Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Routine or Ritual?

Most of my days as a stay-at-home writer have a predictable pattern, with most activities done at the same time: breakfast, meditation, reading, feeding the cat, checking email, exercising at the gym, etc....a boring routine, or so it sometimes seems.

Yet when I reflect on my completed day as I go to bed at night, I see that each has its own shape, depending on the people I have encountered, the material I have read, the music and news I have heard and, of course, the work I have done. I welcome most of the interruptions (phone calls, household duties) as part of the variety of the day, and I try to make even the most mind-numbing duties like brushing my teeth an opportunity for being in the present. I want to be fully aware of the uniqueness of each hour, even if what I am doing for much of that hour is a chore.

I would like to think, as Castiglione said in the Courtier (his 16th cent. book of advice for gentlemen), that our lives can become works of art.  This can be possible, depending on the attitude we have toward the seemingly endless duties that constitute a day.

I mean the structure and form--the very things that constitute beauty and art--which are built into every day; each day is unique and also a step toward an ordered existence, controlled as much as possible by me. And there is variation within the overall pattern that I have established for each day, enough variation so that each day becomes unique and does not lead to boredom, restlessness, and depression.

I want each day to count since I am always aware, at some level, of how few days there are. I must resist living for the future or dwelling in the past, as I did yesterday for a few hours as I looked at plans for my high school reunion and the faces of my fellow students from years ago.

It takes an effort of the will. And also a self-reminder that routine can be seen as ritual. I was reminded of this by a short piece by the novelist Jamie Quatro, who says, "there is joy in the rehearsal of the known, the familiar."

She's right: we need our rituals, public and private repetitions of the familiar. We live in a world that operates according to a ritual of sunrise and sunset, of seasons and hours, of work and rest and play.  Children, she says, love routine and tradition; it is a source of stability in a world of rapid change.

"And without ritual there can be no mystery--how can the unexpected enter into a life that is devoid of expectation? Ritual opens the door for revelation. We move through ritual and performance to access the Divine."

Quatro mentions the liturgy, presumably the Christian ritual that becomes so familiar that one can, ideally, move from the words and ceremony into something beyond the physical.

And it seems to me I can make each quiet, ordinary day in my writing life stand out not only as special but, because of its familiar pattern, a secure basis for creativity and beauty as I strive to bring some order to what might seem like a random series of boring duties.

Whether my life will become a true work of art remains to be seen, but each day can be seen as an effort to find order and beauty.

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