Even though I’ve been writing about mother-daughter relationships and other psychological topics for twenty years, my very first books were about spirituality and spiritual practices, and the trying times we find ourselves in seem to call for a return to my old roots. None of these rituals are associated with any religion or creed. One is a ritual I created for the workshops I used to give years ago, while the others were created specifically for my recent books, Daughter Detox: Recovering from an Unloving Mother and Reclaiming Your Life and The Daughter Detox Companion Workbook.
Why turn to rituals?
Our daily routines have been utterly altered by fast-moving events and, if you think about it, those little rituals—buying a coffee on the way to work, walking your child to the bus stop, kissing your significant other goodbye as you each head off to your individual days, seeing familiar faces in the lobby of the building where you work, congregating with colleagues—have disappeared in what feels like the blink of an eye. For those of us who live alone, being deprived of social contact can be especially difficult. Rituals can help us manage our anxiety at a time of great stress and help us to maintain some positivity amid a tsunami of distressing news; that is, of course, why there are specific rituals associated with death and loss, and have been in every society from humanity’s beginning.
There is actually psychological science to back up this assertion, as witness the findings of Nicholas M. Hobson and his colleagues; the scripted and repetitive nature of rituals helps to regulate emotions, improve goal performance, and social connection.
So here are some ideas for new rituals to incorporate into daily life right now.
- Create a blessing bowl
I did this with my daughter when she was little and it continues to be a way of looking forward positively without turning into a Pollyanna. Cut up little strips or squares of paper—if you’ve using a glass bowl, it’s prettier if you use colored paper—and have each member of your family write down something he or she is grateful for or looking forward to and fold the paper over. You can do this every day or once a week and, then, at a time you choose, you read the slips out loud. This little exercise gets you thinking about what is in your life, and not what is missing from it. (By the way, the blessing can be the absence of something as well as the presence so you can be grateful for feeling less anxious.) If you are sheltering in place with your kids, this can be a nice way of making them recognize that while things have changed, being grateful makes you feel better as does looking forward to the future.
- Create a candle lighting ritual
Humanity’s earliest rituals involved bringing light into the darkness— using hollowed-out lamps of stone with bits of moss floating in fat set afire—and continues to this day. Scented candles can lift our spirits. Lighting a candle as you sit down to eat a meal can make the experience feel more special and signal that now is a time for sharing and enjoying. You can say words as you light the candle or simply enjoy a moment of quiet. Never leave a burning candle unattended, make sure it is on a fireproof surface, and be vigilant if you have small children.
- Create “looking forward” rituals
It’s especially important that we all continue to look ahead even when we feel confined or stuck. Have each member of the family do something that symbolizes the future in a positive way; young children can draw pictures of places they’d like to go or things they’d like to do (such as seeing a whale spouting in the Atlantic or playing basketball).
Older kids can create collages or write aspirations on a board; again, the point here is to set a time for when you deliberately think about the future and beyond today.
Planting seeds might be something else you might do for yourself or with your kids or perhaps sprouting a sweet potato which is actually lots of fun. (Use an organic sweet potato and stick four toothpicks about one-third of the way from the top. Put the pointy end in water. Put on a sunny windowsill and change the water every few day. You will see it root and then see a vine emerge from the top. It can be transplanted to a pot with soil once it’s growing.)
There’s no “right” way to create a ritual; use your creativity to look forward!
Photograph by Kristina Tamašauskaitė. Copyright free. Unsplash.com
Hobson, N.M., J Schroeder, J.L Risen, et. al., “The Psychology of Rituals: An Integrative Review and Process-based Framework,” Personality and Social Psychology Review (2017), 22 (3), pp. 260-284