At 4:30pm on most weekdays, I walk up the steps from the basement where my office is, fill the kettle with water and put it on the stove. The dial gets turned to the number 7, and while the water heats up, I open the cupboard to get a ceramic mug with a moose painted on the side and some lemon tea. Placing the tea in the cup, I wait for the whistle. Sometimes I flip through the mail or put the dishes away while I wait, but usually I just stand there and listen, holding the mug, looking out the window as the light of the day slips away.
Kent Nerburn wrote, “You must look closely in this dark month. Examine the backs of your hands and the movements of your fingers. Place your thumbprints on the edges of old bowls. Immerse yourself in ceremonies of the ordinary. Do not seek large issues. In January one needs ritual, not philosophy.”
It can be really hard to look closely, especially this time of year. Westernized culture tells us that we should be setting lofty goals and committing ourselves to a new beginning to “make it your best year yet!” or some other similar saying (that often comes with a ten step list and/or a program with a price tag). “Year in reviews” are everywhere as the calendar flips over. The message that swirls around is that you’ve got to plan ahead, take the long view, get your ducks in a row, be ready to conquer the next twelve months. January in mainstream America tends to be about going big or going home. Clean the slate. Overhaul your lifestyle. Live your best life, starting today. Raise your vibration so you can manifest your dream life. These aren’t necessarily bad things to put energy into. However, these are large issues.
[Side note on manifestation – A great question came across my desk the other day: ‘did you manifest it, or is it white privilege?’ If you are white, keep that one close]
What if instead we took Mr. Nerburn’s advice and chose to place our attention on things like the edges of old bowls and the backs of our hands? What if we didn’t try to “crush” or “slay” any goals and instead chose to hold a mug and contemplate its delicate heaviness, the way fingers fit around its curves, how the steam rises in air that is colder than comfortable? What might we see in the lines on our faces as we brush our teeth or the cracks in those old bowls as we wash them by hand? What if we peered deeply into the ordinary actions of our days and discovered what rituals already exist inside them?
There is power in ceremonies of the ordinary. That power isn’t flashy or quick moving or even nice to look at sometimes. It’s certainly hard to sell as a product. [Can you picture it? “How to examine the backs of your hands in ten easy steps-start today!”] But it could just be the antidote to your typical new year.
Look closely in this dark month.
8 thoughts on “Ceremonies of the Ordinary”
Ceremonies of the ordinary – a beautiful concept. Your alternatives to the hype of the new year are a balm.
Wonderful as always Heidi, I have been trying to practice noticing day to day simple things. Taking a few more seconds to soak up a hug with my daughters, making sure I wrap my arms all the way around them, and hug a little longer. Noticing textures, colors, and movement at times you would look elsewhere. Sometimes I feel like it is corny but then I think about the day I look back on my life and it will bring me joy to know I paid attention to details and the simple things we sometimes regret.
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Not corny at all – a wise way to approach the day, I think.
Quiet, and beautiful, thoughts to start the year off, and to keep close throughout.
Thank you for this, Heidi. Beautiful and essential. Xo, Lisa
Your lemon tea is a marvelous antidote to the huge projects and expenditures we’re bullied and chivvied to undertake!
In the midst of my own reflections on “the year in review,” I realized that none of the most momentous events were anything I had any clue of as the year rolled over. So yes, I’m all in on the ceremonies of the ordinary. Like this hot cup of coffee, the first one every morning….
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