Today, in our too-fast, information-overloaded society, we've lost much of our connection to the earth, to spirit, to nature's cycles, to our own cycles. And yet, we still need things to feed us, to ground us, to give us courage and connection.
Good rituals are essential to our emotional, psychological, and spiritual health. To help reconnect us to the sacred aspects of our lives, we asked three experts on the subject to share everyday rituals that they've created or practice.
1. Welcome the Day
Greeting the new day is ingrained in our collective unconscious. Many ancient cultures had some form of morning ritual, and even now most people have a pattern for starting their day, even if it's coffee from the same cafe. Jane Alexander, author of 20 books on holistic living, including "Spirit of the Home: How to Make Your Home a Sanctuary" built this ritual around the classic yoga Sun Salutation. "I like it because it gives your whole body a vibrant wake-up call," she says.
To put your mind into a positive frame and prepare your entire body for whatever stresses lie ahead.
Grapefruit essential oil (or any uplifting aromatherapy oil).
1. Before getting out of bed, lie quietly for a few moments. Say a word of thanks for this new day, and the gift of life. Dab essential oil on a cloth that you'll use solely for this ritual, and breathe in the aroma.
2. Get up and stand in front of a mirror. Smile at yourself and affirm that this will be a good day, full of blessings, opportunities, and wonder. Say aloud, "I look forward to a wonderful day," or any affirmation with personal significance. If there are difficult meetings or decisions ahead, affirm that you will tackle these with ease: "I will take the challenges of this day in stride."
3. Face east and perform the yoga exercise Sun Salutation.
2. Share the Family Meal
Virtually every culture has a tradition of blessing food, cooking and eating mindfully, and giving thanks for the gift of nourishment, Alexander says.
To create a setting for nurturing and togetherness.
Festive table decorations, favorite foods, a candle.
1. Set a specific day and time for a weekly dinner. Every member of the family, even small children, should be in charge of contributing something -- even if it's just stirring the pot or setting the table. Focus your intention as you chop, mix, and blend.
2. Before eating, light the candle, then hold hands and acknowledge the gifts in your life. Feel free to create a special family blessing. This could take the form of a favorite short poem or saying aloud, "We thank mother earth, the sun, and rain for producing this food, the farmers for growing and harvesting it, and the cook for preparing it."
3. Eat your meal with mindfulness. Encourage silence as everyone savors the taste and texture of their food. Reflect on the long journey from farm to table, and how lucky you are to be eating such delicious, nourishing food. When the meal is finished, blow out the candle.
3. Appreciation/Gratitude Ritual
For our ancestors, gratitude was a way of life, and as a result, every aspect of life presented an occasion for celebration. Offering gratitude is a way to open yourself up to giving and receiving more blessings. Sometimes it takes a simple ceremony to put us in touch with all we do have in our lives. Make this ritual a part of each day, each month, each year -- or whenever you feel it's time to stop and give thanks.
To value and honor those you love, including yourself.
Cinnamon (essential oil with diffuser, or sticks with bowl of warm water); paper and pen.
1. Pour a few drops of the cinnamon oil into a diffuser or spray bottle, or crush two cinnamon sticks into a small bowl of warm water. Allow the aroma to permeate your space.
2. Pick up a pen, sit down at your desk, and make a list of all the family members, friends, and pets that matter the most to you. You could even include material things. By writing one or two reasons why each is important to you, you'll clarify your thoughts and honor the people and things in your life that shouldn't be taken for granted.
4. Sleep Well
Bedtime is a psychically charged time of the day, when we drop our defenses and become vulnerable. This is why most religions have a tradition of bedtime prayers, says Alexander, who drew on various religious practices to create this ritual. "In Kabbalah, it is common to carry out a protection ritual to keep one psychically safe while asleep," she says. Today, she believes, most insomnia and disturbed nights are caused by overactive minds mulling over the day's problems. "This ritual is designed to help prevent that."
To mark the break from day to night and ease you into a state of physical and mental relaxation.
Lavender oil, notebook, and writing utensil.
1. Change (or bathe) with intention. As you take off your clothes, visualize all your daytime anxieties and concerns dropping away. As you wash, imagine that you cleanse away all the negativity of the day.
2. Write down all the positive things that happened during your day.
3. Dab the oil on a handkerchief and place it near the bed. Lie down, breathe in the soothing scent of the oil, and cast your mind back over the day without judgment.
5. Letting Go
Aside from death ceremonies (like funerals), we have few traditional rituals to mark the sad endings we experience during the course of our lives. Try this rite, created by shaman and ritualist Donna Henes, author of "The Queen of Myself: Stepping Into Sovereignty in Midlife" and "The Moon Watcher's Companion."
To provide closure.
Personal mementos, cloth, herbs for smudging.
1. Gather together symbols that represent a situation that has ended, such as rings, photos, keys, business cards, a uniform, or a hospital bracelet.
2. Hold each item in your hand and note its significance to your growth and wisdom. Bless it with gratitude for all the lessons you have learned.
3. Wrap all these remembrances of things past in a cloth. Keep this package in a prominent place as an affirmation of change. When you are ready, bury it. Plant flower seeds on the grave, light the herbs, and wave them over the site.
British author and rituals expert Jane Alexander, author of 20 books on holistic living, including "Spirit of the Home: How to Make Your Home a Sanctuary"; shaman and ritualist Donna Henes, author of "The Queen of Myself: Stepping Into Sovereignty in Midlife" and "The Moon Watcher's Companion"; Interfaith minister Barbara Biziou, author of "The Joy of Everyday Rituals: Spiritual Recipes to Celebrate Milestones, Ease Transitions, and Make Every Day Sacred" and "The Joy of Family Rituals: Recipes for Everyday Living."