Ritual Reality

In my reading travels last week I came across a snippet advising that if worries plague you incessantly, write them all down on small pieces of paper, fold the papers up, put them in a sealed jar, shake them up, and then take them out, shred each and every one to bits and throw the lot away. The theory here is that the mind treats thoughts like physical objects, and if you destroy a representation of the thought, the underlying idea is less likely to shanghai your attention.


I do worry, but not enough to invest that much effort in shutting the worries down. I got to thinking, though, about rituals—spring cleaning being one—that we imbue with emotional significance. Spring cleaning isn’t just about vacuuming up dust bunnies, putting the hammock up on Mother’s Day isn’t just about summer being right around the corner.

Because we are largely an immigrant nation and one that values diversity, we’vhammocke lost some of the old, old culturally significant rituals (my Irish ancestors celebrated a LOT more saints’ days than I ever will), and even lost sight of the power of ritual altogether. Courtrooms are full of it, as are churches, but the home used to be a locus of ritual as well. While ritual can reinforce backward, rigid ideas, it can also be a source of creative self-expression, comfort, and identity.  

One friend always has something planted by St. Patrick’s Day, even if it’s a single set of onions. Another says a prayer for the safety of animals, children, and other drivers before turning the key in the ignition of her car. I get out of my lawyer clothes (especially those fussy idiot shoes) before I allow myself to sit down at the computer and attempt any creative writing.

single roseYet another friend agreed with his wife that whenever either husband or wife felt a sense of upset or distance in their marriage, they’d give their spouse a single rose, and ask for time together.  

Some of these small observances require that time goes by when a transition is underway or a hot topic under consideration, some put a pause in a headlong day, some mean we have to get out of the house and see the sun, or otherwise jostle ourselves from one seasonal routine when another is close at hand.

I’m going to think about this some more. While I am the last person to defend routine for its own sake (boredom is the enemy), I can always use emotional support and a sense of meaning and peace in my life.

I may try that worry obliteration ritual, for example.

What are some of your small habits that help make the day meaningful and manageable? To one commenter I’ll send NOT a copy of Darius (we all have one, right?), but rather, an advanced reader copy of Once Upon a Tartan (title may change), my second Scottish Victorian. I think this is the best book I’ve written so far (and yes, it has a bunny in it)…


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53 comments on “Ritual Reality

  1. I try and allow myself time to read at the end of the day. Watching TV does not appeal, in fact that piece of electronics could be removed from our home (although my husband would miss it). The days flow by so quickly that I can not always hold onto something just for me. The time I spend reading refreshes my soul and allows me to escape from everyday life.

    • Martha I have no TV, haven’t had one since college. When I told some friends I raised my daughter without TV, they lectured me as if that was some form of neglect. I wonder if they read to their kids as much as I read to mine?

      I read at the end of the day, too. Have since adolescence, and will as long as I can see to exercise the privilege.

      • Grace I think you’re the only author I follow here on Facebook that doesn’t have a TV. I admit that I’ve only been without one since May of ’07. I spent $15 on one at a pawn shop but it only lasted 3 months and I saw no reason to replace it since I couldn’t afford cable. I’ve got my laptop, my Kindle Fire, and a great many paperback books to keep me occupied along with a lot crafting items. I’m moving into a smaller bedroom and I intend to have two 4 foot folding tables in it, one for the computer and printer, and one to put my scrapbooking and card making items on.
        As for rituals, I think the only thing that comes close to that is the fact that I now try and spend each Wednesday with my daughter and her kids. It’s just us with the younger two, 4 months and 2 years, until the older 3 get out of school, then we’re generally all together until they go pick her hubby up from work in the evening. I’m also trying to establish a set time, probably in the early morning, to read and study my Bible and have a time of prayer and meditation. Am looking forward to collecting your books and reading them as they come out though I admit I’m behind in doing so.

