Early morning is so sweet. When the alarm draws me away from sleep, the world is fresh and rich with possibility. My first ritual of the day is to kiss my husband. As I do, I set the intention to treat each person I meet that day with gentleness and loving-kindness. As we slowly emerge into wakefulness with the help of our two enthusiastic kittens, our first morning ritual together is formal meditation. At least, my husband calls this meditation; I prefer the word prayer. We climb the stairs and bow as we enter the meditation room (or chapel), and settle ourselves onto the cushions. As the kittens romp, we sit in stillness. I practice openness, receptiveness. This is our most intimate time together. When the bell rings, we reflect on our practice and set formal intentions for the day. Today, his intention is moment-to-moment awareness, and mine is moment-to-moment openness to God. Same intention, different words. As we bow to each other, to the saints and leave the chapel, I glance out the window. Outside, it is still dark, only the faintest stirring of light in the sky.
For me, to be present is to be in ritual. I am a religious person, yet you don’t need religion to practice ritual. A ritual act is an intentional act. For me, it is an act of remembrance that there is something much greater, much more real than my small self. In Hebrew, the word shuv means to turn and return. In a religious sense, this means to return to God. It can also mean to return to that which is really real, or to True Self. Ritual helps me to return, breaking mindless habit and opening me to gratitude and compassion. It is a state of awareness and heart-fullness (what others might call mind-fullness). Some people are naturally wired to be in a perpetual state of awareness. Yet for people like me who have the tendency toward forgetfulness, ritual is the reminder that helps me return. And so my life is a series of rituals, beginning with that first kiss in the morning and continuing throughout the day. Making a cup of coffee becomes ritual as I set the intention to be fully present in that moment. When I shower, I practice gratitude for hot, running water. As I get ready for the day, I slip on my three bracelets and set three intentions: may I be open this day to grace, may I be open to trust, may I be open to joy. As I set foot in the classroom and look around at the college students gathered, I set the intention to reorient away from myself and toward my students, so that we may all fall into the flow and beauty of learning. Throughout the day, each intention is a ritual act.
Perhaps some day I will no longer need ritual. When each step becomes awareness, when each moment is an act of remembrance, then all will be ritual and nothing will be ritual! Yet until I cross to that other shore, ritual is my trusty raft. And even if I cross to that other shore, I doubt that I will stop kissing my husband when I first wake up in the morning.