Rituals and why they’re so important in times of increased anxiety
Those of us who witnessed the outpouring of grief last month following the death of Queen Elizabeth II, will no doubt have also been intrigued by the love that the English have of a queue.
Personally, I found it deeply moving and a total embodiment of the respect that she was so clearly held in. But my interest was also piqued when some television commentators asked if the queue was in fact a representation of a religious experience for those participating in it. In truth, I think that may have been overstating it a little, but I absolutely agree it was, and is, symbolic of something that is in fact happening quietly all over the world right now.
For context, we can agree that so much of what we knew and trusted, the beliefs we shared and the things we took for granted, have slowly been eradicated in recent years. In their place, we’ve inherited deep uncertainty and worry. We have learned that in order to avoid disappointment, we are most likely better off to simply expect the worst. Whether it’s the financial crisis, the war in Europe or the omnipresent Covid virus we now know one thing for sure and that is that we know nothing for sure.
Things we thought a few years ago (think lockdown) were far-fetched and impossible have proven themselves to be part of our current living reality. Everything has changed leaving us all a little shell-shocked and clambering for some security in a world that has none. To my mind, the Queen’s queue in London captured that. It provided people with a much-needed ritual, through which they could express their sadness, their worries, and their greatest fears in a changing world and they could do it safely in commune with hundreds of thousands of others. It gave them the opportunity to be part of something greater than themselves, to be seen to give while also being aware of all that they could receive in return.
WHAT IS A RITUAL? WHY ARE THEY SO IMPORTANT?
The dictionary defines a ritual as ‘a sequence of activities involving gestures, words, actions, or objects, performed according to a set sequence’. When investigated further it tells us that ‘collective rituals require coordination. When people come together to perform a group ceremony, they may dress alike, move in synchrony or chant in unison. And by acting as one, they feel as one,’ which I believe is the real appeal in collective rituals.
Rituals are important because they empower us both individually and collectively. They can really help us come through challenging times and assist in creating better habits teaching us how to evolve, to learn, to receive and to connect to ourselves as well as to others. More than this, they also provide deep meaning when facing difficult times and simply make those tough experiences tolerable and memorable. Put simply, they can help us make sense of the unfathomable.
RITUALS PROVIDE CONNECTION
Rituals make us feel safe. So, it’s no surprise that in times of increased anxiety we turn to them. They feel familiar, they provide certainty and they offer us security and not just in sad times. Weddings, celebrations, graduations, anniversaries, coming of age, date nights, the pre-match minute silence are all traditions and rituals that are designed to ensure that we feel secure in their repetition. Of course, rituals conjure up images of religion; and the idea of prayer, of chanting and of remembrance can undoubtedly offer reassurance at times of pain.
Having experienced a number of bereavements, I place huge value on the significance of ritual. From the practical organisation that needs to happen following someone’s death, to the planning of their funeral and burial; rituals provide a welcome distraction, as the reality of your loss sinks in. Not to mention the wonderful ways it provides for others to help you come through it – I’m thinking here of the endless supply of trays of sandwiches, fruit cakes and apple tarts that get dropped off in all Irish homes – that’s as much a part of the ritual as is saying ‘I’m sorry for your troubles!’.
When we come together collectively for a ritual it leads us to build more trust with one another. The shared experience and aligned empathy bring us closer together and that sense of belonging, being part of something, is what lies at the core of all community. Let’s face it, in a world full of ever-changing variables, we desperately need the constant that rituals provide. So, if joining a 12-hour queue is your jam then go for it; or if you’ve ever been at a Coldplay concert, and have experienced that feeling that comes with waving your lit-up phones in unison with a stadium full of people, then the chances are you know the true benefits of collective rituals.
Just be sure to find the ritual that feels right for you, the one that activates something deep inside you, that motivates you to express your worries and that provides you with real safety to feel whatever it is you are feeling. Let the ritual become the voice of your fear, let it protect you, validate you and nourish you. Let it make you feel safe and know that, no matter how hard things get, we are all in this together.
Niamh Ennis is Ireland’s leading change and transformation coach and author of Get Unstuck. Through her private practice, writings, programmes, workshops and podcast, Niamh has inspired, activated and helped thousands of people to make significant changes in their lives. She is an accredited Personal, Leadership and Executive Coach and the Lead Coach in the IMAGE Business Club. Follow her on Instagram @1niamhennis. Get Unstuck is available for pre-order now and released on November 11.
Photography by @theroyalfamily.