  2. I have a ritual of checking to make sure that I have my keys in hand! When babysitting for my granddaughter I would sometimes get a bit flustered and end up locking the keys in my car. (never HER… thank God!) After having to pay to have the car unlocked by a locksmith at least 5 times…. the ritual of checking to make sure that keys were firmly in hand just made sense! LOL

    • Betty, I have lost my keys INSIDE my purse so many times my daughter dubbed my purse, “The Vast Lonely.” I learned to shake my purse and listen for them, but there’s been more than one horse show where the sun is sinking s-l-o-w-l-y in the west, the pony is on the trailer, and there I am, systematically removing EVERY item from my purse on the hood of the truck.

      Suffice it to say, St. Anthony and I are great friends.

      • Grace,

        I sewed a small ring inside my purse and I attach my keys to it with a large safety pin. That way I can tell at a glance where the keys are. 🙂

    • Betty I now wear my keys on a lanyard around my neck and check to make sure that I have them on before leaving the house. When I’m inside I hang them on the inside door knob so I can find them.

  3. I work in a service industry. So every day I try to make people feel good and happy. In turn that makes me happy and a better person.
    For me personally I read every day. It’s one thing I do solely myself.

  4. There are a couple of things that I try to do each day. One is to read a book to my son at night before bed and the other is for me to allow myself time to read some. I love to read, but life steps in the way and doesn’t allow me to read as much as I would like.

    • Sheryl, I’ve found the more time I spend writing, the less time I have to read for pleasure. First, I’m a pickier reader than I used to be; second, I need reading time to delve into the historical material that can support the love stories and fuel my imagination. But when I find a new author who lights my fire (Kristen Callihan was the most recent), I still burn some midnight reading oil.

  5. Before I leave I always make sure I locked the door so I won’t have to worry later did I or didn’t I lock the door. I also have to have a badge to enter the building at work so I always leave it in the same place in my car at the end of the work day so I won’t forget it the next day.

    • Every THING should have a PLACE. I say this to myself when I’m tempted to put my purse any old where, or just toss the keys on the table. They go on a hook by the door, Grace, (says me to myself) and it’s no harder to put them there than to fling them to parts unknown.

  6. Rituals are strange. When we were kids my grandfather would tell us to duck our heads as we went under bridges so we wouldn’t get run over, yep I still do it. My mothere would tell us to say a prayer whenever we would see an ambulance, I Still do this and have taught my grandchildren to do it.

  7. The LOML has a ritual in regards to the computer time she enjoys just before bedtime. She plays one round each of several games, then retires with her Nook for 20 minutes or so. (She also eats her Skittles in specific color order!)
    I once volunteered to do the worrying in the family, but was told I didn’t do it right…
    My family tartan is McIntyre…

    • Yeah, and you probably eat all the green M&Ms first. I START my day with one round each Free Cell, Spider, and Hearts, in that order. No NOOK, though. Not even for twenty minutes.

  8. Goodness, where to begin on this one? Let’s just say that daily life with three boys with autism is one big routine. Almost everything MUST be done in the same order everyday or there will be consequences. As the twins have gotten older things have gotten a little easier in this regard. I can take a different route to Gramma’s house without a meltdown and boy screaming at me to “go backwards” and go the right way. I can explain to them that we are running into Target to get something specific and there will not be meltdowns because we did not shop the store the exact same way we always do, which includes going down the toothpaste aisle even if we don’t need toothpaste because last time we went down the toothpaste aisle. There are still a lot of things we have to do in the correct order, though and now my three year old is starting to make his voice heard in things that do happen in the correct order or the way he thinks they should. With him I have to really think about what is causing his meltdown because he can’t tell me, so it’s all a guessing game and thankfully I have become pretty good at guessing. Last week I put the wrong straw in his cup. I mean how could I possibly expect him to use a red straw as opposed to the white straw with yellow and red stripes? It only took me a few guesses to figure that one out after he kept putting the cup back on the table and throwing himself on the floor. Very reminiscent of 8 years ago giving one of the twins some M&M’s and trying to figure out why that would cause him to throw himself on the floor in a fit of rage, I mean how dare that package of M&M’s not have a red one in the bunch. You better believe I made sure that he always had at least one of every color from then on. He still eats his M&M’s in rainbow order and you can’t even start eating them unless you have red.
    Oh I could go on and on. Life at our house is never dull. It may be a lot routine and rituals but never dull.

