For years I equated ritual with habit though I never consciously thought of it that way until now. I'd do something, every day, hoping I'd develop the "ritual" of it when what I was really doing was attempting to form a habit. It didn't work. Right now I know of something I've been doing every single day since January 10 because I feel like I need to do it every day in order to keep in practice. I do enjoy seeing the project coalesce into finished products but I have to be honest: I'm not enjoying the process.
Ritual isn't a habit. It isn't a compulsion. It's not something that you do just so you can check it off your To Do list. Now do get me wrong; doing anything every day for any length of time does become a habit and I'd wager having a ritual that brings positive reinforcement to your life isn't the worst habit one could develop. But it goes deeper than just training yourself to do something.
Webster's New Riverside Dictionary (an actual, physical, made-out-of-paper copy no less) says that ritual (n) is "the form for conducting a ceremony" and "a ceremony or body of ceremonies". An online search reveals that ritual is also "done in accordance with social custom or normal protocol". Wikipedia states ritual as "a sequence of activities involving gestures, words, and objects performed in a sequestered place, and preformed according to set sequence."
Hmm...very formal and uninviting.
For me, I view rituals as something that one does to guide the course of their day, something that is looked forward to, that is completed in order to lend order and a sense of stability to life. Legal definitions aside, when I think of starting a ritual, I see myself performing a task that I enjoy, that I love, for the sake of bringing balance to my own, hiccupy Force. I see it as a form of rooting, of grounding in the soil in which I find myself. A focused coming to the present, being fully "in" that moment and allowing my hands and my heart to flow freely with the familiar motions.
I don't just see ritual as lighting a candle and sitting Zazen for a hour on a cushion. I don't see it as lighting incense before prayer. It can be and for many it is and that's wonderful and good. These things are important: silence and sitting, prayer and intention and they are things I need to cultivate in my own life. But I also need something a little more rooted in the tangible. I need both heaven and earth.
I believe that anything we do can be ritual. Any task we enjoy can become ceremony.
What types of rituals have you cultivated in your own life? Do you look at your art, your craft as a ritual? Is it something you do every day or once a week? Do you look to formal ritual to bring a sense of normalcy to your day? Do you perform them alone or with a partner, your family or friends?