I had the privilege of spending time with friends on a beautiful piece of land on the Westcoast of BC. The setting conjured the paintings of Andrew Wyeth but didn’t end there.
The way to the beach involved a slow drive for two miles on a dirt one lane road. The road cut through a pristine forest. Deer and rabbits jumped out ahead of us. The thick green foliage engulfed and transported us from the house on the hill to the shores of the BC Westcoast.
Although we passed through elements of the wild, the road was well-maintained. It was intentional. It created an experience. The beach was fantastic, but it was the journey that set everything up. It was as if going from the house to the beach would have been too jarring. It needed the transition.
When our family sits down for dinner, we say grace. We have done it for nearly 18 years together. We say it every, single, time.
Life is hectic. Cooking and preparing a meal for six or more takes a lot of work. Beforehand, we’re all busy and then suddenly, we are together.
What I notice most during grace, is how it helps to slow us down. It encourages a deep breath and the connection with one another as we go around the table one by one.
Were we to jump right into eating, I think the harried nature of life would carry over into the meal. People, eager to get on to what’s next, would rush through.
Grace is a transition. It sheds what came before it, settles our minds, grounds us and shifts our focus to each other. I might even say it makes the experience of the meal better.
In Jewish tradition, there is a ritual at the end of shiva the first seven days of mourning.
Before entering the next phase, sheloshim, mourners rise. They walk around the block or their house, often accompanied by friends.
This step aids in the transition back to everyday life. It symbolises the re-entry into the world. Sheloshim itself is also a transition. Its purpose recognises that one cannot go from the intensity of Shiva straight back into our lives.
I’ve often bucked traditions. Being raised Catholic, I found them annoying. I saw the rituals as a mindless repetition and rejected them on their face.
Because of that, I missed the purpose of rituals. I failed to notice their ability to help us shift our thinking. Rituals prepare us and carry us as we move our attention from one thing to the next.
In his book, The War of Art, Steven Pressfield describes his daily routine before he sits down to write. Littered with simple, meaningful acts and artefacts, he puts on his lucky work boots- for writing no less. He arranges a few small objects and offers a prayer. He uses ritual to prepare his mind for four hours of writing.
Four hours is a long time. I don’t think Pressfield stops to check his email or see if someone liked his post. He is entering long, focused work and it starts with a ritual.
Recent research tells us that jumping from one thing to the next is not good for our brains. The switching comes at a cost.
We know that we should stretch before exercise.
Triathlons have transition areas between elements. Athletes have a routine for putting on their gear at each one.
Everything points to taking the time to prepare our minds and our body for the important work to come.
The purpose of rituals, an experience of their own, is to set us up to focus, shifting our attention where it needs to be.
How do you set yourself up? Let me know in the little box below.
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