“Empathy is about finding echoes of another person in yourself.” ~Mohsin Hamid.
We all remember those special times of childhood. Whether it was the special feeling of waking up on a Christmas morning to the feel of a packed stocking at the foot of the bed, or the knowledge that your special day, your birthday, was here again, there was something magical about doing things the same way each year. Sundays were special in our house, a day when loud voices raised in anger were forbidden. There is no such thing as a Sunday off when your father is a minister (aka Parson, Preacher). I remember once being allowed to go on a beach trip on a Sunday. I am not sure how we pulled that off, but I was probably 17 and close to leaving home.
That comforting routine, those repetitive acts provide comfort in a scary, unpredictable world. Rituals and practices of home accompany migrants around the world, they carry habits of culture like an old blanket into the new life. And then you gravitate to that store in your neighborhood that carries those familiar items: that nutmeg with its own tiny grater; a newspaper from home; a certain utensil that your granny used to use, and you feel those vibes from home. And even as you strive to blend into the new culture, to adapt and fit in, you raise your kids in a bicultural (tricultural in some cases) atmosphere, trying to make sure they absorb the inherited traits along with those of the adopted country.
Many people have their own private rituals. We know that athletes have certain routines that they superstitiously do not deviate from. They must wear certain items of clothing, drive the exact same route, or say the same prayer to ensure success on the field. Nurses who work in the ER follow their own superstitions. At the end of a long shift they will leave the one empty stretcher unmade, so as not to send out an invite for one more patient! In nursing school we were taught that you should never make a bed with a sheet that had a diamond shaped crease in the center (due to poor folding) as for sure the patient in that bed would die.
Apparently there is something that makes human beings love rituals and expect certain outcomes, even when logic would deny the possibility. We love to believe in magic and predictions. A few weeks ago I wrote of the tradition that sleeping with a champagne cork under your pillow will lead to dreams of the man you will marry. There are many versions on that theme. I was reminded that I was supposed to place an egg white in water in a glass and place it outside before dawn, and the rising sun would form the egg white into a shape that predicted my future (if it looked like a ship, travel would be in my future). This was to be done on Easter Sunday morning. Unfortunately I could not complete that assignment as I was out of eggs!
But apparently there is science behind the comforts and outcomes of rituals. For those who grieve, it is the performance of the rituals associated with death that help to support the mourners through the loss. The ceremony of the funeral is both familiar yet unique for the family and friends. It helps us to know that others have gone through this same process, and that so will we! For others the rituals unlock self healing and hope, meditations and mantras bring assuredness of wellbeing.
I recently heard about an experiment that was done to see what were the specific benefits of performing a ritual on a group of strangers. The participants were taught a random sequence of acts (pouring water in a cup, placing 2 different value coins in the water in a particular sequence, with specific instructions as to which coin should be held in which hand). This process was taught in a group, not individually. In this study, they were not trying to see whether the ritualistic act affected performance, or made some prediction. But what they did next was to see how the act of performing this ritual together affected the group’s behavior towards each other. It turned out that those who performed the ritualistic act together were more likely to trust each other (by lending money) than trusting those who had not performed the ritual together. Even though they started out as total strangers.
Which makes it easier to understand were mistrust and suspicion of those who practice their rituals (e.g. Religion) differently from us. And yet we all practice rituals, whether based on strong religious convictions or nonsensical superstitions! Could it be that all we have to do to get world leaders to unite is to lock them in a room, and have them learn a ritual? This may be the solution to our current crazy games of brinksmanship and bluster!
On this Friday morning I am once more trying to post from my iPad instead of the comfort of my laptop, so I apologize for any typos! May your rituals bring you comfort, and may you find one stranger with whom to share a new and trust forming ritual with!
Have a wonderful weekend Family!