In the midst of life's constant motion, I have found myself adrift and disconnected, trapped in a relentless cycle of obligations and deadlines. With each passing day, my mind was saturated with tasks. I thought a lot about how rarely we allowed ourselves a moment to simply breathe.
Despite all my accomplishments, there was a sense of disconnection and isolation. It was in those moments that I questioned the very essence of my existence, wondering if we were merely drifting through life without purpose. I felt a little hopeless.
A brief keyword search on Twitter showed me the number of people who were struggling just like me.
It seems that my generation has grown accustomed to this pervasive sense of confusion and uncertainty that seems to follow us around like a shadow. But the idea of that ate away at me.
I knew that this was not the kind of life I wanted to live.
"Ritual is a way to consecrate our surroundings and our lives, to bring the sacred into the everyday."
- Sharon Salzber
My initial realization was actually quite simple. It had to do with how easily we, as a society, are forgetting about the sacredness that surrounds us. Whether it was lighting candles or chanting mantras, rituals were a doorway to the mystical.
How can we rediscover the sacred in our lives, not only for ourselves but for others who share our sense of helplessness?
See, I wasn’t looking for an answer that only got to the roots of my emotion. I was searching for an answer that would help others out of the same helplessness.
And my search led me to the art of rituals.
Throughout human history, practices and rituals have served as an essential cornerstone of civilization, enabling individuals to connect with something greater than themselves and infuse their lives with meaning. As the poet and philosopher John O'Donohue once said, "Rituals are the way we engage with the invisible world."
Numerous studies have delved into the relationship between personal rituals and their role in reducing anxiety and enhancing mindset during stressful situations. One particularly compelling study involves four experiments in which participants were asked to perform a high-pressure task. 1
Before the task, participants in the experimental group engaged in a prescribed ritual, while those in the control group did not. The personal ritual consisted of a series of actions or words with personal significance for the participant.
The study revealed that participants who performed a personal ritual before the stressful task experienced reduced anxiety compared to those who did not engage in a ritual. Ritual-engaging participants also had superior performance for the task itself.
As I delved deeper into the forms rituals took across various cultures and religions, I discovered the universality of their impact. It reminded me of when Elizabeth Gilbert found solace and meaning during a difficult time in her life by exploring the rituals and practices of different cultures, ultimately concluding that "rituals can help us face the essential questions of our lives."
They served as a bridge between our inner world and the vast expanse of human experience, providing a conduit for connection and a means to make sense of the chaos that often pervades our existence.
By embracing the rich tapestry of rituals from diverse cultures and religions, I was able to forge a deeper connection with myself and the world around me.
“Meditation brings wisdom; lack of meditation leaves ignorance.” - Buddha
The practice of meditation has been passed down through generations. It continues to hold a significant place in our world today. Rooted in ancient Buddhist traditions, meditation aims to cultivate mindfulness and anchor one's attention in the present moment.
This practice enabled people to heighten their self-awareness, gain insight into their thought patterns, and exercise greater control over their emotions.
As Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh said, "Meditation is not evasion; it is a serene encounter with reality."
Modern science has corroborated the benefits of meditation, particularly in the realm of mindfulness. A research conducted by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn demonstrated the positive impact of mindful meditation on emotional regulation and coping strategies. 2
The practice of meditation not only instills a profound sense of inner peace and contentment in its practitioners. It also promotes cognitive functioning and self-esteem which lays the foundation for personal growth and spiritual development.
“On the first day of the week, we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight.” - (Acts 20:7)
Attending church on Sundays has been a sacred ritual that has been passed down through generations. From its earliest beginnings, Christians gathered together to worship and break bread, sharing in the fellowship of their faith.
Studies have shown that regular church attendance reduces symptoms of depression and anxiety. This particular study found that older adults who engaged in religious/spiritual practices had a 31% lower risk of depression compared to those who did not engage in these practices. 3
The Redditor above captures the church's palpable sense of community and belonging. These children and adults alike were all seeking the same thing - to connect with others who shared their values and beliefs. In a world that often feels isolating, this sense of connection is invaluable and transcends any free time spent on a Sunday.