    • WOW. To have members THAT good at identifying and recalling patterns must yield some survival advantage to the tribe, but yikes, to parent such minds! I suppose one thing that helps as they age is that THEY can impose order on more and more of their world–choosing the red one first–and you can stand back and observe, and try to figure the significance to them of their choices.

      You live in a very interesting world, Sarah. I still think you should write a book.

  9. I see a theme when it comes to reading. It is probably the only thing that is a must for me – I read every night before going to sleep. Sometimes it’s a short amount but many times it’s a couple of hours. I may have to try that writing down problems although logically I don’t think it will work lol. Since I read at night, I normally can go right to sleep but it’s when I wake up in the early morning hours that I start overthinking things.

    • I’m a night reader too, have been for years. A little happily ever after to send me to dreamland. When I wake up, I try to focus on a book I’m writing, so that the beginning of the day will be full of happily ever after too.

  10. I have several daily rituals. The first is to pray on the way to work.
    But I wait all day for when I leave work, get all the errands done, and finally get home, I love to take off my make-up. It’s like I’m taking off my “people face”, and coming back to center again. Does that mean I’m a fake person?
    It’s kind of like cleansing the negatives of the day that I had to face, off of my eyes. I can relax in my space. That being said, before I take off the make-up, I have to make sure I don’t need to leave the house later. Don’t want to scare any small children.

    • Tracey, for me it’s getting out of the courtroom clothes. Sometimes I’ll sit down at the computer in courtroom attire and think, “I’ll just check my email…” but it’s no good. When I’m on the writer-computer, I want to be in writer-clothes. Sumbuddy is getting a bit eccentric in this house, and it isn’t Sarge.

  11. First I have to tell you that I finished Darius yesterday and loved it. He was a gentleman! Can’t wait for Nicholas’s story–sure am glad it will be out soon–and yes I read the available chapters here. Thanks.

    I have many rituals and will share one with you all. When I want something good to happen in the future (a promotion, a reward/recognition of some kind) I don’t talk about aloud. I keep it a secret and share with others only if it happens. I think I think by saying it aloud/sharing it before hand that I will jinx it. I have too many instances that back me up on this ritual.

    • Kathy, you put me in mind of an episode of that old and awful sitcom, “The Mothers-In-Law.” The jist of it was that one of the husbands had confided something in his wife, but believed as you did, “You’ll jinx it of you blab.” Made into a song, that now, probably 45 years later, is still stuck in my head.

      The nuns used to say, “Pray devoutly, but hammer stoutly,” (quoting Franklin?). They never said, “Let everybody know what you’re praying for and then it’s sure to come true.” Not once-t.

  12. I don’t have a lot of rituals. At least I don’t think I do. LOL I always read before going to sleep. It’s my time. I also have to play a few rounds of computer games before shutting it down for the night.

    And Grace, I’M the one who still holds her breath going past cemeteries. LMBO! I feel like an idiot, but it’s something I find myself automatically doing. And I can’t just stop and take a breath before I’ve passed, can I? 😀

  13. When I shower I wash in the same order every time. I have been known to not remember if I washed my face if I shave my legs first. Is that a ritual or just autopilot?

    Actually the “ritual” that stands out most to me is that I make the sign of the cross when I stop for a funeral procession (Um, in the South all traffic stops when a funeral procession passes). I did not grow up in a church that makes the sign of the cross when we pray (Penacostal’s don’t have a lot in the way of ritual), but I’ve adopted this one for my own use.

    • I went from a Catholic upbringing to a Mennonite church, and yikes! what a contrast in appearances. What struck me, though, was that in jettisoning the trapping of high church, the Anabaptists tossed out a lot of beauty, order, and spiritual comfort too. And they had just as much ritual, just as many if not more rules and commandments (small c), but still scoffed at genuflecting before the altar, and the sign of the cross.

