I abhor routine.
Routine makes me feel like I’m adding more and more iron reinforcement to my own cage. That I stick myself in these patterns and they hold me accountable. They take over; I must do this and then this and then this exactly this way, it’s expected of me. It’s what I’ve got to do.
I find that this routine-loathing is quite prevalent among those who love travel and the freedom of adventure.
On the other hand.
There are times when I long for, at a very soul level, consistency. I long to just lose myself in a way of living, instead of having to make decisions at all points of the day. I acknowledge the powerful meditative effect. When you don’t have to make so many decisions, when you’ve got something in place that you just do, you can spend the energy more productively.
So for a while I have been battling the forces. Battling my loathing of routine with my (supposed) desire for it.
For that battle in poetic verse, refer to “Routine“.
But, my brilliant brother proposed it this way: that it’s not so much routine we need so desperately—because routine really is the iron reinforcement to innovation and spontaneity—but it’s ritual. The ritual is what we crave.
He described his ritual of making coffee in the morning: put on house slippers to combat the cold floor. Play Thelonius Monk or Funkadelic. Grind 1.8oz of coffee to fine. Bring the water to a boil. Let it cool for 60 seconds to between 175-195 degrees. Wet the filter with warm water. Place the funnel on top of the cup and pour in the coffee, until it comes to the top line. Stir once. Briefly. Press down the plunger until you hear a long hiss.
Then his routine for taking a break from work: getting out of the office and taking a walk around the nearby military field, with its double row of elms, its winding pathway of blue/gray hand-made cement path contrasting against the green grass (crazy rare in NM). I probably average 4 laps of this 3/4 mile track every day. Miles around this weirdly special, favorite spot on a military base in the desert watching planes take off, listening to podcasts, providing an antidote to the boredom of work.
Just reading his account of rituals made me want to hug my laptop. Because he’s absolutely nailed it: rituals are a part of us, at a deep human level. Culturally, socially, relationally. It’s a part of our species, this need for ritual.
It’s not just a group-thing, it’s very much a personal.
The best way I know how to think about routine vs. ritual:
Routine is doing this and then this and then this and then this and then this. It’s “schedule”, “plan”, “procedure”, “system”.
Ritual, on the other hand, is doing this. It is ceremony, rite, observance, sacrament. It’s something that combines presence, intentionality, and gratitude. Something holy.
My rituals don’t just align with my goals, but they align with my sense of self. They reinforce who I am. I’m finding that ritual is connection. Imperative.
In the morning I go for a run. I like to go for a run first thing, if possible, if not on au-pair morning shift. I get up at the same time, 6:13, wiggle myself out of bed, glance at any new podcasts. Or sometimes I’ve had a compelling dream, an emotional dream. In those instances, I want to run with no noise, so that I can think of my dreams and what they might mean. I pull on my tropical print leggings, my black running shirt, my purple marmot light-rain jacket. I wear either my pink socks or my blue socks. I pull my gravity-defying hair into a ponytail and hold my bangs (fringe) back with a cheetah print bandana. I fill my bottle with water, and tuck into my blue running shoes.
I wear this same super-suit every day. It’s a ridiculous assortment of prints, and I’m not usually a bright-colored-print person. But each one of those pieces is essential in my ritual.
I’ve run the same 10k route these past three months, usually 5-6 days/week. A year ago, that repetition would have bored me, but I find that it adds significantly to the ritual. I run up the hill, up up up, then ahh, bliss, I turn right and get a nice slow long down hill. I run over the ridge, see the hills, the valleys, the farm animals. I wind down the hill, I pass the woman with her crazy cocker-spaniel. I say good morning. She says good morning.
I pack my pink backpack. Cycle down to the local cafe. They’ve got a free book bin, which I always take a gander through. I get a long black, and go to the patio deck. The sun always seems to shine when I’m out here, and I always seem to get to be in it. They’ve got a tall table against the herbs and flowers, and I really like to stand when I write. So I can sway back and forth.
I move the chairs, barista boy brings the long black, I say, “ahh, thank you!” he says, “no worries!”. And then I spend time writing.
My evening ritual is becoming precious, too. After dinner, if I don’t make it, I help clean up. Then I go to my room, my beautiful room at the corner of the house with these two gigantic windows, and I do yoga for at leas 30 minutes. I used to think that yoga was a way to bring my attention inwards, and running as a way of getting it all out, but I think the reverse now. I forget myself, almost entirely, for those 30 minutes of yoga. And when I run, I think a lot.
My daily vacuuming has become a ritual. The family I live with as a Dyson cordless vacuum cleaner and it has become a dear friend. I’ve always enjoyed vacuuming. There’s nothing quite like vacuuming a thick rug, and then taking off my socks and running my toes through the warmth.
I’ve got rituals for when I’m on the road, or when I’m staying at a hostel, or when I’m couch surfing. I think these, above most anything else, maintain my sense of self in such an impermanent living condition.
Who am I? Let me show you, Josie.
Rituals, I believe, aren’t something to “find”; like passions or purpose, they are cultivated. By practice. Intention.
It’s taken me a few years to fall so in-tune with running. Writing, too. Sense of self is not something that can be found. It’s never been lost. It needs to be cultivated. Daily.
Peace and blessings,