Whether we’re aware of it or not, our lives are embedded with ritual. I suppose a worthy debate could be waged pointing to the synonymous nature of the words ‘ritual’ and ‘habit,’ but I’ve learned that whether they’ve been consciously put into place or not, my life is filled with rituals…and yes, some of them have become habits. From quietly mumbling (while still in a sleep fog) a few gratitude-filled sentences when I first open my eyes the morning to my 11 p.m. cotton-ball-and-olive-oil make up removal technique, my waking hours are embroidered with rituals.
I’ve noticed a theme with the rituals: The conscious ones are almost always constructive. Not so for the unconscious rituals. Like the one that was on auto-pilot for much of my life. It was my split-second reaction to a bad day at work, a rude clerk who hurt my feelings, or a boundary-busting friend who had taken advantage of me. The ritual response was trance-eating. For hours. There were variables that included food choices, location of the trance-eating, and whether the food was slapped together in my kitchen or the product of a drive-thru spree. So seethingly impatient was I to get the edible tranquilizers into my system pronto, I actually sometimes did (as Joan Rivers famously joked) stand in front of the microwave and implore it to HURRY THE F*^$K UP! No matter where it took place though, the trance-eating always bore the common thread of me doing a much slower version of Lucille Ball standing at the chocolate factory conveyor belt…stuffing, and stuffing, and stuffing.
But back to the constructive rituals. These are the ones that have kept and continue to keep me in a balanced place. Rituals such as regular sessions of DDPYOGA at my television set, shopping trips to the produce section of my supermarket, keeping a food diary, and sharing my deepest feelings with people I trust when in states of despair – these are all rituals whose disciplinary benefits and character-building bonuses are obvious.
And then there are the rituals that are practiced strictly because I enjoy them. Like my morning coffee.
OK, espresso, if you want to get technical. It’s something I developed a taste for about two decades ago when I lived in a Puerto Rican neighborhood of The Bronx. After my first taste of Cafe Bustelo, I quite simply could never return to the Maxwell House-drenched roots of my WASP upbringing and have always made sure my cupboard’s stocked with the strong stuff. And the stove top Bialetti percolator which brews it so beautifully. I adore the taste of espresso, but I also know it’s not the best move for me to make it my daylong drink of choice and this, my friends, is where the art of ritual comes into play.
I concoct my canvass of ingredients first thing in the morning.
It’s the only time of the day in which I’ll be indulging. The rest of the day it’s water and herbal tea, but at 9 a.m., I gather together earthy spoonfulls of black, superfine dark roast, purified water, vanilla-flavored Stevia drops, a teaspoon or so of coconut oil for bulletproofing purposes, and steamed sugar-free almond milk. For the first few years of my new way of eating I refused to give up light cream in my morning ritual. It was a firm line in the sand I drew because I was agreeing to let go of so many other so-called comforts: Binge foods like Cheetos, gooey double cheeseburgers, bagels with cream cheese, my favorite Italian bread…the list was long. Being insistent that the cream stayed in the picture was a good move because it imbued my ritual with pleasure and gave me something to look forward to each morning. Taking away every pleasure (I’ve learned through my award-winning former career as a dieter) is a set up for swan-diving off a wagon that was never a realistic ride to begin with. I dropped 180 pounds drinking cream with espresso every morning. Then out of the blue, on an out of town visit to a friend’s home three years ago, I awoke in horror to discover she was out of cream and only had almond milk in the refrigerator. I hadn’t the desire to do an early morning run to a grocery store in an unfamiliar town so I gave the almond milk a shot, thinking it would be awful. When I actually enjoyed it, I decided the time had come to amend the morning coffee ritual.
The point is, I make sure to practice this – my first ritual at the stove of the day. It gets my heart pumping with a little excitement, I unconsciously love and care for myself with each subtle movement, from measuring the coffee, to swirling in the coconut oil til it’s dissolved. And then I get to step back and look at the glorious beauty I’ve created, savoring the view for a few seconds before bringing my lips in slowly, for a reverent, full-of-awareness first sip.
And that’s the official start of each day for me. There are more rituals to come and it doesn’t matter so much how many there are but that they bring me a few good things like joy, structure, nourishment, and connection. Heck, this blog post has me thinking…I might come up with a few more to add to my life. Why not? There’s always room for more of anything good.