for Soulful Living
Many people would say, in fact, that we
have far too much ritual in our lives. Isn't life busy
enough without having more plans to make; more occasions
to celebrate? The idea of ritual might seem outmoded,
even unnecessary, but many psychotherapists insist that,
in order to lead balanced, healthy lives, we need much more
ritual, not less. Rituals - and plenty of them - should
be a central part of our lives.
I’m not talking
about dispatching a bunch of flowers for Mother's Day, a
card for Father's Day, or snatching a last-minute box of
chocolates for Valentine's Day. For rituals to be
healing and life-enhancing they have to be more than
duty - they have to have meaning. We don't need more
commercial trappings; we don't need bigger and better
Christmases: we simply need more personalized ones. Do
you find yourself following exactly the same pattern
every year at, say, Christmas? Do you look forward to it
or does its approach fill you with a sense of burden?
Are your rituals too rigid? Have they stayed the same
over the years despite obvious changes in the family's
ages or beliefs? If a ritual doesn't work for you, you
need to change it. Rituals should grow and evolve all
An example might be
reinventing a ritual to celebrate your anniversary. You
might go out together or cook a special meal at home.
You could give gifts which symbolize this last year you
have spent together – something really thoughtful that
has meaning. Then you might talk about what you both
want for the next year of your life.
On a much smaller
note, you might decide that you start every morning with
a kiss and end every evening with a word that you want
to symbolize the next day – even tiny things like this
are rituals, and powerful ones.
RITUALS FOR HEALTH
Good rituals are
essential to our emotional, psychological and spiritual
health. They not only help us on a personal basis but,
in a time where many of us live far from our family,
where many of us don't even know our neighbours, rituals
give us a small sense of community, a sense of who we
are and where we fit in the scheme of life. Without
rituals we drift.
rituals can help us with difficult transitions such as
puberty, menstruation and menopause; painful situations,
such as divorce, death and illness; and even events such
as burglary, accidents and assault. Psychotherapists
since the days of Jung have recognized the power of
symbol, of age-old archetypes, of emotive ritual to
cleanse the psyche and free the emotions. Say you have
just got over a serious illness or come out of hospital,
why not burn or bury a symbol of that time? Ritually
discard your no-longer-needed medicines, burn your
hospital bracelet or, alternatively write a declaration
celebrating your new-found health and vitality. It's a
way of signaling to your unconscious mind that you are
now well. Even the most ridiculous-sounding rituals can
be effective. One couple who were always fighting agreed
to a ritual in which they put symbols of their quarrel
"on ice" in the freezer. They signed a pact to
say that they could only fight about the issue after
they had thawed the symbols out.
rituals and you will weather the inevitable changes of
life far more easily.
THINK ABOUT RITUAL
Take some time to sit down and think about the
rituals you follow and whether they are living, vibrant
and worthwhile – or redundant and boring.
- What rituals does your family have
and what beliefs do they express? Do they represent what
you truly believe or do you simply go through the
motions to please other people?
- Are important yearly events like
birthdays and wedding anniversaries marked or do they
simply slide by with little notice? How about key events
like retirement or graduation?
- When you think back to childhood,
what rituals do you remember and how do you remember
them? With fondness or a shudder? Are there rituals
which you still follow simply because they’ve become
habit? Are there others you would like to reinstate?
- What feelings come up when you think
about ritual? Would you find the idea of them
embarrassing? Or irritating? If so, think why that might
- Do you have any daily or weekly
family rituals? If not, what might they be? Perhaps a
shared meal or a family outing, or a time set aside to
discuss how you all feel on a regular basis?
Above all else, I’m a huge believer in little
everyday rituals – the tiny ceremonies that help to
still the mind and give us a small space within the
hurly burly of everyday life. Before I start work I go
outside and pick a small posy of flowers (today it is
honeysuckle with that heady scent). I clear away
everything except the papers and books I am working
with. I light a candle to focus my mind and set my
aromatherapy burner with my chosen oil (rosemary if I
need to concentrate; tea tree if there are bugs around;
lavender if I’m feeling stressed; geranium or lemon if
I need cheering up). I take a few moments to center
myself, breathe and think about my focus for the period
of work ahead of me. Then, clear in my head, I start to
At the other end of
the day I notice another ritual unfolding. My son, who
is just over two and a half, has patented his own
precise bedtime ritual. After his bath, he picks up his
two "blankies" and sits on my lap to read
three books. Not two, not four, but three (no matter how
long or short they happen to be). We finish and his
mauve blanket has to be folded "just so" on
his pillow. Donkey and Lion guard the end of the bed.
