I don’t really consider myself to have many O.C.D. like qualities, except when under extreme stress I do need to check to see if I have locked the door and/or turned off my flat iron. But since my behavior does not meet the DSM-IV’s diagnostic criteria for O.C.D. I don’t worry too about it much, that is except when I am sure that I have left the flat iron on and the door unlocked and I am an hour away from home and I am convinced that someone is going to walk in the house and steal Lily and/or that the house is going to catch on fire and Lily will die a horrible death and it will be all my fault. But other than that I don’t worry.
However I am big on rituals. Maybe my love of rituals came from being a cultural Episcopalian. We Episcopalians are very proud of our liturgy, our Women’s league cookbooks, and the fact that we aren’t big on rules( that last quality is fodder for another post). Or maybe it was all the years of Jungian training I have done. I don’t know, I just know that I have lots of rituals.
I have morning rituals that begin with me donning the vestments of morning, my white terry-cloth Brooks Brothers robe. Then I go to the alter of my granite counter top where the sacred beans had earlier been transformed through the magical and alchemical chamber of the Cuisinart Grind and Brew and I pour forth 18 ounces of this steamy, sacred and mind-expanding elixir into my Chicago mug. I add exactly two teaspoons of granular sweetness and a precise glurp of half and half. Mindfully and meditatively I drink the ceremonial beverage of Incas or Aztecs , or whichever indigenous peoples it was who discovered French Roasted coffee. Once my first sip is taken, and only then, can I sit on the sofa and check my email and scan the New York Times web page to see if the world is still there. When these rituals are complete then I am free to begin my day.
My evening ritual is less complicated but more embarrassing. He-weasel and I have a long list of things we must say each to other before we go to sleep. I have heretofore never shared this evening ritual. Let the embarrassment begin:
He-weasel says: Night-night.Sleep tight don’t let the bed bugs bite, and if they do hit them with a shoe. Sweet dreams. I love you.
My response: Night-night. Sleep tight, Don’t let the bed bugs bite. If they do, bite them back or squeeze them tight. Sweet dreams and I love you.
We have been saying this same and simple and, perhaps, nauseatingly cute ritual for 18 years. I can count on one hand the nights we haven’t said it. And each time we haven’t said it, whether due to being apart because of travel or if our ritual was pre-empted because one of us fell asleep first, neither have felt right. It was as if all night something was just not right. As I am not a big believer in the ‘don’t go to bed angry golden rule’, I feel sure that our bedtime ritual as well as other rituals have served as a glue for us during some very difficult times. I feel so sure of their power that I often wonder where we would be without them.
He-weasel always opens and closes my car door for me, it is a ritual and one that has strict rules. We have rituals about sneezes, fallen eyelashes and dozens of other ordinary things. Some may dismiss some of our rituals as mere manners or even silliness. However I believe that there is a symbolical power that whenever we are out and walking we never let anything come between us( whether a person/ a post or a tree) without saying, “bread and butter” or some other thing that sticks together. This ritual is a simple way of saying, “I want to be with you and I don’t want anything to come between us.”
It won’t be surprising to learn that I have birthday rituals. Each year—except the last one—ever since I could drive a car, I have almost always gone to the beach on my own and done a year in review and set goals for the year to come. Last year I felt too bad about my life to come up with any sense of hope for the coming year and I was too low in energy to face the L.A. freeways. This year I am in a different place and there will most certainly be a trip to Redondo Beach.
This week is the week before my birthday and I decided some new birthday rituals were in order. Cleaning and clearing are my new birthday week ritual. I did a total clean and clear of my closet. I took everything out of it and decided if each item was going to spend another year in my closet or if it was time for it to move onto the Rainbow Services Women’s Shelter Thrift Shop or to the trash. It was a big job but it left me with a well organized closet and two bags of items to donate. I was so energized by the closet clear that I went on to completely organize my bathroom and I got rid of every moisturizer, conditioner and lipstick that did not live up to their promise—into the product graveyard they went. What remains are only clothes and cosmetics that I love and actually use. Today I am taking on my files.
These cleaning and clearing rituals feel important, like I am letting go of what doesn’t work and making room for what does. It feels important.
Here is what the American Mythologist, Joseph Campbell, said about ritual:
A ritual is the enactment of a myth. And through the enactment it brings to mind the implications of the life act that you are engaged in. Now, people ask me, what rituals can we have today? My answer is, what are you doing? What is important in your life? What is important, they say, is having dinner with their friends. That is a ritual.
This is the sense of T.S. Eliot’s The Cocktail Party. A cocktail party is a ritual. It is a religious function in that way, and those people are engaged in a human relationship thing. This is the Chinese idea, the Confucian idea, that human relationships are the way you experience the Tao. Realize what you’re doing when you’re giving a cocktail party. You are performing a social ritual. You are conducting it when you sit down to eat a meal, you are consuming a life.
When you’re eating something, this is something quite special to do. And you ought to have that thought when you eat a carrot as well as when you eat an animal, it seems to me. But you don’t know what you’re doing unless you think about it. That’s what a ritual does. It give you an occasion to realize what you’re doing so that you’re participating in the inevitable energy of life in its exchanges. That’s what rituals are for; you do things with intention, and not just in the animal way, ravenously, without knowing what you’re doing.
I wonder what Campbell would make of my ritual of attempting to peel my orange in one unbroken piece.