For the Week of July 30, 2017: The Necessity of Small Rituals

I’ve been trying to re-establish a sense of normalcy and routine after a month or more of upheaval as we’ve weathered a house sale, moved our belongings across the country and settled into an apartment in Toronto.  For the past two weeks, it’s been an intense and exhausting process of arranging our furniture, clothing, decorative items, books and other belongings into some livable order.  Gradually, we’re beginning to “settle” now—a few wayward items await either buyers from Craigslist or donations to nonprofits.  I’m weary of the moving process, ready to settle into a “normal” life and more than ready to re-institute my morning routine, one that begins around six a.m.

Despite my good intentions, I awakened later than usual this morning.  Deep in a dream that ignited long ago memories of a kindergarten playmate, I awoke with a start and looked at the clock:  nearly seven a.m..  “Darn it,” I murmured to my dog, who had found her way to my side during the night, “I overslept.”

Normally, I awaken a few minutes before six a.m., but today, I slept nearly an hour later than usual.  I hurriedly threw back the cover and groggily made my way down the hall to spend a few minutes stretching my legs and back before putting  on my clothes, then brushing my teeth and hair.  I made the coffee and fed the coffee as quickly as I could, knowing the day would warm rapidly.  She sat at my feet, ears up and alert, ready for the signal we were ready to fasten her leash and head out the door and down the stairs.  It was only as we crossed the street and entered the park that I began to relax, appreciating the lush green of deciduous trees, the breeze and the comic activities of my dog as she began her daily squirrel patrol.  While I have yet to find the quiet space to re-establish a practice of writing each morning, I’ve begun finding my way back to normalcy.  And my dog, Maggie, seems to thrive in the regularity of our morning routine together just as I do.

In the poem, “Habit,” Jane Hirshfield describes small rituals that are part of our daily lives:

The shoes put on each time
left first, then right.

The morning potion’s teaspoon
of sweetness stirred always
for seven circlings, no fewer, no more,
into the cracked blue cup.

Touching the pocket for wallet,
for keys,
before closing the door.

How did we come
to believe these small rituals’ promise,
that we are today the selves we yesterday knew,
tomorrow will be?

(Excerpt from “Habit” by Jane Hirshfield, in Given Sugar, Given Salt, 2002)

My morning habits began during a time of difficult transitions, when, adrift in grief and turmoil, I was coming to terms with the death of a husband and a new life as a single mother.  Writing in the early mornings before my children awakened became a life line, the port in my storm, the way I could make sense of the myriad of emotion that threatened to overwhelm me.

Now what was refuge in a time of trouble has become a habit, a little daily ritual that offers a sense of comfort and calm before the busyness of the day begins.  Our habits—or little rituals–allow us to feel connected to ourselves and to the world.  Think about it:  we create rituals around important life events—birth, puberty, marriage, death—as a way of honoring transitions from one chapter or stage of life to the next.  While we know these rituals keep us grounded and offer solace in times of uncertainty and change, they do the same for us in our daily lives.  They not only help us navigate difficult times, but keep us grounded, and provide a sense of familiarity and constancy.

Our daily rituals can even help us heal, offering time to be quiet and focus on intentions and actions.  They also function as talismen against fear, offering the assurance we will be all right, as Hirshfield suggests:

How did we come
to believe these small rituals’ promise,
that we are today the selves we yesterday knew,
tomorrow will be?

Author Barbara Biziou ( writes that our healing rituals, the little habits that offer us solace or replenishment, allow us to be active participants in our healing process.  What defines a healing ritual?  They are the things we take solace in doing, a prayer or meditation, a solitary walk in the woods, working in the garden, listening to music, a massage, or sitting quietly at a window with a cup of tea or coffee..  It doesn’t matter what your healing rituals are.  What matter is that they help you renew and replenish your spirit and able to  hear what’s in your not only your mind, but your heart.

I still have some work to do to re-introduce myself to my regular writing practice each morning, giving my heart have equal time with my head on the page.  It’s something I need as surely as my dog needs a morning walk with me.  Time in Nature, a freshly brewed cup of coffee, a period without talk before my husband awakens, a time alone with pen and paper. This is my daily meditation, refuge and quiet before the day intrudes with its tasks and disruptions.  Without the constancy and regularity of my early morning rituals, I feel slightly off kilter, not quite ready to take on the day.

The best way to quiet the mind and unlock your inner power is to start small when creating new daily rituals. Through the ancient teachings of yoga, we know that our thoughts lead to actions; our actions become habits; our habits form our character; and our character determines our destiny. Daily ritual is the act of taking positive thoughts and putting them into action. You are what you think, because what you think determines what you do. Once a positive ritual takes hold in your life, you don’t even need to think about it. Just like brushing your teeth—it just happens.–Bhava Ram, “Transform Your Life with the Power of Ritual,” The Chopra Center

Writing Suggestions:

  • What small habits or routines offer calm or comfort in your daily life?  How?
  • Why do they matter to you?
  • What do they teach you about yourself?
  • How, in the midst of pain or suffering, do they provide solace?

Write about those daily habits, the healing rituals, that are important to your life, your sense of well-being.

About Sharon A. Bray, EdD

Best known for her innovative work with cancer patients and survivors, Sharon is a writer, educator and author of two books on the benefits of expressive writing during cancer as well as personal essays, a children's book, magazine articles and the occasional poetry. She designed and initiated expressive writing programs at several major cancer centers, including Breast Cancer Connections, Stanford Cancer Center, Scripps Green Cancer Center and Moores UCSD Cancer Center. She continues to lead expressive writing groups for men and women living in the San Diego area and teach creative writing workshops and classes privately for UCLA extension Writers' Program. She previously taught professional development courses in therapeutic writing at Santa Clara University and the Pacific School of Religion, was a faculty member of the CURE Magazine Forums and at the Omega Institute in 2014. Sharon earned her doctorate from the University of Toronto and studied creative and transformative writing at Humber School for Writers, University of Washington, and Goddard College.
This entry was posted in expressive writing, writing from cancer and serious illness, writing from life, writing to heal. Bookmark the permalink.

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