Rethinking rituals

There are lots of little things we engage in each day – call them rituals – that depending on your point of view are done as part of family tradition or the larger social culture.

Some rituals are handed down from generations past, others are connected to religious customs, others are associated with the changing seasons and so on.

The current coronavirus is, whether we like it or not, resetting some long standing rituals especially around greeting and social gatherings.  What was once acceptable is perhaps now out of line, and so it’s time to reflect on those rituals we can let go and those we want to maintain, albeit in a modified form.

This story by Jill Suttie: What Happens When We Lose Our Social Rituals, and How to Make New Ones, (Yes, May 5, 2020) points out that longstanding rituals such as weddings and funerals that have been a taken for granted part of what we do, are hard to forgo in the face of forced isolation – even though we know it’s for the greater good.

As we lose of face-to-face interaction with other people, can email, phone conversations, and Zoom meetings make up for that loss?   Yes and no.  There is no substitute for being in the physical presence of another person, but for a short time technology might provide sufficient solace to get us through.

We need to keep in mind that in times gone by, being separated for long periods was not uncommon.  Think of those who migrated from Europe to Australia in the 1700 and 1800’s.  It would be a very long time before they would be reunited with family.  In some cases this never happened.  And they were moving to a place that went about life in very different ways.  Calling on familiar rituals can help ease us into new realms until the rituals of the new country are integrated into our lives.

For now we’ll put these aside and share a few ideas from Jill Suttie …

“As parents, partners, family members, and friends, we need to allow people to talk about the things that they’re missing,” says Lori Gottlieb, author of Maybe You Should Talk to Someone.

How to Make New Rituals

Jan Stanley, who works as a celebrant—someone who designs rituals for weddings and funerals—says that it’s not hard to create rituals online, if you keep certain things in mind. She suggests that you:

• Ask people to bring to their online gathering something symbolic to share, such as a candle to light, a memory or story, a picture, or a poem. Getting people to contribute in that way can help create a sense of oneness.

• Mark the moment by having someone provide an opening statement that designates the beginning of any ritual and explains the purpose of being there. That sets the tone and makes people realise that this is a special moment in time and not just another online meeting.

• Create emotional highs, perhaps using music, dancing, poetry, moments of silence, or something else with high emotional resonance to augment the experience.

• Always have a distinct ending that includes an emotional peak, because people tend to remember an event better that way.

Though an online ritual may lack some of the power of an in-person ritual, says Stanley, it still has value. Even doing rituals alone can be useful, she adds, if it’s meaningful. Research suggests that creating rituals just for ourselves can help alleviate grief after loss and make us feel less out of control, which could help now, when the world seems so uncertain.

“If you can design a ritual to be meaningful—so that it actually touches your heart or brings someone to mind or gives you a sense of your own purpose—all the better,” she says.

Read the full story hereSocial rituals This associated story is worth noting as well:  Why rituals are good for your health


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