      If the sign of the cross works for you… why not?

  14. Oh boy, I’ve already replied to some of the comments here.

    I was raised in the Episcopal church, as was my daughter, and believe me they have a lot of ritual’s. I now attend a Methodist church and the service is very similar to what I grew up with but the people seem friendlier.

    As for reading, unlike many of you I don’t read just before going to bed as I’m always tempted to read “just to the end of this chapter”, then I’ve usually got to continue and read “just one more chapter” to find out what happens. LOL

    I have a lot of Match3 games on my computer that I enjoy playing and one of my favorites is Bejeweled3. When I play it I have the regular sound turned off and have the sound of a light rain falling on leaves and someone breathing as background. Sometimes if I’m very tired I can play it for about 10 minutes and the background relaxes me enough for me to fall asleep.

    At one time I had a CD by a duo called Coyote Oldman that play Native American style pipe music that I used to listen to on low and it would put me to sleep. I need to get another of their CD’s and a small player for the bedroom so I can listen to it again.

    I guess I didn’t realize just how many rituals I actually have until I started thinking about them.

    • My day is full of rituals, Molly, but in truth they’re indulgences. My first cup of jasmine green tea with agave nectar and whole milk (hooboy, such a Spartan, no cream!). My games of solitaire before getting down to work. My little routine about putting the pup out, feeding the cats. Letting the pup in, feeding the pup.

      I get to have a lot of little things the way I want them, and life is sweet.

  15. I leave for work earlier than needed, so that I have 15 to 25 minutes to read in the morning before I start work. It lets me start the day relaxed and with a clear mind. I also get some exercise every day at lunch, usually by going up and down the 10 floors of stairs at work (twice). It gives me time to think and gets my heart pumping before I go back to work. There are things I do in a certain order as I’m getting ready for the day – I’m not sure if that’s OCD or just a ritual – but it helps me not to forget anything. 😀

    • Barbara, you are so smart to get out of your chair a lunch. I read a statistic this week to the effect that the best indication of how likely you are to develop heart disease, dementia, or stroke, is not how much you work out, it’s how LITTLE TIME YOU SPEND IN A CHAIR.


  16. When I wake up in the morning my mind immediately starts working on all the things I have to do that day. So my ritual is to stop that planning for a few minutes when I sit down to breakfast, and think about what happened yesterday. I remember good/happy experiences and remember to be grateful for the wonderful people in my life. This helps me to face the challenges of the new day calmly and joyfully.

    • Good for you, Kim! I like to take the first cup of tea out to the porch and face the rising sun. Now that the weather is moderating (which is to say, the bugs will soon be out), I can do that again.

  17. Honestly, prayer makes my day manageable. Just giving thanks for what I have helps me focus on what is really important.

    • No matter how grouchy and overwhelmed I feel–and sometimes, I come out of that courtroom barely coherent–if I can find one, small thing I’m grateful for–the ability to cross the street to my office, for example, on my own two, chubby feet–then a list of gratitudes just naturally seems to grow. I have safe wheels to drive home, I have a dog who guards the office (naps) while I’m lawyering, I have good, good help at work…


  18. It’s funny…Amy and I were talking about this very thing yesterday. There is comfort in the personal rituals, but we (she and I) also find comfort in shared public ritual. There is something very powerful about singing in a group, for example…could be “Happy Birthday,” or “Amazing Grace,” or “Ring Around the Rosey.” There is just something about singing publicly with a group of people that binds and bonds in a powerful way. Some of the happiest memories I have of family time, time with friends, time in worship, and even time with my colleagues hinge on a song we sang together.

    • Ona, I think it’s neurological. If you hear those songs, you’re catapulted right back to that shared experience, and major institutions know this. We have the alma mater (song), favorite hymns, the high school anthems, and the song that was popular when some major life event befell us.

      I bet if I played the first few bars of Carlos Santana’s “Smooth.” you’d be back to the summer of 1999, driving along, that song the only thing your car radio seemed to know. The wiring works that way, even though you don’t even like that song (though I did, the first 217 times).


