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Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Power of Creating Personal Rituals

In a prior blog post I discussed The Power of Rituals I'd like to continue the discussion in this blog post by discussing the Power of Creating Personal Rituals.

The Power of Creating Personal Rituals

What Do We Mean by Creating Personal Rituals?
As I discussed in my last blog post, we all have mundane personal rituals that we engage in, whether we're aware of it or not. For some people, it's having a cup of coffee or tea in the morning or reading the newspaper, listening to the weather report, or other similar rituals. Even these simple rituals can bring a certain amount of comfort and a sense of stability. The personal rituals that I'm referring to are rituals that we can create for ourselves that have special meaningful for us.

Examples of Personal Rituals:
Several years ago, a close friend's mother died. My friend, who was very close to her mother, arranged for a wake and a memorial service. She was very grateful for all the comfort that she received from relatives and friends during that time. But after it was over, she felt empty inside, as if she needed something more.

The Power of Creating Personal Rituals

When we talked about it, she told me what she missed the most was having her morning conversations with her mother. She talked about picking up the phone on many mornings to call her mother, after her mother died, and then suddenly remembering that her mother was gone. These moments filled her with so much sadness. And yet, she felt, on some level, that her mother was still alive in a way.

As we talked about it, it became clear that my friend's experience of feeling that her mother was still alive was her own internal experience of her mother, which was very strong. I suggested to her that, even though her mother was not alive any more, she could still "talk" to her mother in her mind through meditation or in a ritual that she created for herself to honor their relationship.

Since my friend had never done this before, she felt a little strange at first. But as she thought about how she wanted to do this, she began by setting a special place on her bedroom dresser where she placed a few pictures of her mother and herself at various ages, including pictures of her mother and her when my friend was a child, a teen, an adult, and more recent pictures of them before her mother died. These pictures represented the various stages in their relationship from a close relationship when she was a child to a rocky adolescence with her mother, and to a more stable period when my friend became an adult and she and her mother reconciled their relationship. After she arranged the pictures to her satisfaction, she decided to place her mother's favorite flowers, irises, in a beautiful vase near the pictures. Then, she added a candle in her mother's favorite color, pink.

As she was creating this special space for her mother, my friend told me how comforting it was for her to set up this area that was dedicated to the memory of her mother and their relationship. She said it was also very satisfying to be creative and have this space be exactly as she wanted it to be. Then, when she was ready, she sat in front of the pictures and the lit candle. She allowed herself to do whatever felt right on that particular day without worrying about what she "should" do or how it ought to be. On certain days, she meditated silently. On other days, she "talked" to her mother about how she felt or her cares, concerns, or positive things that were going on in her life. On other days, she cried. On other days, she told her mother about the funny and wonderful things that were going on in her life.

After a few weeks, my friend felt that she was really connecting to her mother. She didn't make any judgments about what this meant, whether it was purely an internal experience or whether it was also a connection to her mother in the hereafter. She just allowed herself to have the experience and she knew that it was very comforting to her. After a couple of months, she no longer felt the need to do the ritual. By then, she was able to remember and experience her mother as being alive within herself without the ritual, and all she needed to do was think about her whenever she wanted. The ritual has served as a transitional time and space in her mourning.

During the next year or so, a couple of other friends lost their mothers. As we talked about these losses, we decided to get together and perform our own group ritual for the loved ones in our lives who had died. It was sort of a small, personal, memorial service. Each person brought pictures and a special memento that related to their loved one who had died. I brought pictures of my paternal grandfather, including a young, handsome picture of him in his Army uniform and more recent pictures of him before he died. Other friends brought pictures of their parents, siblings, friends, and pets.

We sat in a circle with candles lit on a low, small table and each one of us took turns "introducing" our loved one and saying something about him or her, whether it was a special memory, a story, or why this person was so special to us. In this way, we honored our deceased loved ones in this shared ritual.

Other personal rituals might include setting an intention for the day when you wake up, meditating at a time that feels right for you, praying, reading inspirational literature at a certain time of day, using visualizations, taking a special bath with herbs and candles, or whatever other rituals that would be meaningful to you.

The Power of Creating Personal Rituals

When people create their own rituals, they often experience it as liberating, creative, and emotionally satisfying, especially if they can give themselves permission to create the ritual in whatever way is most meaningful to them without judging themselves.

When we create meaningful rituals for ourselves, we often reach deep inside ourselves and connect to the core of our being. The symbolism of the rituals, including using particular pictures, colors, scents, music, and visualizations helps to deepen our experience, which is deeply satisfying on an emotional and psychological level.

Meaningful rituals often touch us in a deeper way that just using our logical, rational minds alone could ever do. And when we're immersed in a meaningful ritual, we often realize that, in our everyday busy lives, we've neglected that part of ourselves that needs to feel connected to deeper meaningful experiences.

Creating Your Own Meaningful Personal Ritual:
I've given you an example of how a friend created her own personal ritual, which helped her through a difficult time. You can create your own meaningful personal ritual and it can be to honor anything that you want including: a way to express gratitude for what you have in your life, a relaxing ritual at the end of the day to calm and soothe yourself (a bath with your favorite bath salts, oils, candles and incense can be very relaxing), a celebration of an accomplishment, and so on.

If you feel you would like to do this and you've never done it before, give yourself permission to be creative without judging yourself. No one needs to know about your personal ritual if you feel self conscious about it. Creating a personal ritual can get you in touch with that childlike, playful side of yourself. One of the keys to creating your own ritual is that it must feel meaningful and special to you, regardless of what you think others might think or what your own inner critical voice might be telling you.

When you create your own ritual, you often enter into your inner world in a special, timeless, transitional space, especially if you allow yourself to become immersed in the experience. It might feel like a solemn place where you just want to be quiet, or it might feel like a light, uplifting experience where you feel like you want to dance or sing.

The great thing is that you have the freedom to create whatever you want and it be as spartan or as elaborate as you want it to be. You can use whatever symbols you need to help in deepening the experience for yourself. You have the freedom to do it for as long as it feels meaningful or to change it in whatever way that you want or stop whenever you want.

Journaling about your experiences with personal rituals can also help to capture the feelings, thoughts, and ideas that you have while performing the ritual. By journaling, I don't mean keeping a diary where you feel obligated to write something everyday. By journaling, I mean writing whatever captures the experience. It could be one word. It could be a drawing. It could be pages long if you feel inspired to write. 

Journaling about your experiences with personal rituals helps you to dialogue with yourself, if you want to, about the experience. It also helps you to look back on these experiences and to remember them.

People who enjoy creating rituals often experience their personal rituals as a part of having a meaningful life that helps them to feel more emotionally and psychologically balanced, while also continuing to take care of the everyday things that need your attention.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, Somatic Experiencing therapist, and EMDR therapist. I work with both individuals and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.