Doggy snuggles beside his pillow. Buzz Lightyear, Barbie
and Alan from Thunderbirds have to stand watch next to
the bed alongside a long phalanx of small plastic
fishes, whales, sharks and turtles. I then kiss his head
and have to say "Night night, Sleep tight, Sweet
dreams, see you in the morning". If I miss any part
of this, I am greeted with a hurt look and instant
This ritual is all
about comfort, about being a small person in a big world
yet still being able to have control over a teeny tiny
part of it. It makes me wonder if as adults, we too need
some ritual comfort – and why we are often so sluggish
in giving it to ourselves.
Do you have any
personal rituals? Everyday ceremonies? If not, what
might they be? Greeting the day with some yoga or
Pilates perhaps (the yogic Sun Salute is designed for
just such a ritual)?
Or how about ending
the work day by changing out of your work clothes,
lighting a candle and "debriefing", leaving
all the work detritus behind. Write down everything that
has bugged you – or try a technique like the Two
Chairs technique from Gestalt therapy (check out my book
the Five Minute Healer). Maybe – if it’s been a
tough day – have some Walnut Bach Flower remedy to
sever the links. If your mind is churning, White
Chestnut is a friend in need.
You might also think
about setting aside time for meditation (even five
minutes is beneficial), or doing a prayer walk (walking
with mindfulness, either giving thanks or praying; or
simply paying attention to your feet, your breathing and
the world around you).
There are so many ways
of bringing a sense of soulful ritual into everyday
life. Let’s look at just a few:
All the great religions teach that food is a
blessing from the Divine and should be treated with
immense respect and gratitude. No Jewish, Christian,
Hindu, Muslim or Buddhist family would dream of scoffing
down a meal without saying a blessing and giving thanks.
In China food is considered to be a physical link
between humans and the Gods: beautifully prepared meals
are given as a sacred offering on the family altars. In
the Ayurvedic tradition of India, food is a spiritual
science with precise prescriptions of how to prepare and
eat food for physical, emotional and spiritual
Start by considering the following:
- How do you eat? At table with family
or friends? While working? On the run?
- What do you eat? Do you prepare your
own food or do you buy ready-prepared processed food?
- Do you ever really taste your food?
- Are you mindful when you eat?
The simplest of rituals can turn even
the humble sandwich into a feast for the spirit. The
principles of making mealtime sacred are very
straightforward - and can easily be adapted to fit your
circumstances and preferences. Preparing
"soul" food need not involve new recipes or
expensive ingredients. Follow these simple principles to
transform the food you eat.
- Say a prayer or blessing before you
start. Hold your hands over your ingredients and thank
them for giving their life for you. Visualize the
journey of your ingredients - how they grew, who tended
them, how they came to be on your table. Ask them to
help nourish you and your family with love.
- Prepare your food with love and
attention. Concentrate on the task at hand - look on it
as sacred meditation. Try not to distract yourself by
watching television or listening to the radio as you
cook. Take time to notice the textures, scents and feel
of the food you cooking. Avoid gadgets and processors
where possible - hand-chopping brings you closer into
contact with the food.
- Think of your cooking as sacred
alchemy. Remember you are using all the elements in your
cookery - the earth of your raw ingredients; water to
cook in; as you stir or beat you are adding in air; and
there’s the fire of your stove.
- Pour your hopes and wishes for the
people who will eat your food as you cook. Focus your
intention as you chop, stir, mix, blend. Cookery is a
kind of spell-making. If you add herbs and spices with
their magical properties, you can increase the power.
- Lay your table with care - even the
simplest meals can be made special by adding a small
vase of flowers (a posy of wild flowers, buds or leaves
are cheap but lovely); perhaps add a candle. More ideas
for table-decoration in the pages which follow.
- Serve your meal so it looks inviting
and appetizing. Choose colors which complement each
- Say grace or a blessing before
- Eat your food mindfully. Smell the
different fragrances before you start to eat. Notice how
you choose your food - be aware of putting it on your
fork and in your mouth. Don’t just swallow - really
taste the food, feel its texture. Make each mouthful
- Allow time in your meal for
conversation and a sense of community. Don’t race up
afterwards - sit and talk.
- Clean up with mindfulness and
gratitude too. Try adding a few drops of mandarin oil to
your washing up liquid to cheer up your senses.
