My morning ritual starts with making a French press full of coffee. Grind the beans, heat the water… I can do it in my sleep, which is good, because before I have that first cup I’m barely conscious. The first sip from the first cup makes me feel more alert immediately, far quicker than the caffeine can actually kick in.
As we become a more secular society we abandon specific rituals, and ritual in general, which is a mistake. Rituals provide a rote series of actions to do without a lot of thought and help us relax, calm down a bit and clear our minds, leaving us better able to focus on the next task.
One of my favorite rituals is walking the dog. It starts with picking out a cigar, a ritual in and of itself. I check out my humidor and select one. Do I want something something strong or medium, spicy or earthy, mellow or kick-ass? How long will the walk be? (Longer walks require longer cigars.) By this time the dog is getting excited, because he knows that when I open the humidor it usually means he’s going for a walk. That brings up the ritual of teasing him just a bit (“you want to go for a WALK?A *Walk?* Is that what you want?”), getting his head leash on, and then selecting the appropriated outerwear for myself.
I clip and light the cigar in the front yard – yet another ritual. Sam always holds the leash in his mouth for the first block, then I take it from him until we reach the place on the wooded path where I can let him run free. He immediately runs to the woods and takes a dump – he has his rituals too.
And all this time I’m not thinking about problems or my finances or my job or family issues or politics or the news or friends or frenemies or the next article or podcast or conversation or anything else that’s important to me. I do think about such things during the walk, but not during the ritual of getting ready for it. That few minutes of thoughtless ritual is calming and refreshing.
If you don’t have any rituals, intentionally add a few to your life. They can be a source of calm and relaxation, even if they’re short. They don’t have to have any special meaning – it is the meaninglessness that makes them work.