This post is part 15 in a series of posts on the psychological and practical benefits of daily practice. In this series, I’ll explore the elements of daily practice, varieties of daily practice, challenges to daily practice, and strategies for meeting those challenges. Please join me in learning more about this important subject!
When you treat your daily practice ceremonially, you give it an added measure of respect and poignancy. You can add a ceremonial feel to what you do by translating your good intentions into small, studied gestures that you repeat each time you engage in your practice. It might just be the ceremonial way that you ready yourself to work on your novel as your computer boots up: even just a small sense of ceremony can make a big difference in how you experience your practice.
Religions have always employed ceremonies to increase a sense of reverence. That slow processional down an aisle, the ceremonial removal of a sacred object from where it’s kept to a place front-and-center, the repetition of words, gestures, and music, the ceremonial donning or removing of a vestment or some other piece of clothing—all these repetitive, formalized, slow-moving activities demarcate worship from the rest of the day, serving to create a distinction in the parishioner’s mind between the sacred and the secular.
The daily ceremony that precedes my writing time is about as mundane as it gets. It has to do with picking a coffee cup for the day. I have quite a few coffee cups but I keep a special place for my six favorites, which, at the moment, are coffee cups that I purchased in Prague, Berlin, Paris, New York, Rome, and Savannah. In that brief moment of choosing, I get to travel to those places, I get to experience writing in a Parisian or Roman café, and I remind myself of my own personal traditions. I don’t just grab that cup—I cherish it a little.
What sorts of ceremonies do I have in mind? Here are a few from my clients:
From Leslie, a writer: “Bach! I could not live without Bach! I begin every writing session with Bach as his music magically orchestrates all the fragments of me into the one I call writer and then she is held in the vibration where those harmonies exist. In that harmony, the writer writes and all is right in the world. Thank you, Johann Sebastian Bach.”
From Mark, a painter: “The whole painting process is pretty ceremonial and ritualistic. The laying out of the palette. The choosing of brushes. Then, at the end, the cleaning up. But I include a special ceremony. I look at art first thing. I’m interested in the whole history of painting, in all of it. I spend maybe 15 or 20 minutes looking at art books before I begin to paint. It isn’t that I want to be influenced by what I see or that I’m looking for ideas. It’s really two different things. One, I want to commune with my traditions. The other is that it excites me. That ceremonial 20 minutes provides me with a sense of community and also an adrenalin rush!”
From Marianne, a writer: “I live in an old-world city with lots of cafés (and, yes, many Starbucks too). I could probably make a ceremony out of going to a particular café each morning to write but I’ve found that my preference is to begin each day by thoughtfully deciding on which café I want to frequent. I go downstairs into the courtyard, open the heavy door to the street, and stand there a moment, feeling the early morning life of the city, feeling grateful that I get to write, and mindfully deciding which café will be today’s café. Then I stride out right or left.”
From Robert, an orchestra musician: “Handling the violin is a ceremonial kind of thing for an orchestra musician. The way you take it out, the way you touch it, the feel of the varnish, the feel of the bow, the way you return it to its case, everything about the experience feels ceremonial—unless you’ve lost your love for playing. If you just have to crank out another rehearsal or another performance then nothing about it feels ceremonial or special. So, love and ceremony must be connected somehow. If you love something, you almost automatically add ceremony to it. If you don’t love something, or if you stop loving something, the magic vanishes and with it the feeling and the desire for ceremony.”
Indeed, love and ceremony feel connected. Likewise, majesty and grandeur. But also connected are humbleness and the glory of small gestures. Both crowning a queen and picking a flower for your first girlfriend have ceremonial resonance. The power of weddings, funerals, coronations, and inaugurations, but also the power of everyday moments like bringing out the birthday cake, singing happy birthday, and blowing out the candles comes in large measure from their ceremonial nature.
Without that sense of ceremony and without those actual ceremonial acts, those experiences would feel much emptier and more ordinary. The same with your daily practice. It may take a bit of a switch in mindset to begin to add the ceremonial to your daily life and to your daily practice, maybe even quite a bit of a switch. Maybe you’ll have to try out a variety of things before you land on anything that actually feels ceremonial. But it will prove worth it to make that effort. A daily practice without a sense of ceremony about it is a duller affair—and one that’s harder to maintain over time.
In this series, I intend to explain the elements of daily practice, the varieties of daily practice available to you, and what to do to deal with the challenges to daily practice that inevitably arise. If you’d like to learn more about the psychological and practical benefits of daily practice and better understand the great power of daily practice, I invite you to get acquainted with my book, The Power of Daily Practice.
This post was previously published on Psychologytoday.com.
If you believe in the work we are doing here at The Good Men Project and want a deeper connection with our community, please join us as a Premium Member today.
Premium Members get to view The Good Men Project with NO ADS. Need more info? A complete list of benefits is here.
Photo credit: Shutterstock