Autumn 2021 Soul Notes
This week, I returned to working face to face with some of my therapy clients. It’s been a plan long in the making. I’ve been trying to gauge what feels best for my clients, knowing that there is no one single answer to that question. And also trying to centre myself to craft a practice that allows me to flourish. Like many of us, I’ve learned a lot about myself in the last eighteen months. Working solely from home means I’m more in tune with my natural rhythms and energy. I know when I’m at my brightest and my deepest – when I need to move my body and when I need to be still – when I’m good company and when solitude is my nourishment. I’ve developed practices and rituals to honour the rhythms. The challenge now is how to expand my practice to include more travel and people contact, and continue to stay in tune with myself.
I’m incredibly privileged in that I have a life and work that means I can structure my days as I choose. But sometimes I forget that. There’s a resident disbelief in me that still wants me on a strict regular schedule that starts early and finishes late. An in-built working class clocking-in machine, honed by the six minute billing schedule of a lawyer’s life. In the early days of my practice, this led me to schedule my clients back to back every hour without breaks. It helped me feel like I was “working hard” and being useful, when in fact, I was creating the same pattern of depletion that was so familiar; no time to think, to replenish, to take care of myself. This conditioning is powerful and needs to be undone every single day. I need to constantly remind myself that I am the architect of my time and wrestle with my inner ancestors who frown upon such indulgent notions.
I’ve found that certain rituals help me to challenge the factory grandfathers and act in my own best interest. The Oxford English Dictionary defines a ritual as “a prescribed order of performing religious or other devotional service”. It sounds grandiose but I like to apply this to my humble routines, made sacred by daily devotion. I wake at the same time each day and I journal. Then I walk. After which I drink coffee out of the same cup, sitting in the same place. These three rituals ground me in my mind, heart and belly so that I’m fully home as I go out to meet my clients in their worlds through the day. I used to think that this work was about being a blank canvas on which my clients could land, but I’ve learned that I need to be present to myself and to my responses to be able to support any client to be home for themselves.
Dancer and choreographer, Twyla Tharp writes: “Turning something into a ritual eliminates the question, Why am I doing this?” which in turn, makes it more likely to happen. What makes each of these acts a ritual for me, aside from the daily repetition, is that I’m completely undistracted whilst I’m doing them. These are rare moments when my phone doesn’t tug me away because I’ve set my intention to the journaling or walking or coffee and there’s a remarkable freedom in that space of nowness. Starting my day in this way both reminds me of my own autonomy and attunes me to what I might need through the day. It also gets me started on a contemplative and intentional path so that whatever comes next is infused by that energy.
Taking regular breaks has become a new ritual whilst working at home. A break being a moment where I sit with myself and do whatever is needed – sometimes, just sit; at other times, stretch or dance, drink water, stare out of the window or play with the dog. I feel the perversion of having to make a ritual out of something so natural – the pull of productivity (and the addictive phone) looming large – but I now delight in the mundanity and sheer pleasure of this “devotional service”.
Thanks to this particular ritual, I remembered dance in my body – as in, I literally found the dance in my members once I stayed long enough to register it. I’d find myself swaying, or swirling and humming tunes that I’d danced to many moons ago. Which brings us to salsa. A new ritual that takes me to dance class once a week and is pure joy. The music. The steps. The rhythm. The physicality. All waking up dormant energies and reminding me of the range of my body.
Maria Popova (brainpickings.com) writes this as she draws a distinction between routine and ritual:
“…while routine aims to make the chaos of everyday life more containable and controllable, ritual aims to imbue the mundane with an element of the magical. The structure of routine comforts us, and the specialness of ritual vitalizes us…”
So what rituals sustain you? What magic do you imbue the mundane with? What vitalizes you day to day? I’d love to hear.