Resilience through ritual

resilience thru rituals, yes

There is a saying that goes: Failing to plan is like planning to fail.  That failure on our part has knock on effects that often results in ‘grief’ of some kind.

Grieving is a natural and to be expected emotion occurring after a death or loss of capacity.  How we do grieving, how we work through this time can greatly affect how we live going forward (to use the current jargon).

In times past it was taken as given that depending on family or cultural traditions particular rituals would be practiced to mark a death – the absence or non-presence of the person who has died.

These rituals are being shunned by families who are choosing to, as they put it, get on with life as if to suggest that this significant event never happened.  It’s a strange, somewhat odd approach when compared with the preparation and ritual (celebration) that takes place at the time of birth.   Considering that birth follows a 9 month preparation period it seems appropriate that after years – up to 80 or 90 in many cases – the extinguishing of a life is shrugged off as a non-event.  It seems disproportionate to the effort put into maintaining life over all this time.

While the reasoning for dismissing the opportunity for ritual boils down to ‘getting on with life’ the reality is that rituals actually build resilience and our capacity to cope with the stresses and strains of life. While rituals can be practised in a solitary way – sitting alone on a hill somewhere – it has its greatest benefit when practiced in community.  And part of the benefit of rituals is the act of planning and arranging such events.

people, ari honarvarThis story from Ari Honarvar Resilience Through Rituals, A grounding source for connection essential to our mental health, (Yes! No.88, Winter 2019) throws some light on why rituals still have meaning and are still  practiced across the world. “I don’t know if I could have survived seven years of my childhood without the soul-saving rituals of my Persian culture,” says Honarvar. “I grew up in the midst of the Iran-Iraq War, which ended up killing a million people. Besides the horrors of war, freedom of thought and expression were severely restricted in Iran after the Islamic revolution.”

So many rights were lost, but we .. “clung to 3,500-year-old Zoroastrian ceremonies that correspond to the seasons.”

“Rituals, which are a series of actions performed in a specific way, have been part of human existence for thousands of years. They are not habits.”  For one explanation about the difference, see: Three ways Rituals are Different from Habits.

Cristine Legare, psychology professor at the University of Texas, Austin (USA), says, “Rituals signify transition points in the individual life span and provide psychologically meaningful ways to participate in the beliefs and practices of the community.”

Honarvar goes on to report that, “While it’s not clear exactly how they help, rituals reduce anxiety, improve performance and build confidence.”

“According to Andrew Newborg, associate director of research at the Marcus Institute of Integrative Health, rituals lower cortisol levels, which in turn lower heart rate and blood pressure and increase immune system function.”

“We live in the midst of a loneliness epidemic where the lack of belonging and community has been linked to high suicide rates and an increased sense of despair.  …  while more Americans (read Australians) have become disillusioned with organised religion, as a broad and rapidly rising demographic consider themselves spiritual but not religious … many shared cultural rituals are falling away and with them a grounding source for connection and mental health.”

Honarvar provides examples of rituals that have helped sustain her through good time and bad.  “In this age of isolation, we need nourishing and uplifting means of creating community by bringing together members of different generations as our ancestors did  …  rituals can help by offering opportunities for healing and support.”

We need to build some simple rituals into our daily lives.  Planning for them, as well as participating in them, can be enriching for all concerned.

To read the full story click on:


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