When Ritual is Monotony

For whatever reason, I want to be a creature of habit.  I’ve always seemed to aspire to that ideal, trying to work some kind of task into my daily routine as a spiritual quest, or working out specific systems or routines for doing certain activities.  Perhaps it’s a psychological leftover from my childhood, from a family which seemed to glorify the steady march of regular routine.  Maybe it’s a cultural thing, as we seem to hold a great reverence for people who manage to succeed at such endeavors.  Daily meditation, regular workouts, never missing certain gatherings, a strict and unvaried diet…  There’s something appealing about these things.  Something many of us see as virtuous.

But in my own spiritual life, I often get into such systems and then find myself frustrated at my inability to execute without failure.  And eventually, much of the time, I find myself asking, “what the hell is the purpose of this, anyway?”

I find that my level of satisfaction with my life, especially in spiritual pursuits, is inversely proportional to the amount of effort I’m putting into being strictly disciplined.  As much as my subconscious thinks I would benefit from regular patterns, structured routines, checklists of purposeful actions executed with precision, it has never worked out that way.  Because to be successful at those things, I would have to be one hundred percent committed to declining opportunities which get in the way.  To be successful, you have to commit so much to that routine, that activity, that goal, that nothing else matters quite as much.

But those things I seek to ritualize are not the vital core of my spiritual practice.

I know people so devoted to a fitness goal or lifestyle that daily workouts easily routine.  The goal is so important to them that it’s easy to put the gym as their highest priority.  And we all have read of holy men and holy women who have given their lives to daily prayer or meditation or acts of consecration so demanding we can’t imagine it.  But their spiritual practice is the core and singular main focus of their lives, and as such it’s easier to place a great deal of importance on those acts of spiritual faith.

It’s not that my spiritual practice is not important to me or an important part of my life, but nothing about my spiritual practice requires such ritualized action.  Ritual for the sake of ritual is not, for me, particularly rewarding.

That’s something it’s taken me a long time to realize.

My natural state of being is not one of routine and ritual and repetition.  If I have to work so hard to inject those things in my life, it means I’m doing so because something outside myself has told me I should.

My spiritual practice is much more rewarding for me when I allow it flexibility.  When I allow questions and inspirations to lead me in different directions as they arise, and I don’t feel guilt over breaking some imposed ritual to make time for something new.  It’s when I can chase ideas and try new things that I feel most satisfied.

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