Using rituals to mark growth and progress
At age 11, I began a jogging routine at a lakeside gravel trail near my childhood home. Through the seasons and over the years, I came back to the hilly two-miler again, and again, and again. I ran as a girl, a teen, a college student, and even on the morning of my wedding day.
This trail carries a powerful emotional connection for me. Whenever I hear the familiar crunch of white gravel, I reunite with a place that has been a lifelong friend. The trail knows the emotional highs and lows of my life just as I’ve learned every curve in its course. As I built physical endurance over time, I also built a practice of intentionally connecting with nature and myself.
Though the path has hardly changed over the decades, I inevitably have. Every time I return, I am forced to confront these changes. Sometimes it is the sting of loss– of fitness, of friends, of life stages.
More often, though, I feel the profound gift of observing my growth and progress. As I accumulate experiences, memories, relationships, and skills, I see a familiar place with new eyes. I can see how far I have come in life and dream of who I might be next time I visit.
This is the beauty of a ritual. If we slow down and allow ourselves, routine visits to a consistent place or activity offer us the opportunity to reflect on our past, present, and future. Each time, we face how we have changed in appearance, mind, and heart. We also observe what has stayed the same, those truest parts of ourselves that persist. We have compassion for our past selves and appreciate that their missteps and successes brought us here. We learn the subtle fluctuations in our body and spirit over time.
The Greek philosopher Heraclitus said we never step in the same river twice. Rituals are a form of mindful reflection to help us enhance well-being, gratitude, and appreciation for life.
Here are some ideas for rituals to help you reflect:
- Revisit a favorite walking or running route at different times of day, weather and seasons. How do you feel moving in your body each time? What were you doing the last time you took this path? Are there new traits, belongings, or even people with you on your journey that were not there before?
- Read a favorite book at different times across your life, even once a year. Do the same passages move you, or have new ones emerged? What new wisdom and experiences do you bring to this book now that you didn’t before? How does the writing make you feel? What drew you back to this book?
- Look at old photo albums. How do favorite (or even hated) pictures strike you now? Which images feel like a lifetime ago, and which feel like just yesterday? What aspects of the photos are you most drawn to? Observe the different people that have come into and gone from your life. Look at all the different places you have lived and visited. Feel gratitude for all these people and places, whether they remain today or not.
- Prepare a meal you love and have made many times, mindfully participating in the process of cooking or baking. Are you in the same space as last time you cooked? Are there different people around or preparing the food with you? What has life brought you since the last time you made this meal? How does it make you feel to return to this recipe?
- Go through and organize your wardrobe periodically. Do your clothes align with how you see yourself now, or is a refresh in order? Are there items you forgot about? What items of clothing no longer speak to you and could be donated? Honor those clothes you loved in the past, then be open to the possibility that those favorite pieces are ready to move on. Conversely, are there items you have neglected in the past, but with which you connect now? Why might that be?
- Listen to a familiar or favorite song. Notice what emotions the music evokes; how do they compare to how the song has made you feel before? At what times in life, during which experiences, did this particular song play?