BLESSINGS AND GRACES
Blessings and graces have been said for millennia
and they are a simple ritual which makes a mealtime
special. Every religion has its own varieties and in the
past, most families would have their own favored
wordings. Nowadays we rarely say grace - unless we
happen to be at a large formal occasion. Yet saying
grace gives us the chance to think about the blessings
we enjoy and to say thanks. Let’s take the opportunity
of bringing this small but important ritual back into
our everyday lives.
- Before you eat, you might like to
light several small candles around the table. Each
person then says a few words of thanks, expressing their
pleasure at being together to share a meal.
- Think about the processes which
brought this food to your table. You might, for example,
pick up a loaf of bread and think about the incredible
process that brought the bread to your table. It starts
with a tiny seed which grows under the sun, nourished by
the earth. It is harvested, threshed, milled into flour
and then kneaded and baked into bread to feed you. Give
everyone a piece of bread and invite them to give thanks
in their own way for this gift of life.
- Always try to be hospitable and
welcoming to guests. Make some mealtimes special by
inviting extended family, friends or neighbors. Is there
someone needy who might appreciate an invite - perhaps
an elderly neighbor or someone who is new to the area
and doesn’t yet have friends?
- Muslims often serve food in one large
dish or on an immense platter. Everyone helps themselves
from the same pot, choosing the portion of food which is
closest to you. This symbolizes the sharing, caring
aspect of the family or group - it draws people
together. Maybe try this – cooking something like a
large paella or experimenting with Middle Eastern or
African food which lends itself well to this format.
- Before you eat, take a few moments
for everyone to say their own silent prayers of thanks
and appreciation. Silent grace is a lovely idea as it
removes the need for what can become formulaic set
graces and gives each person the chance to say what they
Another place which is ideal for very personal,
everyday ritual is the bathroom! Water is deeply
cleansing and purifying so it makes sense to use your
regular bath or shower as an excuse for some deep
powerful cleansing. This purifying shower is the perfect
way to start your day, making you feel positive and
upbeat. The bath is ideal for shedding the trials and
tribulations of a stressful day.
The Purifying Shower
Start your day with this invigorating shower which
will help you feel positive and confident about the day
- As you step into the shower, imagine
you are stepping under the clean, pure waters of a
beautiful waterfall somewhere in the wilderness. As you
stand under the waters, you visualize the magical water
washing away any negativity leaving you full of energy
and vigor for the day to come.
- Wash yourself with a sponge and some
uplifting aromatherapy oils (citrus or pine fragrances
- Consciously let go of any worries,
concerns, anxieties. Imagine they are being sloughed off
you as the water cleanses your body. Breathe in deeply
and just know that the day ahead will be positive and
full of joy. Any problems are just challenges which you
will overcome with ease.
- Step out of your shower and have a
The Deep Cleansing Bath
This is ideal as a "winding-down" ritual
at the end of the day.
- Light candles all around your bath.
If you like you can also light an oil burner and put in
a few drops of your favourite aromatherapy oils –
sandalwood, chamomile, geranium, lavender and ylang
ylang are good choices.
- Your bath should be pleasantly warm
but not too hot. Add three drops each of your chosen
aromatherapy oils (mixed in a little milk) and agitate
- As you undress, imagine you are
dumping all your problems alongside your clothes. Start
to let go of the stress, strain and any negativity of
- Sprinkle some sea salt onto a damp
face cloth. Gently scrub your entire body with small
circular movements. Work from the extremities of your
body towards your heart. Imagine the purifying power of
the salt loosening all the psychic grime of the day.
NOTE: consult your physician if you have high blood
pressure or heart disease.
- Relax in your bath and visualize the
healing water gently drawing out all the negativity and
unpleasantness of the day. Soak for at least twenty
- As you step out of the bath, look
back and envisage the water containing all the anger,
sorrow, frustration etc. of the day. Bless it, and let
- You should find that you will now
sleep well and wake refreshed.
Think about rituals which could bind your family
more closely. How could you make Holidays more
meaningful? What would make a birthday more special?
Think about the meaning behind any religious rituals you
observe – don’t just go through the motions. In
addition, think of other events which could be the
reason for an inspiring family ritual.
