Is it a tough debate that rituals have not been affected by recent changes in our modern age? Do many people spend more time alone with machines than in the company of others? Have machines conversely opened doors to more rituals for more people? Are the new rituals, such as sitting together at a restaurant on phones, as valid as any others ever were? Stories like this point to the downside of this shift in ritual, while stories like this offer encouragement that face-to-face rituals, such as oral traditions, are staying somewhat intact while arguably benefiting from the integration of technology, the driving force behind these cultural changes.
The answer to this is highly debatable.
The need to connect is not debatable. It is required. It remains a subjective thing, however, ranging from the healthy to the unhealthy, but in every case is a biological, chemical, emotional and arguably metaphysical requirement. This is what makes the need to connect rather non-negotiable for the majority of us, on some level or another.
Do we need to know that others feel what we feel, too? Does the feeling that bonds us to so-called “lower animals” and separates us from machines we commit to for distraction/escapism insulate us from the human condition? Is it what makes us capable of greater things than what we have come to expect from the integration of so much technology in our lives? Isn’t this why UX is the dominating success factor of online experiences? Is what we are talking about, simply put, actually called “empathy“?
Why is technology not a silver bullet to any of our challenges, the fundamental problems we all need to face? Have human beings always had technology, from sticks to seemingly more sophisticated systems that have all led us back to the same, basic questions?
In the midst of all our energy and activity, can these efforts still be respectfully described as a humble and earnest dedication to ritual? Can we agree that no matter what school of thought or lens we choose to look at our situation through, no matter what our disposition, demographic, or geographic location, we will likely stumble onto questions we may not ever know the answers to? If that is true, if we may agree to that, then, may there always be this need, this emptiness we attempt to fill using whatever means possible?
Are art and beauty the outcome of endless searches? Are some of us so drawn to things of aesthetic pleasure as a rule, because, at the end of the day, we do not know why we feel it, or why it is there, this feeling of loneliness? Perhaps, it is beauty, art, and magic that makes life real, the closest thing to an answer about any of the hidden machinery behind things?
Is it the rituals we create and honor that make life memorable, if only almost bearable, to be among each other, bonded in a quest to find meaning and satisfaction from something far too abstract and esoteric for any of us to understand?
Rituals. I just like saying the word.
Is it our ritual in Western culture (in medicine, economics, most any analysis or assessment) to find only what’s bad rather than good? Our medical practitioners, analysts, attorneys, specialists all, are seemingly trained exclusively in the practice of seeking out, identifying and prescribing based on a lens focused solely on pathology. Does this outlook have ripple effects? Could this subtle difference in default disposition have an impact on the average bear’s comfort level throughout life? What impact does this position have on the rest of culture?
Rituals can transcend fear and make us more comfortable. Ritual does not render void any of the most subtle gifts of selfless offering. Rituals. Do they tend to not be so much empirical, even as the unseen parts of them have properties, properties that, while immeasurable in the hidden machinery behind them, have immense intrinsic value? Value that often makes the difference between success and failure for many of us?
I’m not talking about superstition here. That is not the same thing. Superstitiousness is different because ritual, as I’m choosing to define it here, is only empowering, comforting, supporting and positive. Superstition is often as crippling as it is empowering, if it is empowering at all. It is often self-sabotage. Ritual, as I hold it in my mind, is a solution to self-sabotage, a soothing comfort thing. Not a land mine of doubt.
Superstition notwithstanding, rituals may be the clincher that keeps us, as a race, alive and sustaining with a spirit of overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles whether pathogens are present or not, and frankly, lets face it – pathology is always present. Each and every single moment of human life, are we not subject to it? Are tissues and neurons ever so slowly degrading as time passes? We are perfect metaphors for it, aren’t we? Bipedal, perambulating, ironic metaphors of pathology, laughing and working hard at enjoying our temporary visits for all they are worth even as we are dwindling?
How tragic and yet how beautiful to be reminded of it.
Without launching into an even more lengthy meditation on these high-falutin’ concepts, this post is written to remind your host, selfishly, that ritual, whether the act of grieving, motivating ourselves or simply coping with our lot, no matter how small or out-of-place, ritual is the glue that holds this jalopy of uncertainty together. And, sure, if superstition falls into the coping category, so be it. To each their own.
Whenever she was stressed, Mom cleaned the kitchen, folded laundry and generally focused her attention on things she could control. My own sweet and beautiful wife does the same. So do I. We are an army of worried cleaners, I suppose.
While living overseas, I had a flatmate who peeled potatoes and peppers and then roasted them whenever he was worried about something. Another one walked. Sometimes all through the night.
There was a girl I once dated for over a year who used sex that way, to comfort herself when she was worried about something. That was a great idea, except when I wasn’t around.
If there is a point to any of this, this humble author offers a sincere prayer and meditation to whoever may be reading this: may we all find solace in our rituals, no matter how seemingly quirky, boring, or Autistic. Rituals are the friendly memories, notions, prayers and motivations that keep us going. We could not power ourselves through these moments of uncertainty, bearing each our own weight of the human condition, without them.
Regardless of your preferred flavor of them or what they may appear to be, rituals are comfort food for our souls, minds and hearts.