Most of us hear, “ritual” and we think, “religion.” Yet ritual goes far beyond that. At their heart rituals are actions we create for ourselves that have meaning for us, that support our values, and that help shift us through personal life challenges.
We take some rituals for granted. Seemingly mindless activities like showering and brushing your teeth allow you to start the day with a comforting sameness. You’re then able to focus mentally on your upcoming schedule. Annual Super Bowl or July 4th celebrations with friends ground you socially and create memories. Other rituals bring together your family of choice to celebrate significant life passages.
Rituals can also be quite private and uniquely personal. Such events as detaching from your abuser, shedding the effects of trauma, beginning anew after illness, death, or a career transition…these all can be occasions to create a ritual. Each opportunity is meant to meet your particular need to move beyond the past.
Events, especially traumatic events, severe stress, and major change have strong feelings associated with them. We need just as powerful rituals to detach from those feelings and memories. Shame, defeat, grief, and distress can give way to confidence, victory, contentment, and calm with the help of personal ritual.
Our feelings normally originate in our hearts or in our gut, which produce lots of hormones that trigger emotions. Our bodies internalize and store these strong feelings. They become part of who we are and how we define ourselves in the world. Traumas and disappointments can thus have a life of their own. They get expressed in our bodies, as well as in our attitudes, moods, and in the story we tell about ourselves.
When difficult events in life, such as being bullied, get internalized, we end up reliving them without realizing it. We get used to the feelings stored in our bodies that originated in the trauma. For example, we become our own bully, because that is what our minds and bodies grew accustomed to. These stored events affect our outlook on life, our confidence to plow through the next challenge, and prevent us from reframing past events. We end up wistfully trying to live the life we wish we had, and not our lives as they actually are in the here and now.
By externalizing and purging internalized trauma, rituals enable us to take away their power over us. This is a way we can resolve past memories and their associated feelings once and for all. Physical, concrete rituals that we tailor-make for our personal use and circumstances bring the inside out, close dead chapters in our lives, and help us live a more hopeful future.
Rituals can be fun to plan either alone or with kindred friends. My friend, after decades of struggling in an emotionally draining marriage, finally got a divorce. When she moved into her new apartment, she gathered her female tribe. Together they went from room to room with smoking sage brush to bless each room in the new space. The aim was to start fresh, banish old memories, and shift into a positive spirit. Then they gathered for home cooked food and drinks and celebrated the night away.
What events in your life need a dose of ritual to help put them to rest, once and for all? How might a ritual with symbols, words, and actions bring the inside out, release the tension of the inner self-critic, negative memories, or trauma, and focus on a new future?
You only have this moment. The past is dead…so get a big shovel, dig a deep hole, and bury it once and for all! Clear the decks for the next good thing.
Need help with planning your rituals? I’m here for you. firstname.lastname@example.org or text me at 813-449-3904
My book can help: Life Interrupted: Taking Charge After Everything Has Changed