The power of rituals

Rituals don’t have to be dull, rigid or religion-based. They can be a fun and innovative guide through life

Kids, headaches, scraped elbows, carpool, taking the dogs out…

Relaxation? You? Not possible!

No matter how hectic your world gets, finding balance is the key. Enter the ritual.

For me, rituals bring the sacred into my life in a way that is structured, yet liberating. They give me a way to open my spirit and enrich my universe. They help me slow down from the manic pace of life and embrace a moment of peace and joy. It doesn’t have to take long. By designing rituals for yourself and your family and setting an intention—that is, decide what feeling or emotion it’s to evoke—you can create an anchor that holds the family together. Rituals don’t have to be religious, imposing, or deeply introspective. They can be fun, and empowering, for everyone involved.

Why do we need rituals and what do we have to gain from them?

I learned the importance of family rituals when my son Jourdan was a small child. After our divorce, my ex-husband became estranged from the two of us and my family lived 3,000 miles away from me. I felt the need to create new rituals that would connect us and give us a way to celebrate all of life’s transitions. Instead of ‘Father’s Day’ [which was tough for a fatherless child] we created ‘Grandfather’s Day’ in honour of my dad. Over the years, we co-created ceremonies that included our close friends and community… ‘last day’ rituals, marking the end of school, blessing his first car and a solo road trip across America.

What exactly are rituals?

Rituals are one of the greatest spiritual technologies of the 21st Century. This series of consciously created symbolic acts gives you the tools to shift your mindset, break through hidden barriers and open to an expanded vision for your life.

Rituals can be simple, such as transforming your morning cup of tea into a ceremony of connection or placing a coin in a ’success jar’ to acknowledge your accomplishments. Or they can be complex, such as organising a wedding or memorial for hundreds of people.

Rituals anchor us and give us a sense of belonging to something greater than ourselves. They also add substance and meaning to our lives—enhancing daily routines, enriching milestones and guiding us through life’s inevitable transitions.

Most importantly, rituals connect us to the ‘Source’. Through ritual work, we learn how to honour all of life’s passages and, as we do, we gain new ‘spiritual muscles’. In the end, physical resources may come and go, but spiritual resources last a lifetime.

Rituals exert a positive influence over our minds

Research in brain science now confirms that rituals have great power and influence over our minds. If we do a ritual of release, a part of our brain reads it as if it were true. When you participate in a ritual, in essence, you tell your brain that you have already completed whatever you have enacted symbolically, i.e. the victory has already been won!

Why family rituals are important

To me a family ritual is the anchor that really holds the family together, the glue. One of my inspirations for writing The Joy of Family Rituals came from what I have noticed in families who do not share special rituals: they often lack a deep connection, don’t have a rewarding family support system and the children end up feeling alienated.

Modern life is moving too fast for people. Everyone has such a tight schedule that unless you make room for structured family rituals, you can easily go for weeks, or even months, without truly connecting to one another… except on your phone. Kids suffer greatly when they don’t feel connected to a family unit or a healthy community. They become stressed and, in some cases, even depressed. At the very deep end of it, you see drug use and kids acting out violently, against others and themselves.

With so many extended families and alternative family structures—single parents, step-parents, adoption and same sex parents—today’s families are changing. Sometimes there are four parents per child! Rituals can help them adjust and change with the times and include everyone. We are constantly shifting individually and collectively as a family and it is important to mark transitions with rituals for becoming a parent, blessing a new baby, becoming a sibling, attaining puberty, adoption birthday and a parents’ day that include step-parents and godmothers.

A Life raft

Kids feel safe with rituals. It’s the same thing as wanting to constantly eat the same kind of food, go to the same restaurant, or wear their favourite T-shirt. The familiarity and repetition that accompanies family rituals makes them feel safe and secure. Just as adults have their lucky job interview outfit or a special object that they carry for good luck, the power of ritual comes from the symbolism of the object or act. Symbols connect us to our inner power and remind us of who we are. For those who are spiritually minded, you might say it connects them to a higher power. To this day, taking my son Jourdan out for pizza remains a family tradition that has made him feel deeply connected to me since childhood. Although he is now a grown man, ‘pizza with mum’ still makes us feel bonded and connected and joyous! That is truly the joy of family ritual.

Here are a few of my favourite family rituals.

Heritage Festthe-power-of-rituals-300x270

Get your family together to share stories of those that have come before you. Children love to hear about Grandma’s special cake or the fact that Uncle Joe was a great soccer player. Knowing that a great grandparent was a musician or talented carpenter can give a sense of connection to your kids and give them an understanding of their lineage. Especially share stories of where they showed courage and caring. The best way to honour someone is to keep their memory alive with stories and to do acts of kindness in their name.

Celebrate first times

The first time your kids get a haircut, visit the doctor, dance, put on a play, or do anything that is special, create a ritual where you mark that time in their lives—write it down, take pictures, give them gold stars. They’ll gain a greater sense of self.

Monthly culture club

Start introducing your family to other cultures and types of cuisine. Pick one night of each month and make it a theme. It doesn’t matter what cuisine you eat—Thai, Chinese, African, Indian, American. The point is to be together and learn something new. You could give your kids a map to show them where the mysterious food comes from. You could show them pictures of that country and teach them something new about a different culture. Download music, try a new dance, look at fashion from other cultures and watch videos that showcase the lives of people who stay there. You may not realise it, but what you’re doing is opening your children’s minds and showing them that we’re all different and yet the same. You’d be surprised how much it can affect them.

Make a ‘Giving Box’

Let your kids contribute part of their allowance or earned money to help others. Encourage your kids to donate old clothes and toys. Let them create gifts for the less fortunate by baking cookies, creating crafts, or anything that uses their creativity. Create a family ritual that whenever you get something new, you recycle something old and pass it on to others who need it more than you.

So make your family rituals as varied and exciting as possible—they will help inculcate strong values in your children and be a stabilising force at the same time.

This was first published in the June 2014 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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