Ritual: Anchoring Intention in Action

Ritual: Anchoring Intention in Action

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. ~ Annie Dillard

How are you spending yours?

At a potluck holiday party we hosted on Saturday night, I introduced an unknown that got everyone talking. I was listening to a guest muse that others can see us more easily than we can see ourselves – in particular if the trait or quality in question is embarrassing or not entirely socially acceptable, like an “animal” trait (e.g. being chicken-like, or guinea pig-like). It occurred to me to bring out a deck of animal oracle cards that I’d picked up in Australia the month prior.

I opened the box and laid the cards on the table, spread out like a fan, face down. Giving no further context, I waited to see what would happen next.

As each person approached the deck, a myriad of questions, laced with hesitation and curiosity ensued.

Are they like tarot cards? How do you read them?

What am I supposed to do?

I have a friend, she reads something she reads cards and it makes people cry – is it like that?

What’s the first step?

Some dove right in, deciding to figure it out for themselves. Some hung back and skeptically raised eyebrows, waiting for others to make the first move.

As I watched the game unfold, I realized that my own understanding of how to engage with the cards was informed by the communities of which I am a part.

While I hadn’t thought about it much, I had developed my own simple ritual of asking a question, choosing a card, then consulting the small book that came with the deck to find out what quality – or medicine, as we say – the animal may have to offer in response to my request.

Yet this sequence was not inherent in the cards itself – it was learned in community, and embodied over time.

I also noticed that each person’s approach, as well as their questions, came from their own mental models. Their personal experience with rituals of a similar nature informed their approach, their interest and even their skepticism.

In the spirit of discovery, I let my guests know there wasn’t a “right or wrong” way. After lightly suggesting that it might be a opportunity to set an intention or gain some guidance for the New Year, I invited each person to create their own approach.

Through trial and error, we developed a new ritual of intention setting together.

This week, I invite you to consider the daily, weekly and monthly rituals you currently have in place in your life… and the new ones you might like to begin in 2016

Whether it’s for the sake of increasing your personal well-being, decreasing stress, developing discipline around nutrition, improving connection with a loved one, or calling in greater wealth, developing a ritual is a great way to bring that intention to life.

As a side note, a ritual doesn’t have to be fancy.

It doesn’t have to utilize woo woo or new aged equipment (indeed if those things aren’t part of your current belief system or toolkit, and leave you feeling skeptical, it’s better that your ritual doesn’t!). One of the most long standing rituals at my house happens each morning at 6:15am between my and my dog, Sheba: she jumps off the bed and shakes, she ceremoniously scratches the bedroom door to let me know she’s awake, I climb out of bed half awake and head to the kitchen to fill up her bowl, we then both return to bed for a 15 minute snooze before heading out on a morning walk. We do this every day without fail. It represents my commitment, regardless of how busy I am, to show up as a care-taker for her in this life.

Rituals DO however, serve to ceremonially support an intention.

Making your bed every morning, or saying three things you feel grateful for out loud before going to sleep can be powerful rituals – especially when you’re clear what intention the activity represents.

Rituals also CAN lead to powerful results.

In her master’s thesis, my friend and colleague Katie Wallace examined the power of ritual to build positive culture in organizations. She describes ritual as a sequence of activities involving gestures, words and objects, performed in a designated place, and designed to influence people or collectives. Rather than targeting the rational mind, rituals – whether solo or collective – are about engaging the deeper, social, emotional and instinctual parts of ourselves.

They elevate us, and help us to engage with a sense of purpose.

Katie has worked for the past decade at New Belgium Brewery, headquartered in Fort Collins, Colorado. Organized as a B-Corp, this innovative organization prides itself in being 100% employee owned, and in its commitment to creating a meaningful employee experience.

The company uses ritual, including a yearly rite of passage bestowing company ownership upon new employees after their first year of service, to create positive cohesion, inspire a sense of belonging, boost morale and encourage whole-system flourishing.

What’s more, these types of positive, intentional practices also produce financial gains. Recent research from a 15-year study showed financial growth in similar positive organizations of 1681% versus a 118% increase in the S&P 500 over the same period of time. No small stuff!

Large or small, rituals have the power to support our intentions by adding a component of dedicated practice – engaging the whole body-mind-spirit self in the game.

Take a moment and consider your own intentions for the New Year. Think about what important and meaningful goals you already have for yourself, your relationships, your family or your organization.

What simple, regular activity could you put in place, to remind you of that intention?
How could you craft that activity such that a few days, weeks or months down the line, you’ll still remember what you’re doing the ritual for?

In your movement practice,

Consider standardizing something, starting today. If you don’t work out regularly, this could be as simple as placing your jogging shoes next to your bed and putting them on first thing in the morning as a reminder to “take the next step.” If you already have a pretty good routine in place, consider adding a new ritual to kick off your practice each day. For example, develop (and stick with) a series of warm-up movements and an affirmation about how you hope to grow this year. Or, complete your practice with 5 minutes of silent meditation, anchoring a commitment to reducing your daily stress.

In life,

I encourage you to think outside the box. I also encourage you to enroll others. Developing a ritual to be shared with family and friends is an incredible way to build deeper connection, while also igniting the spirit of meaning in your life.

My partner and I nearly fell into our potluck party ritual this past fall, when he took up pie baking. We quickly realized there was no way we could eat a whole scratch-baked pie between the two of us and maintain our health goals. Yet we wanted encourage his new hobby – and also to treat ourselves.

Our idea: “let’s invite a few friends over to help!” has turned into a monthly gathering dedicated to the nourishment of our bodies, minds and souls –

sharing home-cooked food, engaging in stimulating conversation and making new friends.

Spending 2016 well,


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