Rituals can take many forms. One friend marks each New Year’s Day by going to a nearby reservoir, collecting stones and then throwing the stones into the water, one by one. Each stone represents an old habit or emotion — whose importance is determined by the size of the stone — she wants to let go of in the coming year. Another friend sits down and writes a letter to his father, who passed away many years before, to tell him all that happened in the previous year and all that he hopes for in the coming one.
But what makes ritual time different from ordinary time? According to John Davis of Naropa University, ritual consists of three stages. The first is an opening or leaving of the familiar world. “It may be as simple as sitting down together with the lights off and a candle burning, or it may involve going into a special place like a temple or sanctuary, but there should be some sign that this is a special time we’re creating,” he says.
The second stage is the ritual itself. “A ritual doesn’t need a lot of complicated choreography,” he says. “Everyone already has rituals; we need to find what we already do that has meaning beyond itself.” Davis says that some people experience a resistance to ritual, either because it’s unfamiliar territory or because of past ritual experience that seemed empty. “But it’s fine,” he says, “to feel uncomfortable or nervous and proceed anyway.”
The third element involves returning to familiar time and space. This can involve any act that brings a sense of closure and allows you to return to daily life, reflective and refreshed — singing a song, blowing out the candle, offering a final prayer.