Routine or Ritual?

by Berenice Boxler.

It is this time again, summer is here! School is out, vacation, less traffic on the local roads, paddling pool in the garden and sunscreen. Much is easier now and people start to relax. There is often less time pressure in the morning, calmer driving to appointments and more ice-cream in the afternoon sun. Oh, and no homework! Other things remain as usual: washing and grocery shopping, processing emails, administrational work, tidying up the children’s rooms and cleaning the car.

Routines give a hold

Routines give us something to lean on, because they give the daily hustle a framework. Without routines – even though if they are not always respected – it would be harder to get through the day. Especially children unconsciously cling to these routines and can thus develop a sense of security and structure. There is a morning routine, a “We come home”-routine, and of course the evenings would be a mess without a basic structure. But I do as well appreciate this framing of the week: there are shopping days, creative work days, sports days, etc.

We humans work with routines and habits, and it can make everyday life a lot easier if a certain structure exists as a fix idea in the background.

And now the summer is here, the long holidays … and the established routines start to crumble. Then the children are allowed to go outside after dinner, bedtime is later, the weekly ice cream quota is increased at lightning speed, and without homework one lives even more relaxed. It is completely fine and also necessary that routines and rules are repeatedly checked for their current purpose. Just because something was “always” like that doesn‘t mean it is automatically right and helpful now. Especially holidays are an invitation to do everything a little more relaxed.

Lack of routine as a guarantee for difficulties …

It becomes difficult, however, when family members have different downtime. My break is not eight weeks long and I have to and I really like to continue my work. And just because the children can (theoretically) sleep until late does not mean that my husband‘s office suddenly has other core working hours. Not only different daily rhythms can cause difficulties here, also the unconscious transfer of one‘s own moods and desires unto others are often challenging. “Can I get an ice cream?” This I hear almost every day, and they‘d love to play with me all day. “But I don‘t want to go shopping!” is another vacation classic.

… and the power of rituals

This is where rituals come into play. A routine can quickly become meaningless: It is a mostly automatic action, born of a decision and then developed into a habit or rule. However, as circumstances change, it is often difficult to stick to routines, and discussions and frustration are inevitable. A ritual, on the other hand, is a very deliberate act of performing and carrying out an action that also makes it possible to give life a firm framework – regardless of the season or external events. A ritual is performed because it has a nourishing and meaningful effect. It is a self-chosen and very individual preference, created out of the deep feeling: Yes, this is doing me good. And of course, rituals are also subject to change, but these are always deliberately chosen and adapted to current needs. A ritual is something that I create for myself – noone has to know or give consent – to make my day more conscious.

Examples in my life are the way I start the day: while still in bed, awakening the senses („Never get up until you‘re not fully awake,“ says Jon Kabat-Zinn), a bit of conscious breathing, drinking a glass of water, stretching the body slightly and then meditating. And it doesn’t matter how much time the current circumstances allow me, I will adapt the length of each part to the given moment. Another ritual is to consciously breathe three times before starting the engine of the car. Really tasting the first bite of each meal. In the evenings, reflecting on the day and doing a short gratitude exercise, and other little rituals that keep me attuned to the present and bring me back to what is really important: my life how it is right now. And it does not matter at all if it is a Sunday, a course day or day of travel at the beginning of the holidays.

When routines change or are difficult to follow, it is the rituals that allow us to hold the thread.


The Way it is

There‘s a thread you follow. It goes among

things that change. But it doesn‘t change.

People wonder about what you are pursuing.

You have to explain about the thread.

But it is hard for others to see.

While you hold it you can‘t get lost.

Tragedies happen; people get hurt

or die; and you suffer and get old.

Nothing you do can stop time‘s unfolding.

You don‘t ever let go of the thread.

William Stafford