Rituals are so ingrained in our personal and spiritual lives that we rarely stop to think about how they provide a sense of safety, security, or stability. But as the world continues to grow more chaotic each day by its sheer size and complexity, these rituals may be just what we need to maintain balance in turbulent times.
The “daily rituals” is a book that discusses the importance of daily routines and how they can help us save. It talks about how these routines are important for our mental health, physical health, and spiritual well-being.
Primo Levi was astonished to see that a fellow prisoner would thoroughly wash his body every day while imprisoned at Auschwitz. The exercise felt futile to Levi: there was no one to satisfy with a fresher appearance, and the ritual did nothing to enhance health or hygiene without soap or clean water. As a result, the effort seemed to be “a pitiful repeat of an extinct ritual” — a waste of valuable energy that might have been better spent in a more relaxing moment of leisure.
Levi’s companion prisoner, on the other hand, indicated that he washed himself not for practical reasons, but as an act of defiance, an attempt to rise above his situation. “We must not become creatures,” he urged his companion, if the camp was “a big machine to turn us to beasts.” “We must push ourselves to preserve at least… the framework, the shape of civilisation.” Simply washing his face each day was a means for the prisoner to reassert his humanity, his belief that life would carry on after he was released, and that he would emerge with his dignity intact. “As an indicator of continued vitality, and required as an instrument of moral survival,” Levi concluded, the habit was “very important.”
Such is the salvific force of everyday rituals, which they wield even in less desperate circumstances.
Rituals convey us a message about who we are and what values we want to keep. A regular run reminds us of our innate power and endurance. A daily prayer serves as a reminder that we are both body and spirit.
“The worse the circumstances, the more vital it is to keep up your standards,” a young George Patton informed his wife when she questioned his insistence on dressing up for dinner every evening, despite the fact that they ate together in the relatively basic quarters of military barracks.