No idea what I’m talking about? I bet you’ve eaten a pancake or two in your time. Maybe enjoyed a pancake race, or tossing ritual?
Being shriven is to be absolved of your sins – it’s an Anglo-Saxon Christian ritual where on Shrove Tuesday, 47 days before Easter Sunday, you confessed your sins and sought absolution. This was followed by a period of fasting known as Lenten. It later became a day of feasting and celebrating preceding Lent. Making pancakes, once a practical way of using up eggs etc, became central to the celebrations. Similar rituals of celebration, food and parade can be seen in Mardi Gras and Pre-Lenten in Europe.
While we often associate ritual with religion, ancient tribalism or even the occult, it is actually in small everyday things that rituals are at their most powerful. Rituals give us a sense of order, control even, and in some small way they help to make sense of the chaotic world we experience, whether that be grand scale ceremony or a very personal routine. They are often symbolic enactments to which we attach a meaning.
Historically we see rituals where the outcome is important – like being absolved of your sins if you are a Christian. We see rituals when the outcome is uncertain – like dancing around the Maypole, an ancient pagan fertility ritual, designed to bring good luck to crop growing. We see rituals where the outcome is beyond our control – like the ancient fire walking tradition, a rite of passage in iron age India, purification in Malaysia and a modern-day empowerment activity.
These kind of rituals exist because they create a sense of connection, or belonging to something bigger, even if only for a moment. This is really important to human well-being.
In principle, rituals are a good thing, in practice not so much, unless we are prepared to get both conscious and intentional about what rituals we engage in. It is daily practice that shapes who we are, it is daily practice that determines how we show up and contribute to the world and it is daily practice that has the biggest impact on our mental wellbeing.
Here’s the rub. Most daily practice is completely habitual, it is often unconscious, and we don’t think about its impact – on ourselves or others. Think back to being shriven for a minute; how often do you continue to beat yourself up for something long after others involved have moved on? Is part of your ritual to beat yourself up, or can you learn what you need to learn and forgive? The latter of course is far better for you.
Many of our rituals are unconscious, habitual acts, yet we feel a bit out of sorts if we haven’t performed them. Think about cleaning your teeth for example, you probably have times of the day when you do this – when you get up, when you go to bed, you might have a way you do it and order in which you move round your mouth and so on – it’s habitual and a ritual. So might be the way you prepare for certain activities – I know many speakers who have a pre-stage ritual to get themselves in the right place to do their best work, musicians, actors, athletes, people who have grounding, connecting rituals prior to something important.
Rituals are a powerful internal conversation (no words necessary) about your self-worth, about the way you treat yourself, whether you are prepared to invest in yourself.
However busy you are, you can find a few minutes to be conscious about your rituals.
Think about your habits and rituals for a moment, how many have you got? How many create control, a sense of order? How many make you feel calm and /or connected. What have you been doing unconsciously and does it enrich or empower you or are your rituals keeping you stuck?
If you have some enriching rituals in place already well done, if you are alarmed by what you are habitually doing to yourself or not doing for yourself, it’s never too late to start investing.
Uncertainty, and the fear that comes with it, drives your sympathetic nervous system –your fight/flight, stress response. Your body is designed to operate here in exceptional circumstances, it can’t differentiate between actual physical threat and psychological threat, destructive self-talk, judgement and fear keep you stuck and have a detrimental impact on your long term well-being so watch out for destructive rituals.
Creating certainty, even for a few minutes, has a powerful impact on your neurological function. It trips you back into parasympathetic – rest and restore mode, where we ideally operate from most of the time. Ritual is a great way to create a few minutes of certainty.
If you need to upgrade your rituals here are a few things to try –
- Wake up and consciously smile, it changes the chemicals floating around your brain.
- Create tea / coffee / water time out routines for yourself (I love my 5 minute start my work day routine, of a coffee, my aim for the day and some affirmations – it sets my brain up again with the right neurochemicals sloshing around to keep me empowered and on track)
- Set your intentions – some people say this is a morning activity, I believe it is a regular, but what works for you activity – the important bit being setting yourself up to succeed.
- Exercise whether it be yoga, running, football, the gym, a regular routine for yourself is a great ritual.
- Your self-talk – we are predisposed to focus on negatives, positive self-talk often takes a bit of conscious processing.
- Getting outside and breathing fresh air.
Pick one of these and try it. you might find you have to try a few before you find the right fit, have fun. This is not an exhaustive list, if you have others you think people might like please share them in the comments or the Braver group.
You don’t have to join a ceremony or embody an ancient custom to enjoy ritual, unless you want to, but you do have to absolve yourself or your perceived shortcomings and wrong doings and invest in your well-being a little. Spend a little time on yourself and if you are having pancakes or joining bigger ceremonies have fun, as we will be with our own who can actually catch their pancake once they’ve tossed it competition.