On the Jewish holiday Passover there is a question that is asked before a family starts to eat.
“What makes this night different than all other nights?”
Passover was always my favorite holiday growing up because, although on every night we ate, this night we ate things that meant something. We sat around the table together and talked about why they were important and why we cared and how other families had been doing the same thing for literally thousands of years. To this day Passover is the only day out of the year I eat meat. Not only because lamb is SO good but because of the symbolism of the animal sacrifice.
To me what separates a ritual from a habit is the significance we give it. We have the power to turn a simple, everyday occurrence like a family meal into something that lasts for a thousand years. And it all happens inside our heads.
Here are a few of the rituals I encounter in my daily life and the significance I see in them.
Reaching for the Moon
When I was in high school I read Howard Pyle's The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood (fantastic amazing book. Go read it now.) In that book the merry men are philosophizing to each other before embarking on their day of robbing, witty comebacks', and getting into fights. Will Scarlet quotes that “He who leaps for the moon and touches it not still leaps higher than he who stoops for a penny.” To which Robin Hood, being the cheeky little bugger that he is, replies “Aye, but he who stoops for a penny still gets the penny while he who leaps for the moon gets nothing.”
Personally I agree with Scarlet on this one. I'd rather grasp for what I want and will never have than content myself with working for things I don't particularly care about because I know I can get them. So, to remind myself of this, every time I find a penny of the ground I jump up and try to touch the moon. No really, I do. Even now at twenty four years old.
Though to be honest I usually pick up the penny afterward.
Never Sit At the Same Desk Twice
Or at least, not too often. I know most people like to find one desk in a class room and sit in it every class session, and I apologize to those people who's seats I periodically steal, but . . . the same spot? Every day? At the same time? For sixteen weeks? It would drive me crazy. So rather that adopting the ritual of sitting in the same place I've adopted the ritual of stepping into the classroom and thinking for about ten seconds about where I should sit.
What does this ritual symbolize in my head? Keeping myself on my toes. Gaining new perspectives. Trying new things (baby steps ok. Escargot and bungee jumping will come later--- Actually no. No it won't. But maybe *gasp* skipping breakfast and staying out past ten will).
Masterpiece Theater and Wine
This my absolute favorite ritual. Every Sunday night at nine o clock I open up a bottle of two buck chuck and switch the channel to PBS to see what that week's Masterpiece special is (AHHHH! This Sunday is going to be the last episode of Downton Abbey. NOT FAIR). Even if I've seen it before or it's not a particularly great program I still watch it.
I usually do this with my mom (although since Downton my sister and even my thirteen year old brother have joined in. Minus the wine for the brother of course.), so in that sense this is a straight forward bonding ritual, but there is also something significant in opening wine for the occasion and in waiting for the time slot on the TV channel rather than prerecording it. It makes it a ceremony, a moment that can't be repeated throughout the rest of the week. Those few hours are a time for me to savor the last remaining moments of the weekend before going back to the same old work drill of Monday morning.
So what about you? Do you prescribe any personal meanings to the things you do throughout the week? What makes this moment different than all other moments?
Desecrate my temple with a candle
With flames that burn beyond the final sleep
Incense drowned in a bequeathed ritual
Lit by men long dead for us to keep
Prepare me for my burial with gifts
As scalded wax drips down sacred pillars
Teach me the truths that ceremony sifts
And learn the innocence hidden by scars
Hear cries of children never born as kings
And pay homage to their everlasting sire
Screams of purity torn from time's sweltering
Defile my memory for every missing fire
Defy the spark dimmed by the fall of breath
As vibrancy passes through strains of birth