I’m wondering… what rituals do you have in place that feel meaningful to you at this time? It’s a question I often ask during mindfulness programs as these courses are such a unique opportunity to look closely at and be available to receive insight about what we do and why we do it. In a recent 1:1 session, a participant shared their personal musings on the topic, including some reflection about the difference between ritual and habit. As soon as they said it, all the lights blinked on. Yes. There’s a lot in here to unpack.

What is a ritual? To my mind, a ritual is distinguished by its highly intentional and oftentimes symbolic nature. It’s an action that is embedded with significance—  whether personal, cultural, or religious– rich with purpose and meaning. This element of intentionality and presence surrounding the action feels like an essential component of ritual that sets it apart from the rest of daily life. 

What is a habit? Unlike a ritual, a habit is an action or set of actions distinguished by not only its consistent practice and repetition, but by the fact that it is so often unconscious. We don’t have to make a decision to do it. We are generally not thinking our way through the process. It’s automatic, and whether helpful or nonconstructive, habits become an influencing factor on our longterm patterns and even lifestyle. A habit is informed by what we’ve done before, and you know the saying: the only difference between a groove, a rut, and a grave is depth. Transformation is only possible when we make the unconscious, conscious. Some habits are beneficial and others are not, but often it’s not until we really scrutinize what we are doing and why that we can determine which it is.

What’s the difference? There is a transcendent quality inherent in ritual that shifts an otherwise ordinary action into something substantive. Time, repetition and consistency seem to deepen their meaning. Consider the difference between a quick cup of tea to-go and a tea ceremony. Through intention, a once simple, previously mundane activity (from lighting a candle to eating a meal to a single breath) can be transformed into a powerful conduit for expressing your beliefs, reinforcing your values, practicing presence and enhancing feelings of identity and continuity within your day, or even your lifetime. We are always acting. And the questions of how and why we are acting can help us see where we are in conditioned behavior that doesn’t serve us, where we are engaging in productive habits that support our wellbeing, and where we are practicing presence: creating space and sacred connection to the moment.

Why does this matter? We are creatures of habit, and so many of our actions are simply a repetition of what we’ve done before. You only have to practice mindfulness for a short time to clearly see how rarely you are mindful, present, and intentional about what you are doing or how/why you are doing it. Accidental mindfulness is not a thing. If the quest for meaning is central to the human experience, we might be well served to find more ways to practice presence— to imbue the ordinary with the sublime; the mundane with the sacred. This life is short, and creating opportunities to be more focussed, more engaged and more present more of the time adds up to a life of more meaning. That matters.

What does this look like for you? How do you make meaning through simple acts during your day? Where are there possibilities for you to expand and express significance and intention through little rituals, repeated with awareness and attention? How can you weed out habits that no longer serve you and bring mindfulness to routines and rituals that work for who, where and how you are now? What could open up for you if you saw, felt and expressed your connection to the sacred as a thread you weave through the tapestry of all your days?

Just another way to practice presence. Every choice counts.

With love,