Personal Rituals

Last week, my family made our annual trek up the canyon to a small grove of bristlecone pine trees clinging to the edge of a cliff. That cliff overlooks the beautiful Virgin River Valley, including the Zion Narrows, in Southwestern Utah. Bristlecone pines are amazing trees, thousands of years old, gnarled and warped, appearing half-dead, withstanding the high altitude, wind, ice, and extreme temperatures. I can’t help but have a profound respect for these trees who keep persisting, keep living, keep watching up on these cliff tops.

As we approach the grove, it’s a ritual of ours to take a private inventory of our hopes and intentions for the year. We record our thoughts, prayers, and dreams, and then we turn them over to these strong, old-soul trees to carry our wishes through tough times. This picture is of me, sitting up in a large matriarch tree, giving over my wishes to her. This annual tradition got me thinking about rituals we do as individuals, couples, friends, and families.

In my mind, a ritual differs from a tradition in that it contains some level of ceremony, even if it’s a small amount. A ritual is an action that is somewhat meaningless in itself, but when wrapped in intention this common action takes on special meaning that has the ability to change us and our perception of reality. There may be nothing supernatural about it, but it provides us with the opportunity to make a change in our thinking and alter our reality.

I know many of you have religious rituals. Temple attendance, baptisms, weddings, the sacrament, fasting. These are rituals that have been handed down to us in our religious tradition we were born into or adopted as we converted. What I’m curious about are other rituals you perform outside of those prescribed by religion. Ones that were invented by you, your family, your friends. The little intimate rituals that come from our practice as believing beings, as social beings, as people who like to attach meaning to our actions and visibly show what we feel inside and commit ourselves to something better.

For instance, have you ever let a balloon go up into the sky, watching it lift away a burden or care that had been weighing you down? Have you ever lit a candle when a loved one was struggling? Worn a ring or bracelet as a reminder of a promise you made, or your dedication to a cause? Grown a rose bush in someones memory? Made an annual pilgrimage to a cemetery? Said a poem that connects you to an experience or individual? Retreated regularly into a special spot in the wilderness to pray? Are there ritual words you exchange with the one you love that signify a renewal of your love, be it once a day, a year, or every 10 years?


Alisa is a professional adult educator and corporate manager who enjoys spending time with her husband and son.

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13 Responses

  1. Deborah says:

    What a lovely question for Rosh Hashana.

    One of the things I loved about visiting the nuns for those two years was the ritual that guided their lives, and my chance to be an interloper here and there, to join in for vespers, or the Rosary, or the daily readings. I understand why ritualistic life has its appeal, anchoring oneself in meaningful routines. I think about that as a teacher a lot — it’s why I do morning meeting and say individual goodbyes as they leave for the day. One ritual that means a lot to my marriage is the morning cup of tea before we both leave for work and dinner together. Two more anchor points.

  2. Caroline says:

    I love these ideas, Alisa. Reading them has made me realize that I am singularly lacking personal rituals. Other than the blessing I designed for my daughter, which involved women offering a bead and sharing a story or thought that has been meaningful to them (an idea I got from you. :)), I haven’t done much with ritual. I need to do better.

  3. Corktree says:

    Yeah, I wish we had more of this in my family. I’m going to change that. I love what you do with the pine trees. Rituals that involve nature really appeal to me, and this seems like such a great opportunity to connect as a family and provide time for it in the future, even if it feels a bit forced at first. You’ve inspired me.

    And it’s funny that you mention Rosh Hashana, Deborah. I was *just* wondering what day Yom Kippur fell on this year, and when I checked google, I was reminded that I had wanted to start celebrating some Jewish holidays with the kids. Perfect timing!

  4. Marjorie Conder says:

    I have long felt the need for a personal LDS liturgical calendar. I have created all sorts of celebratory events, always with heavy Mormon content, including Passover and Feast of Tabernacles. Some of these, especially Feast of Tabernacles are still evolving. Here is our oldest (about 16 years now) and shortest to explain example.

