I have been thinking about rituals lately. I have quite a few of them in my life. Maybe we all do. I run, as you know, along the same river trail most mornings. I practice yoga once a week in the same studio with the same teacher and, most of the time, the same fellow practicers. I make pizza for dinner almost every Friday and our family plays Rat-a-Tat-Cat most weekends. (Awesome card game, if you don’t know it. Great for the whole family.)
Rituals are comforting. It feels good to do something familiar. My body can relax into it because it knows, instinctively what to do—downward dog or stretching pizza dough or whatever the movement may be—and so my mind can relax too. There is no thinking about the action, only doing it, and this frees me up to dream or imagine or simply let go.
But rituals also facilitate discovery. Because I run along the same river trail day in and day out, I notice when a tree has fallen or a fox has been by or the ice flow on the river has shifted. I can hone in on tiny new details because I am not taking in the entire landscape in that sweeping, wide-angle way I do when I am in it for the first or even second or third time. Rituals strengthen that observation muscle.
Alison McGhee explores this idea of the landscape of ritual in her Julia Gillian series, which I am reading with my eight year old daughter right now. Julia Gillian takes her dog, Bigfoot, on a walk through her neighborhood almost every day. They visit the same hardware store with the entertaining window display, the same house that leaves a bowl of water out for walking dogs, and the same bakery where Julia’s friend Zap works. This walk is safe and familiar. Julia could do it with her eyes closed. But the point is she doesn’t, right? She treks her route with her eyes wide open, and her head and heart open too. It is on these walks that she comes to solutions to her problems. And it is on these walks that she finds new objects or people or actions that become pivotal plot points. Alison does a gorgeous job illustrating how ritual—both in a character’s life and as a writer’s tool—can deepen a story and make it exceedingly more universal in its attention to detail.
I will leave you with that. Right now I am off to revise my picture book manuscript. Oh yeah. Revision is a ritual in my life too…