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Rituals and sacred spaces

This month marks a major milestone in my household: our older son is graduating high school. In a few short months he’ll be moving away to live in his first dorm room. Our younger son is moving up a grade in the fall and will be navigating a new building with new faces and new expectations. Transition and change are all around us, from the cells in our bodies to the ebbs and flows of the tides. Even in this time before the summer solstice, with so much sunlight and lush summer foliage, my mind can’t stop itself from leaping ahead to anticipate the changes autumn will bring – and then winter, and next spring, and what about a year from now… what will that look like??

All of this is amazing and wonderful and exciting; and all of this is off-putting and unsettling and unfamiliar. When I feel my thoughts beginning to spiral down a rabbit hole or two, what stops me from diving all the way in? I give myself a few minutes of breathing room by way of ritual or occupying my sacred space.

I love rituals – whether formal or informal, spiritual or secular, there is something reassuring and comforting in the repetition of familiar tasks, words, music, and so on. Rituals bring us into the present moment, and by their simplicity they allow us time for reflection and introspection. They are also a wellspring of opportunities to express and embrace gratitude, something that benefits all of us.

A sacred space, a sanctuary, is simply a place in which you can feel comfort and peace. It can be a room in your home if you have ample space. It can be a favorite chair with a cozy blanket and a book or magazine. It can be a spot outdoors in which you can relax for a bit and take in the fresh air while you ponder your thoughts.

What matters most in all of this is that the ritual or space works for you. It doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s. Your objective here is to intentionally create space for yourself in all aspects: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. In this context spiritual does not equal any specific religious practice; rather, it’s whatever feeds your soul.

So how do you create a ritual? What works? Short answer: anything that helps you take pause. I have enacted rituals around making morning coffee, heading out on my (almost) daily walk, getting creative, even showering. Here are a few simple steps to help you get started:

- Set your intention. By this I mean, decide that this is going to be about consciously slowing down and focusing on your present activity. Take the time you need to sink into what you’re doing, as though you’re doing it for the person you love most in the world.

- Keep it simple. If your ritual feels like it’s too cumbersome or convoluted, then it is. The idea is not to challenge yourself, but rather to allow yourself to find a gentle and comforting rhythm in the action you’ve chosen. Familiarity with the task is helpful in this case as it allows you to act without overthinking.

- When you are doing the action, allow yourself to see through it and past it so you can tap into gratitude behind it. Here’s an example of what I mean: when I make morning coffee during the week, I use a French press. My sequence is always the same and nothing magic – fill and heat the kettle, put grounds into the press, pour boiling water in and stir, wait five minutes, push the plunger. In that time I could be doing any of a number of other morning tasks such as making lunches, checking email, doing dishes, and so on. Yet I choose instead to start my day with a pause and I use it to offer silent thanks. I thank everyone from my family and friends for being in my life, to the DPW staff who make sure the tap water is safe, to the farmers who grew the coffee beans and sugar cane and raised the cows who made the cream, to the people who designed and made the press, the kettle, the stove, my mug … are you getting the idea? I can go down this gratitude rabbit hole as little or as far as I choose. What matters is that I choose to take the pause and see all the actions that have led to me making coffee in that moment. It’s an awe inspiring and humbling acknowledgment that helps me remember to appreciate the small joys that are all around me.

And what about a sacred space? Again, that only needs to work for you. It doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s. You can pore over suggestions on internet sites or flip through interior design magazines, sure. However, in order to make it truly yours, try this instead: take a few minutes to sit with your eyes closed and listen. Ask yourself what you need a sacred space to be. Give yourself the time to picture it and include any details you want, and then do your best to make that real. It doesn’t have to be exact, only as close as you feel it can be – you’ll know when you see it because it will suddenly feel like a spot that has been waiting for you all this time. You’ll realize that this is where you can take a few minutes whenever you need to reset and reclaim yourself, and it will feel like coming home.

tell me, Joy Warrior, what’s one ritual that you can begin to practice? Tell me about your sacred space? What simple action can you take to nurture yourself and listen to the voice of your soul?

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