    I have felt blessed that all of our children married into families who celebrate Christmas Day so we get Christmas Eve. We start our ritual celebration as soon as it is dark, about 5:30, so we can get everyone home as early as possible. Our long tables are set end to end for a sit-down dinner with every candle we can round up ready to be lit. (As a safety note we have a paper cup filled with baking soda at each place and we have no other flammables on the table. We also long ago gave up a tree to reduce the fire hazard and conserve space for this event—but we do look quite festive.) We start in a totally dark room with a daughter-in-law leading out in singing O Come All Ye Faithful, and then other Jesus Christmas songs. Two grandchildren, who had been designated as candle bearers, each get their candles lit from me and proceed down each side of the tables handing the candles to the seated people who light the candles in front of them and then the candles are handed back to the candle kids who hand them to the next person. Periodically there are scriptures read about Jesus as the Life and Light of the world. We keep singing, reading and lighting candles until the whole room is full of light. We end with singing Joy to the World, which everyone in our family now knows is a Millennial song. We then have the blessing and eat. I always feel it is magical and certainly keeps the evening focused on Christ. Year after year, eyes are wide and hearts are touched as we celebrate Christ as the Light of the World at Christmas. For me (and I hope others) it is always a favorite, celebratory, Holy Night!

    • Alisa says:

      I love this description of your family’s ritual. It really resonates with me. I feel Christmas Eve is a wonderful time to focus on the spiritual significance of the holiday. And I had never thought of Joy to the World as a Millennial song – that’s wonderful!

    • Ziff says:

      Wow, Marjorie, that is beautiful!

  5. suzann says:

    I love this picture of Alisa presenting her intentions in the Matriarch Tree, and I want to attend dinner on Christmas Eve at the Condor home.

    A book club that I belong to traveled to Turkey about 5 years ago. Before our journey we planned rituals for some of our experiences. We hiked Mt. Nimrut, (up at 2 am) in order to see the sun rise over looking the Euphrates River: beyond the river, Iran and Iraq. Our ritual was a peace song and dance for struggling and waring countries. Other morning hikers, from around the world, joined us in dancing and singing.

    On the banks of the Euphrates River, in the ruins of the ancient city Zeugma, we performed our sacred feminine ritual. During the ceremony, while standing in a circle, we took turns crowning the head of our friend to the left with a garland of flowers, or beads, or whatever creative crown brought for the occasion. As we each lovingly placed a garland on the head of a dear friend, we recognized and congratulated her for her particular gifts and talents.

  6. kmillecam says:

    My baby has had three surgeries so far. Every time he does, and we are waiting in the pre-op area, I find that I have 15-30 minutes to myself with him in his tiny hospital gown. I hold him, or I put my hands onto him with gentle pressure, so he knows I am with him. I tell him quietly that I know he is strong, and that he can heal and grow. I tell him that I trust his doctor, and that I have done everything I can to prepare him. I tell him he is my world, and that I will always do everything I can for him. I send calming energy to him and to the nurses and doctors around me. I breathe. I envision our interconnectedness. I bless my little E. I bless the people around us.

  7. Kelly Ann says:

    Alisa, Thank you for sharing. I think a lot of things I do change with time. I ride my bike a lot through the cemetery where my grandfather is buried to remember him. I go for hikes to be able to think in quiet when making a big decision. And for the past two years as I have really struggled with my faith, when I get out of the shower, I sit on the edge of the tub and pray. I live with a handful of housemates and this is the quietest place to reflect. You could call this a routine but I have felt more peace in the bathroom than other places. I hope that doesn’t seem weird.

  8. Ziff says:

    I really liked this post, Alisa, and I agree with Caroline that you make me think I should consider personal ritual more. Because I really don’t at all. I really like what you shared and the ones others have shared on the thread too.

  9. Rachel says:

    Rituals are really important to me. I try to always celebrate the seasons on Equinoxes and Solstices, usually by holding hands with friends and dancing around a fire while chanting each of our favorite things about the particular season, or by sharing a poem or song or blessing. Sometimes we have written down our wishes on seeds and planted them, or on pieces of paper we made into boats, and sailed away. I really love the idea of handing those things over to mother trees, and want to start following suit. My husband and I have started a ritual of singing the same songs to our babe in my womb, and reading her stories. I love the ritual of back to school blessings from my youth, and a tradition my family had on New Years to make predictions for each person, instead of resolutions, and many things besides. One more New Years traditions that felt really healing was to write down everything terrible that had happened to us (us now being a group of friends) during the year, and folding it into a paper airplane and flying into a fire. It was nice to watch it burn.

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