental processing of rich experiences, beautiful scenery, or encounters with local people. When I returned home, I needed several days of silent time for thinking and for restoring my spiritual reserves.

“We are what we repeatedly do.” — Aristotle

Personal rituals likely make little sense to others.  However, each of us, has routines — or rituals — that give comfort.  They give stability, enhance confidence, and provide a frame of reference for our lives.

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