Ritual – mindful or mindless?

After traveling through Iran, Pakistan and India, I have seen and been part of my fair share of rituals. These include such things as namaz (Muslim daily prayers), offerings to Hindu gods, morning cups of tea, the precise process of washing hands, morning yoga and sun worship etc.

It is interesting to keep expanding the concept of what a ritual is, what purpose or intent it serves, what the experience of performing it is, and what impact it has. This may mean you include your daily commute as ritual. If reframed as such, would this make you do anything differently, or would your experience of your daily commute to work be any different?

In terms of religious, spiritual or cultural rituals, I am all for them really. As long as they are done mindfully. While I am always knocked into a sense reverence whenever I hear the call to prayer in Muslim countries, that may wear thin after a few months or years. The ritual would then become empty, perhaps a meaningless gesture. For myself, my morning meditation and exercise has not been performed as unbendingly regularly as the Islamic daily prayer. But, when I do it regularly I really enjoy it, and it makes a significant different to my experience of the day, and hopefully my behaviour in so far as it is observable by others. AND, I know that there have been periods of days or weeks when I have treated meditation as a  mindless ritual, and not really been committed to ‘letting go of everything’ when I sit down.

The point I am arriving at, and what I am advocating for, is that ritual can be great, but it is what is not observable that really matters. That one person could be bowing and prostrating in an act of complete surrender, another person could be bowing and prostrating in an act that was primarily about keeping up appearances and doing what is expected. You would hope that, doing something daily but mechanically and with no clear intent, you would have to be struck on certain occasions by the hypocrisy in your actions and jolted into remembering what the hell you were doing it for. But, if our daily commute, our days at work in front of computers, your regular watching of a TV programme, or regular evening meal of meat and potatoes, how conscious do you think you are of the implications of those actions, their reverence and significance in the wider scheme of things? If you are not, does it matter?

Perhaps what I am wondering is, why would ritual be a path to enlightenment, to expanded consciousness, to better behaviour? Perhaps it is part of it, but only if performed with clear intent. Otherwise, it may be a  culturally interesting, but otherwise non-transformative process.


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