The following might provide a starting
- Birthday rituals: birthdays are a
pivotal point in the year. Try to make them meaningful
and special – however old you are! You might want to
think about everything that has passed in the last year
(maybe sharing it with friends or family). Give thanks
for everything good that happened and let go all the
bad. Ask yourself what lessons you learned. Think about
what you would like from the year to come. You might
want to smudge yourself and consciously let go of any
negativity. Be aware that this is a new start for you, a
new year full of fresh opportunities.
- New Year: a traditional time for a
fresh start. Maybe gather the family together and burn
some special incense or aromatherapy oil – something
fresh like lemon or bergamot. Each of you could make a
list of what you most want in the coming year for a)
yourself and b) your family as a whole. Take turns to
share your visions. You might also work together
preparing a special meal, putting all your hopes for the
year to come in the pot.
- A birth. The birth of a baby is a
miraculous event, worthy of celebration. Alongside any
traditional religious ceremony you might do something
small and personal for the family and close friends. You
might want to call down protection from the guardian
angels, or spirit animals (or other deities) on your
child. You might want to introduce the baby to your
community in some way – either with a gathering or
simply walking him or her around your neighborhood in
his or her buggy. Dedicating a crystal for the baby is a
nice idea (rose quartz is especially appropriate). You
might also take a leaf from the fairy tale of Snow White
and have everyone present offer the baby a
"gift" such as courage, joy, confidence.
- Vacations. For most of us getting
ready for vacation can be a stressful time. Set aside a
short space of time for everyone to gather and focus on
what they want from the holiday. Light a candle and take
it in turns to say what you need and hope for. Think
about activities you can do together (and pack the
appropriate gear). Think also about the time you need to
spend alone – and agree beforehand on how this will be
achieved. Having clear expectations agreed with each
other will take away a lot of stress and irritation.
This feature was adapted from my new
BODY SPIRIT (Carlton).
It offers an introduction to a huge array of natural
therapies and ideas for holistic, and soulful, living.
If you’ve ever wondered about Zero Balancing or wanted
to find out more about Jin Shin Jyutsu or Chavutti
Thirumal, this might be one for you! It also has
introductory sections on most aspects of holistic
living: for example, getting in tune with Nature,
creating Sacred Space, going on retreat, detoxing,
Relationships and families, creative therapies, coming
to terms with Death.
For more specific ideas on ritual, you
might like to check out some of my other books:
FIVE MINUTE HEALER: takes you through a typical
stress-packed day with ideas for healing body, mind and
soul. Incorporates the best tips and techniques from a
host of healing therapies, including shiatsu, jin shin
jyutsu, aromatherapy, yoga, chi kung, reiki, homeopathy,
flower essences, NLP, hypnotherapy, dance and art
therapy and many more. It includes plenty of everyday
rituals and describes the Sun Salute and Moon Salutation
(a great end of day ritual) plus the Two Chair technique
for diffusing arguments. This is a book full of short,
sharp fixes – ideal for busy people.
RITUALS AT HOME: An easy to follow, highly
illustrated book packed with everyday rituals which
offer the chance to stop and take stock; to be in the
moment; to make us feel more positive, more energised,
more relaxed or more confident. This book gives clear
instructions on how to create your own rituals:
honouring the body; motivating the psyche; boosting
relationships; soothing the soul and honouring the
seasons. It also gives ideas for a host of rituals –
for personal private use or to include family and
THE SMUDGE PACK: Smudging is the
Native American cleansing ritual – a ceremony which
can easily be adapted for everyday use. This pack
includes a smudge stick, crystal, aromatherapy oil and
tea-light to get you started on your own cleansing
rituals. Plus a book which explains exactly how to use
smudge (and other materials) for creating your own
rituals. I love smudging as a way of instantly creating
ritual – it need only take ten minutes but the effects
will reverberate through the day. This book includes
plenty of rituals – from ceremonies for leaving your
home and moving into a new one; through birthday
blessings to seasonal rituals. It also gives ideas for
regular personal rituals such as night-time wind-downs,
waking up to greet the day; banishing stress and even a
ritual for when you’ve had an argument!
Read more of Jane Alexander’s work
on her website: www.smudging.com
Copyright © Jane
Alexander. All rights reserved.
Jane Alexander is a UK-based writer on natural health, holistic living and
contemporary spirituality. She is the author of ten books, including
Spirit of the Home, The Five Minute Healer and The Energy Secret. Jane
lives on Exmoor, an area of wilderness in South-West England, with her
husband, toddler son and numerous animals. Read more of
Jane Alexander's work on her website: www.smudging.com