  19. I have been thinking about your comment for a little while now, and I think my life is run by rituals. Sometimes this is a great thing and sometimes I wish I could get outside of my own box, so to speak.

    A couple of things that I have had to train myself to do ritually are laundry and dishes. I am now in the habit of doing them as I make breakfast for my kids. At different times in my life, these areas have been out of control. Back logs of dishes stacked on the counter and clean laundry that needed folding falling all over the floor, only to be trampled on while exiting the back door, really put a damper on the day! So much easier to just maintain!

    The other thing that I have trained myself to do is read. I never really enjoyed reading growing up. I lost interest around middle school and high school when we started disecting all the literary elements. I have picked it back up as an adult to give my mind and body a chance to relax. I now have a voracious appetite for a good romance novel. Currently, I am reading three! It is so pleasurable to get lost in my own little world for a moment.

    • For me, it’s the bank statements, Mycah. Every month, I have to go through and code the expenses and income items so they can be entered in the general ledger under the right accounts. This is all so much baloney to me–if I spent the money, it’s gone. I don’t care whether I spent it under “contributions,” or “officer’s salary.” The good folk at the IRS care, and with them in mind, I MAKE myself deal with that bank statement.
      Then go home and read a good book.

      • Hahaha! That is so smart though. Every year when I sit down to do my taxes, I remember how I said I was going to start that file folder for reciepts and expenses. No… really, it is going to happen this year!

  20. Unfortunately, I am a wicked creature of rituals and have been my entire life. When my kids were small, they were put on a rigid schedule, playtime, naps, baths and never (God forbid) did I stray from that schedule. I guess you can call me an anal maniac because I also believed in a place for everything and everything in its place. I never, ever left a single cup or saucer in the sink and hated clutter. As my children grew up I had to learn to adjust to this insanity I called “my life.” Spending more time in the car with baseball, hockey, and soccer games (times 3)taught me to release more of my compulsive habits to enjoy watching my kids grow up into the wonderful adults they are today. With regard to the “worrying” portion, I admit that I was a big worrier on every level but was taught a very valuable lession 2 years ago when my youngest child was involved in a horrific work related accident where he nearly lost his life. That experience and God’s graces in sparing his life showed me just exactly what matters most and it had nothing to do with paying bills or maxing out your credit card. One’s health and especially that of your child’s is the single most fragile gift God can hand to us. Since then I take time on my daily run to stop and smell the flowers, listen to the spring chant of birds and delight in the joyous fact that my children are grown, safe and here with me on earth to celebrate life and to NEVER worry about the small stuff!!!!
    One final note Grace, your books and reading in general is the one gift I give to myself at the end of each day. It has the power to free your mind and jump into a place where dreams and happy endings live eternally.

    • Karen, you have been on quite a journey, one that seems to be heading in the happily ever after direction. I am so glad your youngest is yet with us, and that what you took from that near miss was not a reason to worry yet more, but a reason to be grateful and more present. Big bouquets to you!

      • Thank you Grace. And today yet another happy ending. I learned that I won a copy of your ARC novel, “Once Upon A Tartan!” I am Over The Moon!!!

  21. I’m not sure it would be considered a ritual, but a daily habit I have. Everyday on my way home from work (or hanging with friends or anything really), I call my parents and let them know I’m on my way. I also call them when I get home to let them know I have arrived safe & sound. I may not live at home anymore and I may be an adult (there is still some question about that!) but it always reassures my parents that I am safe. They also call me when they are on their way home from an outing so I know that feeling of relief they get is the same as mine in knowing each other is safe.

    I smile when I answer the phone. You can always hear a smile and many times I find it sets people in a better mood and goes a long way in diffusing angry people! Besides it puts me in a better mood and makes me smile more. 🙂

  22. Christina, all the “home safe” phone calls add up. My parents being so very elderly, when I see a San Diego area code on my phone, my first thought is always, “Uh-oh, gotta be a problem with Mom or Dad.”

    We never got in the habit of calling each other with an “all clear,” and now I wish we had.

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