Yes, I know “ritual” is a dirty word for some. If this is you, I hope to persuade you to re-think the role of ritual in your life. Rituals can be extraordinarily powerful and offer enormous rewards for a small investment of time and effort.
Like habits and routines, rituals help carry us through the rough patches, when we’re too stressed or distracted to think carefully about what we’re doing. If I make it a habit to hold the door for people, I’ll behave courteously, even on a day when I don’t have the emotional reserves to really notice the needs of a stranger.
Ritual shares with habit the use of repetition, but adds elements of conscious intention, mindfulness, gratitude and savoring. You could say a ritual is just a mindful habit, or a habit of mindfulness.
Habits may be purposefully developed or acquired accidentally, but once established, they become mindless. Ritual differs from habit in using repetition to reinforce and cultivate mindfulness.
Here’s an example. As a martial artist, when I step into the training space, I bow to honor the space and those who offer their time—and risk their bodies—to teach and train with me. Bowing is a habit for me. I am almost unable to step on the mat without reflexively bowing. It’s unconscious.
But instead of merely practicing the habit of bowing, I also have a tiny ritual that goes along with it. I pause at the edge of the mat, take a deep breath and say to myself, “Open mind, willing spirit, grateful heart,” to remind myself of the attitude I want to bring to training.
As I bow and step onto the mat, I visualize a doorway through which my insecurities and day-to-day worries cannot pass.
The notion that there is really a magic doorway on the mat that screens out distractions and insecurities is preposterous. But, as a result of practicing this ritual repeatedly, such a doorway actually exists for me, in every way that matters. Stepping though it has a predictable effect on my state of mind that works even on days when I’m stressed or agitated.
My little ritual takes the space of one breath. Hardly any time at all. No matter what sort of day I’m having, when I step through that doorway, I feel instantly calmer and more energized. My attention rests appropriately on the training, and the safety of my partners, instead of on a troubling conversation earlier in the day or my plans for the weekend.
With that one small ritual, I dramatically increase my enjoyment of the next hour or two of training, my ability to absorb what is being taught and everyone’s safety. Pretty big payoff for one breath and six words, don’t you think?
You can use little rituals like this to make your life calmer, more enjoyable and more purposeful. We think we don’t have time to de-stress, we are too busy to remember to be mindful, but a tiny investment of time and attention at the right moment can have a huge effect on the quality of our lives. It takes a little effort to establish a tiny ritual of mindfulness or gratitude as part of our routines, but it’s well worth it!
Use the example here as is, or feel free to adapt it to suit your needs.
A Ritual for Honoring Your Journal and Materials
I recommend you try this ritual at least once when you first start keep a Creative Energy Journal. Better yet, use a short version of it each time you begin working in your journal to help you let go of distractions and enter a creative, imaginative state of mind.
Find a place where you can be relatively free from distractions.
You’ll need your journal and a pencil or pen. If color has a lot of impact for you, you might want to add some colored pencils, markers, crayons or a kids’ watercolor set.
Sit comfortably holding your journal in both hands, close your eyes and let yourself just relax for a moment. Take three deep breaths. The sort of deep breath and full sighing exhale that comes at the end of a long, exhausting day when you finally get to fall into bed. Let your shoulders drop, relax your belly, maybe roll your head around a bit and let any tension in your body melt as you exhale. A nice, long “Ahhhhhhhhhh!” on the exhale can help you let go of tension.
With your eyes still closed, take a moment to check in with your body and emotions. This is an important part of the Creative Energy Journaling process. Chronic busy-ness and stress take a toll on the body. And on your ability to tap into your emotions, intuition and creativity.
Stress hormones dull body sensations. This is a great if you have to ignore the pain of a sprained ankle while you run away from a tiger. Not so great if you want to tap into emotion, intuition and creativity, which arise in the body as much as, if not more than, in the mind. So, whenever you begin a session of journal work, or any time you feel “stuck”, gently bring your attention to your body and emotions.
There’s no need to do anything about what you observe unless you want to. You don’t have to be all peaceful and zen to journal or be creative. Creative Energy Journaling is definitely a “come as you are” affair! Just gently bring your attention to how your body feels, how your heart feels, how your spirit feels.
Next, open your eyes and spend a few moments admiring the cover of your journal, perhaps remembering the process of decorating it, or if you left it blank, enjoying the fresh newness of it.
Then close your eyes again, and bring your attention to the feel of your journal in your hands. Feel its weight, run your hands over it and notice the texture of the cover. Notice the subtle scent of the paper, the raspy or whispery sound of your fingers sliding over the surface. Explore it with your eyes closed. Get to know it well enough that you could pick it out of a library in the dark.
Now, with your eyes still closed, open your journal to a page somewhere in the middle. Let your fingers smooth the page open, let your journal rest lightly in your hands, and in your imagination (but with your eyes still closed!) “look” down at the page.
As you look at the page in your imagination, you discover your journal actually a doorway to other worlds. Every time you open your journal, you’ll actually be looking into other realities. Alternate realities that you can inhabit. Worlds of memory, worlds of dream and story and myth, worlds of potential and possibility.
What can you see when you “look” through this page-doorway? If the answer is “not much”, don’t be concerned. That’s what art is for! As you work on your journal pages, you’ll get little glimpses of these other worlds. Artists talk about “the hand leading the eye” and “the work telling you what the work needs to be”.
Whatever you see, try to hold the echo of that image on the page as you open your eyes. Before the echo fades, draw or write something reminding you of what you saw. Don’t worry about whether you can make a sensible sentence, or draw a recognizable image. It’s better at this stage not to try to pin things down too completely.
Just write down words or phrases that will serve as reminders of the experience, or put a shape or doodle or color on the page that captures a tiny bit of how it felt to look through that doorway. Don’t try to “finish” your writing or drawing. You can come back to this page for more work later.
If you didn’t “see” anything at all, just let your pen or pencil wander, or doodle a bit, or grab whatever color of crayon appeals to you most right now and make a doodle. Or, leave the page blank for now. In the next post on Creative Seeds, I’ll give you several options for how to start when you don’t know how to start.
When you are done, take the time to close your journal mindfully, with gratitude for the magic and power of human imagination, and appreciation for this physical object that serves as a doorway to your creative realities.
You can use this ritual to begin and end any session of work in your journal.
When you are working with a brand-new journal, you might wish to add some further gestures blessing your journal or dedicating it to the work you intend to do. You might smudge it with incense, expose to the light of the full moon, sleep with it under your pillow, keep it beside you while you do your daily meditation, say a prayer over it, hold it while you sing your intention to the sunrise or put it in a place of importance on the middle of your desk.
If all of this is just too much mumbo-jumbo, just ignore it! Your journal is there to serve you. If you are journaling as a way to loosen up and be more playful and spontaneous, this might all be counterproductive. As with everything in Creative Energy Journaling, listen to your heart and spirit and do what feels right for you.