Repetition: Habit, Ritual and Pattern
Identifying Ritual v. Habit v. Routine
Do you ever find yourself tapping your food on the floor or shaking your leg? Is the person next to you clicking their pin over and over again? Why do we do these things. To simply chalk it up to being a “nervous tick” is not really an answer. Where is the nervous energy coming from and why is that the way we are choosing to expend it? There are so many actions that we repeat time and again that we don’t really know why.
Sometimes it a part of our routine like brushing our teeth twice a day, but why not once, why not three times a day? There are many things we repeat for irrational reasons and there are many we repeat for rational reasons as well. But what significance do these things really mean to us? For a while American students recited the Pledge Of Allegiance before each school day began, and now we don’t. Does this mean that our country is less patriotic or united?
For those of us that engage in exercise we know that repetition is a great part of acquiring muscle memory and for some reason that is a good thing. We know that having good form is a positive but we are not always clear on why exactly one form is “good” and why another is “bad”, and still we practice it.
Just beside ritual is tradition. Hazing is a tradition in the military and in the greek fraternity system but that doesn’t mean that all traditions are good ones. It can be tricky when we come to analyze cultural or religious traditions that are long held but may not be relevant to modern circumstance. What then, do we modify the tradition, or maintain it for the sake of history?
In this special place we find ritual, outside of the realm of spirituality and religion ritual is the performance of specific activity grounded in method, intention, narrative. It drives and derives meaning from its participants. Through the practice of ritual together we imbue our actions with meaning and share experiences that create collective memory and culture.
This is not just a matter of individual repetition but in humanity as well. Is there any truth the old adage that history repeats itself or are we simply noticing patterns that fulfill that ideal for us? Recognizing patterns in our own behavior can keep us from making the same mistakes time and again. Pattern recognition applied incorrectly can lead us to improper prejudice and profiling of members of certain social groups.
Acknowledging our capacity to design ritual practice grants us the ability to create new conceptual space for experience, liberating us from tradition, or providing new ground for expression and activity. Through ritual we can disrupt patterns and initiate new ones, constructing tradition from scratch. For example, this can be applied to personal care in the instances of adapting the routine of brushing teeth, to a dental and self-care hygiene practice that is imbued with a gratitude practice rooted in smiling.
Another application of ritual design could be in the workplace, in the instance where there is a change in leadership, a clearing ceremony can support the introduction of new leadership as well as acknowledgment of the former staff as a rite of passage. This upends the hazing model in a way that is generative and enrolls new members to a group with a specific set of experience that then ground them in the community.
For all this we only have limited resource, but we do have the ability to make ritual with minimal time and materials. Sacrament such as baptism can be done in a river, a small pool, or even with a few drops of water. The significance of the practice allows for improvisation and adaptation but produces something enduring through repetition of sequence, language, or behaviors, this soft technology is accessible to us everywhere we are.
Rituals Of Tomorrow
We are in a pivotal time with rapid changes in technology and culture, finding something stable can be increasingly difficult. Times of uncertainty brings to the potentiality of ritual practice to the forefront by granting us ways to create stability through intention, repetition, and meaning. We have an opportunity now to design ritual that allow us to ground our relationship to devices, uncover new ways of ending romantic partnership, and even creating boundaries with how we engage with markets.
In the coming years developing a skillset and intuition around the place for ritual can support the kind of conceptual grounding that is needed to sense-make in a world filled with entropy. Looking towards this we are excited to be a part of helping develop these skills and identifying practitioners who will continue to innovate in the space of ritual and ritual design.