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Personal Rituals for Soulful Living
by Jane Alexander

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.

Mind Body Spirit

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 the time.

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.


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.

Carefully planned 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.

Follow meaningful rituals and you will weather the inevitable changes of life far more easily.

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 be.
  • 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 work.

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 correction!

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 well-being.

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 other.
  • Say grace or a blessing before eating.
  • 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 mindful.
  • 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 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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?
  4. 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.
  5. 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 wish.

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 to come.

  1. 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.
  2. Wash yourself with a sponge and some uplifting aromatherapy oils (citrus or pine fragrances work well)…
  3. 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.
  4. Step out of your shower and have a wonderful day!

The Deep Cleansing Bath
This is ideal as a "winding-down" ritual at the end of the day.

  1. 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.
  2. 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 to disperse.
  3. 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 the day.
  4. 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.
  5. 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 minutes.
  6. 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 it go.
  7. 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 point:

  • 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 book MIND 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:

THE 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.

SACRED 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 friends.

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.


The Energy Secret Sacred Rituals at Home The Five Minute Healer Spirit of the Home

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


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