"Establish prayer, for prayer prohibits immorality and wrongdoing." (29:45)
One of the most important and revered rituals is the daily act of prayer. It has been defined as a means of purifying one's heart and soul. It is meant to serve as a reminder that even amidst the busyness of everyday life, there is always time to connect with the divine and seek inner peace.
One of the most impactful studies I found researched the relationship between religious commitment and happiness. It was discovered that levels of happiness were higher for students with a stronger commitment to their religion, while for Muslims with a weaker connection, the levels of unhappiness were higher. 4
This research echoes the sentiments of C.S. Lewis, who said, "God cannot give us happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing." As society advances, the significance of our connection with the divine may become obscured, leading to increased feelings of being lost or unhappy.
The Universal Premise
Throughout the myriad of religious practices and rituals, a unifying thread persists: the yearning to connect with a higher power and to seek inner peace. As author Karen Armstrong observed, "Religion is not about accepting twenty impossible propositions before breakfast, but about doing things that change you."
Rituals possess the power to instill discipline, alter one's thinking, and foster an unwavering trust in a divine presence.
The specific rituals one chooses to incorporate into their routine may vary, but even simple practices such as 15 minutes of morning meditation can significantly shift one's energy for the day.
Fixing things on the outside begins with an internal journey. And the truth is that implementing rituals like reading from a scripture in the morning, sitting with my parents while they had breakfast and sitting outside shortly after sunrise helped me attune with my thoughts, feelings, and values.
Through the repetition of your chosen rituals, you will get in touch with a discipline that will translate into other areas of life.
When you commit to a ritual, you show up for yourself and make time for what matters. But finding a ritual that works for you is not simple.
The truth is that humans desire to connect with a higher power and express our devotion which has been a silent force that has shaped our history and culture. People sought to express their faith and devotion in various ways, from simple acts of prayer to the creation of magnificent buildings devoted to worshiping a deity.
These buildings, whether a simple temple or an elaborate cathedral, are physical representations of the connection between humans and the divine. They were built to provide a space where people could gather and express their devotion to God through prayer, song and ritual.
Through rituals, we can create a sacred space in which we can commune with the divine and experience transcendence.
For those seeking a religious path or even a sense of purpose but aren’t sure where to start, prayer is a powerful first step.
It doesn’t even matter how one chooses to pray. The core of any prayer is communicating with the divine, expressing our hopes, fears, and gratitude, and seeking guidance and wisdom.
For those of you that struggle with prayer or find it difficult to connect with the divine through this traditional means, the act of creation is another pathway to the sacred. Creating something, whether it be art, music, or writing, can be a way of tapping into your innermost self and channelling energy within us.
Regardless of the path anyone chooses, the divine always find us if we are open and receptive to its presence.
Through ritual, prayer, and creation, we can cultivate a deep and meaningful connection with the divine and in doing so, find the spiritual fulfillment and purpose that we seek.
- Cameron, J., & Pierce, W. D. (2017). Research: Performing a Ritual Before a Stressful Task Improves Performance. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2017/01/research-performing-a-ritual-before-a-stressful-task-improves-performance
- Center for mindfulness. UMass Memorial Health. (n.d.). Retrieved March 19, 2023, from https://www.ummhealth.org/center-mindfulness
- Keng, S.-L., Smoski, M. J., & Robins, C. J. (2011). Effects of mindfulness on psychological health: A review of empirical studies. Clinical Psychology Review, 31(6), 1041-1056.Effects of mindfulness on psychological health: A review of empirical studies
- Coelho-Júnior, H. J., Calvani, R., Panza, F., Allegri, R. F., Picca, A., Marzetti, E., & Alves, V. P. (2022). Religiosity/Spirituality and Mental Health in Older Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Observational Studies. Frontiers in medicine, 9, 877213. Religiosity/Spirituality and Mental Health in Older Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Observational Studies
- Achour, M., Mohd Nor, M. R., Amel, B., Bin Seman, H. M., & MohdYusoff, M. Y. Z. (2017). Religious Commitment and its Relation to Happiness among Muslim Students: The Educational Level as Moderator. Journal of religion and health, 56(5), 1870–1889. Religious Commitment and its Relation to Happiness among Muslim Students: The Educational Level as Moderator | SpringerLink