Should there be more rituals?


My friend who runs a humanist group asked this question after reading this essay.

My answer to more rituals is yes - please - more.

I am not a religious person. I am a Humanist, but rituals help us connect to others and to validate that something important just happened that should be noted.  These rituals don't need to be fancy. They just have to stop us in the moment so we can be present for a moment. Together.

I visited a Hindi temple near my home to check it out.  I watched as the priests did an endless series of car blessings. When someone gets a new car - they go to the temple and bring with them a bunch of fruit and flowers and a coconut. The priest has them drive over limes, breaks a coconut in front of the car, sprinkles seeds and flowers and stuff over the car and paints a symbol on the hood. I asked the priest the meaning of the coconut - he said - it looks good. It's purely cosmetic. It has no significance - it's just part of the ritual.   I am sure there is nothing of significance really of driving over limes either - except that they smell nice and won't harm your car - but you could rationalize that it is to acknowledge that you will occasionally drive over rough roads and we, collectively hope, the car will be up to the task.

I watched this and thought, yeah - when you get a new car or a new job or a new apartment - you do want to celebrate it. You want and more importantly need to have that milestone be acknowledged as special - because it is special. Having a stranger acknowledge your special whatever actually feels really good.

When I lived in Hawaii - if something special happens, your friends give you a lei or two. And everywhere you go - people ask what the special occasion is.  The lei shows people, everyone, that someone cares about you and there is something special about. You end up spending your day having random people you meet throughout the day celebrating with you whatever little victory occurred in your life. And it's wonderful to have people notice you and acknowledge that you are indeed exist and had something important happen.   The wearing of a lei is an open invitation for people to talk to you. Strangers can talk to you when you are wearing a lei. They do so because they want to share in the joy and love and connectedness that the lei provides as a ritual. 

And that is really what ritual is about. It's about creating a connection. Between us and the people we care about. Between us and random strangers. Feeling connected feels wonderful. 

We absolutely need this in our lives. It helps us feel connected to have strangers acknowledge not only us - but our successes and failures, or those times we are mourning. 

My friend Jody and I once discussed the need for secular rituals. Like placebo rituals.  For when you are nervous about an upcoming test - do a totally secular placebo ritual to help calm your nerves. Why not.

I fully would like to have Humanist community centers, you could go and get a special ritual to celebrate your new car or to help you release stress for an upcoming interview or test. These would be totally secular celebration with meaningless rituals that aren't actually meaningless, they are symbolic by virtual of it being a ritual.

So yes - we need this.  What sorts of secular placebo rituals would you benefit from? 

PS - - as I was setting up this post - I realized that ritual and spi-ritual contain a common root. That's interesting. 

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