I am sitting down to write this after finishing my morning rituals! I don’t know about you but I have a set of rituals which are necessary for me to face the day.

I have to get out of bed and do the stretching exercises – can’t move without them. Then it’s the morning cup of tea (out on the balcony if the weather is fine) when I leisurely plot the day ahead. After that, it’s to the wardrobe for the ‘what shall I wear?’ problem. That done off to the bathroom and shower and change before breakfast. It is a morning ritual and without it, or if something happens to prevent the full ritual being performed, I feel dislocated for the rest of the day.

In fact rituals have formed part of human culture for thousands of years, and while usually associated with religious practices, they can have a more basic social function in teaching young members of society the shared values and beliefs of that society. Shared rituals can also create a sense of group identity and nourish interpersonal relationships.

We are all familiar with the rituals of the school yard. We may have performed the unify rituals which surrounds groups such as guides and scouts. These are used to create a sense of identity and to enhance the group culture. Scouts and Guides have a set of performance standards (The Scout and Guide Law) which lays out the expected behaviour which identifies the group.

In the natural world, ritual is everywhere; and perhaps the most impressive is the ritual wolf dance which the pack performs before setting out on a hunt. These activities were investigated by the ethnologist Charles Laughlin and the psychiatrist and anthropologist Eugene D’ Aquili, and who produced the result of that research in 1979 in The Spectrum of Ritual.

Their conclusion was that ritual serves two important biological functions. The first is the coordination of group behaviour, but the second I found more interesting. They came to the conclusion that the rituals teach the young how to behave, and called it ‘cognitive behaviour’

Now while this research was directed toward rituals in nature the obvious parallel with human behaviour cannot be overlooked. There are some psychologists who believe that humans still crave the group identification which is an outcome of ritual and cite such groups as the Freemasons to highlight our pleasure in self- rewarding rituals.

In a more unusual research, the beneficial effects of ritual in counselling cancer patients has being investigated by Lois A. Lorenz and Frank J. Sullivan, whose article in Journal of Religion and Health ( 1987) examines the use of the initiation ritual of primitive people ‘as a model for counseling cancer patients, giving both meaning and structure to the interactions between patient and counselor.’ [sic]

But more and more psychologists are using the findings of Laughlin and D’Aguil and are looking at the use of ritual as a means to bring about changed behaviour. School Counsellors are using simple ritual actions to reinforce learning a positive behaviour; for instance for a child suffering anxiety, writing down what they fear and then burning it appears to satisfy the natural instinct we still have for ‘cognitive behaviour rituals’.

I may not understand all the psychology behind it, but it doesn’t alter the case that my personal rituals are important for me to start the day feeling good. But it wasn’t always the case. I used to fling myself out of bed at the last possible moment, I had to rush to get ready and arrived at my workplace frustrated, out of kilter and definitely not feeling good. One day I decided this had to stop; it was doing my blood pressure no good at all. I wasn’t quite sure how to go about it until I read a book called ‘Changed Thinking – Changed Living’.

This little book (which is now out of print) showed me that I am a product of my own thoughts and I can choose to do whatever it is I need to do to change my life.

So I put into practice some of the suggestions and created for myself a new set of rituals which were designed to change my morning approach to life. It meant that I had to get up earlier than I had been used to, and that was a challenge! But with perseverance getting out of bed at 5.30am became the new ritual. And now I can approach the day feeling calmer, in control and my doctor is amazed at the reduction in my blood pressure and my stress levels.

So what are your rituals? Have you thought about what you do to prepare for life? What rituals in your life are good and which are holding you back? Using a planned ritual is a good way of bringing about change in your life, why not try it.

Michele @ Trischel

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