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Traditions Bring Order

By Dianne Witte

A few years ago, I had the chance to tour the ISKCON Temple of Greater Chicago (Naperville). The temple architecture alone is remarkable, and I highly recommend a visit if you have the opportunity. Details at http://www.IskconNaperville.org

They warmly welcomed us and gave us a wonderful tour. As part of the tour they shared some of their rituals. The first ritual was one involving light. Light is highly symbolic in spirituality, especially as a symbol of enlightenment. We do a ritual of light in our society with Solstice celebration and celebration of Christmas and Hanukkah. In this ritual, trays with candles were passed among participants and each of us “washed” ourselves with light.

The second ritual involved water. Water among other things is symbolic of purification and emotions. In that ritual we were each given a container of water and instructed to make a wish and pour the water over the head of a sculpture of a holy person as an invocation to have our wish granted.

These rituals were very memorable for me, but I realize rituals are not limited to religious life. A ritual is a sequence of activities involving gestures, words, and objects, performed in a sequestered place, and performed according to a set sequence. Whether we realize it or not, our life is full of rituals. They are dotted throughout our lives, but we often don’t think of them as such-for instance, brushing your teeth, singing Happy Birthday, taking a daily shower, Halloween trick or treats, nail biting, hoarding and even the morning coffee or trip to Starbucks. Coming up, we have all the ritual activities associated with the holidays.

According to Scientific American, “there’s another element to ritual beyond the historical and cultural significance. Even novel, ad-hoc rituals can carry tremendous psychological and biological benefits.. . . Research has shown that the simplest ritualized actions provide a sense of order to our world. The logic is simple: with more order in ritual actions, the more order in our world. It explains, for example, why so many rituals contain elements of repetition and sequential ordering.”

The world is a chaotic place. Things happen outside our control all the time. But with ritual, we are in control; we have control of time and space, at least temporarily. Even though we might not see the value of ritual intellectually, our bodies actually crave it. What’s more, rituals appear to benefit even people who claim not to believe that rituals work. The touchstones of predictability and symbolism are significant to the unconscious, reducing anxiety and increasing people’s confidence.

If you want more balance and harmony in your life, you might try incorporating more ritual. Since many of us no longer attend church services, we have to come up with some way of reassuring our body there is a time and place of calm and certainty in our sometimes chaotic life. What that might be for you is your call. Just sit down and think about it. Ask yourself what would work for you. Then, try it and examine the results.  Modify it, or do something different. You are the master of your life.

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