Some wonderful things I got to do this summer: travel around Iceland with my mom, celebrate my cousin’s baby shower, yoga on a paddleboard in a pretty marsh, camp and hike in the Thousand Islands, visit Keuka Lake, hang out with my sisters, horseback ride, swim and sunbathe at Lake Ontario, enjoy campfires and s’mores, stargaze, kinda-sorta learn how to throw a frisbee (or at least how NOT to), share yummy drinks at a beach bar, and, perhaps most importantly, I had a lot of time to just BE. This summer marked a period of rather difficult transformation (which I spent a good deal of time trying to fight, at first) that required me to do a lot of sitting, thinking, and stilling (or trying to). I learned a lot from all of that reflection… namely, that I still have a long way to go, and a lot more learning ahead of me. This is fine (it keeps things exciting!) just so long as I continue to make time for this sort of non-doing activity.
Which brings me to something someone said to me last week: ritual vs. routine. We often create routines to help us stay on track or progress toward a particular goal. Sometimes, however, they can really feel suffocating, and can prevent us from being spontaneous or changing things up if need be. I’m pretty terrible at creating routine, but find that I’m equally terrible in structureless situations. I might feel “freer”, but I tend to go overboard in certain areas of life, and completely abandon others. I easily go to extremes: extremely lazy and indulgent, or extremely task-oriented and rigid.
The solution is then perhaps ritual. Instead of structuring my/your whole day, choosing to do a few things at roughly the same time, every day, for the same reason. Ritual can be special, magical even, rather than rote or forced. They can be enjoyable and necessary. Adding just a little bit of structure and repetition gives us some level of predictability in an otherwise chaotic and unpredictable world, and it reminds us to pay attention to our needs, emotions, and our health.
The when and what of ritual is different for everyone. For me, I think it will have to begin in the morning. Last year, when things got really bad at school, I used to delay waking up until the last possible second. I didn’t want to have to consciously face the chaos and stress that awaited me any longer than I needed to. But It wasn’t a very good or healthy choice: I had to rush through getting dressed, making breakfast, and driving to work. I would arrive feeling cranky, flustered, and like I needed some “me” time before dealing with any work-related matters. This usually framed my day negatively, and as a result, I felt angrier and more dissatisfied than I needed to.
So, I’ll begin with a couple morning rituals: slowly and enjoyably preparing my hot drink of choice, be it coffee or tea, and drinking it while sitting and reading (or whatever), and not as I fly out the door, pissed off about the potentially bad day I might have. After I make my drink, I’d like to sit and meditate or do yoga for 5-10 minutes. It’s not a lot of time, but work is draining, stressful, and can even be emotionally damaging at times. The expert science teacher across the hall from me says the only way to cope in such an environment is to have a “big bucket”. That means that whatever or how much is thrown at me (not literally, I hope), there’s still going to be empty space. That empty space is how teachers keep their cool in difficult or demanding situations. If my bucket is small, it fills up and spills over easily (usually in tears or shouting at the top of my lungs). The only way to have a big bucket is to start the day well-rested, and with a calm mind. The only way to maintain a big bucket is to maintain calm. This brings me to my next ritual: finding little bits of time, throughout the day, to sit and breathe, empty my head, and let go of anything negative or unpleasant that might have happened. They could be as short as one minute (passing time between classes), or ten or fifteen minutes of just “being” during one of my planning periods, provided I don’t have oodles of work to do. But that’s the nice thing about rituals: they’re flexible. I just need to make time to sit and breathe during the day. It might be a total of two minutes one day, and twenty minutes the next. I can adjust them according to my needs and capabilities.
And my last ritual? Productive “me” time every night. Browsing the internet or watching TV will not count. I might do yoga, take a walk, write, run, bike, journal, draw, paint, meditate, or work on some other project. I am not sure I can set a time on this, but I’d like to aim for at least an hour, either focusing on just one activity listed above, or a couple of them. I’m not sure my choice of rituals would be helpful to anyone else, but I do think the idea of creating rituals can be beneficial to everyone… Our lifestyle, career, and preferences may adjust what ritual looks like for each of us, but the underlying process, the act, is universal: taking time to do things that we enjoy, to do things well, and to create and maintain stability and balance in our lives.
Which brings me to my conclusion. There is no more avoiding this: tomorrow begins the school year, whether or not I’m ready, whether or not I want it to start (and my lovely summer to end). I can only hope that what I learned this summer will help me maintain a more mindful and balanced lifestyle this time around. Who knows what this year will bring!!