Five years ago, at a very different stage in my life, I was sitting in a local watering hole with two close girlfriends. We three had gathered in support of our mutual relationship failures. Sitting in that booth were the dumped, the cheated on, and the unrequited.
Hours later, after much sulking and even more drinking, a ritual was birthed. Without judgment we listed the names of everyone we had given ourselves to, whether physically or emotionally and regardless of significance or brevity. A description was sometimes required in lieu of a name.
Recounting our disappointments, losses, and regrets of the past was a sobering experience. Then, with love and acceptance, we went out to the patio, lit the list on fire, and watched as the past dissolved into nothingness.
There was a scary moment when the wind blew the flame toward us that sent us running back into the bar in a fit of laughter. The laughter continued for the rest of the night, carrying with it a sense of healing and friendship.
As a devout non-believer, I have often balked at the complicated rituals performed by religious organizations. The sit-stand-kneel-pray-sing-repeat of the Catholics. The hands-in-the-air speak-in-tongues slain-in-the-spirit of Evangelical Christians. The five daily prayers of the Islamic. The chants and sacrifices of the Hindu. The resting and fasting of the Jewish. Plus millions more that I am not privy to.
But rituals are not limited to worship alone. Both inside and out of religious communities there are rituals for birth, death, puberty, graduation, marriage, accomplishment, etc. A ritual can be any sequence of events, often used in repetition, which serve to symbolize a beginning, an end, a transition, a rite of passage, a celebration, or any personalized event in your life.
It may sound silly but that long routine of brushing, washing, exfoliating, and moisturizing that you do before bed is a ritual.
Many athletes invent rituals to help themselves get in the mindset needed to focus or perform on a competitive level.
Whenever I am feeling sick or sad, I eat a shit ton of mint chocolate chip ice cream. Certainly that is a ritual, despite the negative effects it has on my health and weight.
Humans are highly emotional beings and rituals can be helpful tools of control. When faced with uncertain situations especially, they can be an excellent way to deal with difficult feelings. Or as my therapist explained it to me, “A ritual can be a good place to put the feelings that you are struggling with.”
These days, I struggle to deal with anger that began nearly 20 years ago. An anger that has stinted my personal growth and impacted my ability to trust and interact with people.
It is disturbingly easy to hold on to anger. In fact I’d really like to. For me anger means safety from hurt and safety from the unknown. But as comforting as my anger has been, it has been equally poisonous.
And so it has been advised that I complete the impossible task of letting go in the same manner that three young women once dealt with broken hearts; by creating my own ritual that acknowledges my anger and then releases it, allowing fire to burn it until there is nothing left.