How To Take Care Of Yourself: Sustainable Female Rituals
Growing up, I associated rituals almost exclusively with religion. Rituals were performed during festivals, or to commemorate auspicious personal occasions like a housewarming or buying a new car, and to mark rites of passage like coming of age, getting married, starting a family, and ultimately, death. Some rituals required a visit to a temple while others could be done at home. Many rituals required the presence of a priest, even if it was done at home.
Nearly all rituals called for strict adherence to rules that governed dress code, dietary restrictions, and requirements, and even who could or could not be in attendance. As such, Hindu rituals are as much about spirituality as they are about enforcing rigid hierarchies, social control, and the marginalization of certain segments of society. And besides, as a kid, I just found them excruciatingly boring and thought them to be a pointless waste of time.
Outside of the religious variety, when we are young, the rituals are simple: getting your height marked against a wall, getting your shots, starting each school year, etc. But as we get older, the opportunity for such rituals become fewer and farther between. We look to external markers of progress like promotions and material success, but we need some personal grown-up equivalent to starting the school year or marking off your height where we can pause, take stock, and renew our efforts towards our personal growth.
As I’ve said before #selfcare is just a hollow commodity if it’s not part of a regular practice. Rituals can help to cultivate a sustainable self-care habit by pinning the practice to an external trigger that repeats, like a particular day of the week, fortnight, month, or season. By construction, rituals offer us an opportunity to reflect on what has changed and what has stayed the same since the previous time and realign our attention with our intentions.
Personal Rituals Calendar For Sustainable Self-Care
The timing of your personal ritual does not have to obey a calendar that isn’t yours. That doesn’t mean you ignore the days of the week or forget when bills are due! For instance: I always think of our anniversary as being the last Sunday in February, because that’s when we went on our first date in 2011. We maintain some yearly awareness of the first but don’t really keep track of the rest. We’ll be reminded of our anniversary by parents and friends, but in my mind, our real anniversary commemorates a day that’s important to just the two of us.
This also frees you to combine your own traditions or adopt new ones. You may decide to base it all off your period, or if you don’t have a period, you might refer to the lunar cycle. You can “borrow” festivals that are local to where you are, even if they are not necessarily from your own tradition; I’ve yet to have someone accuse me of appropriating Halloween!
A Framework Of Personal Rituals: Ways To Take Care Of Yourself
I thought hard about the practices I would want to include as non-negotiable in a personal ritual and I share them here simply to provide an example. My framework for a personal ritual has three main steps.
- Cleansing And Closing
This doesn’t require cleaning the whole house or embarking on the KonMari method. Anything from cutting your toenails to clearing up the floordrobe can count! What makes it meaningful is just the awareness that you’re physically removing some accumulation of personal decay or waste.
- Internal Inventory
This step requires some care and is probably aided by paper and pen. The goal is not to judge or compare, but simply to observe how you feel about different aspects of your own life. What fears might be weighing heavily? What desires are calling for your attention? (If it’s donuts, it’s donuts. No judgment!) What small embarrassments do you wish you could erase from memory? What things do you have simmering in your stockpot of rage?
- Transitions And Transformations
Remind yourself that everything is transitory and constantly changing, both within you and out in the world. We wish there were easy ways to get to major transformations or breakthroughs, but radical shifts in lifestyle are rarely sustainable. On the other hand, small changes can lead to bigger transformations over time. Try asking yourself where you can align things for greater ease: what tweaks in your daily routine might save some time or give you more energy? Are there people you haven’t connected within a while that you might want to reach out to? If you were a stream flowing towards the ocean, where are the crevices that might accommodate you?
Falling Leaves Return To Their Roots: Embracing Endings + Beginnings
I did a foot-mask at home and thought about how I get these ugly calluses from strappy summer sandals and flip-flops, and it was the cleaning step of a ritual to transition into fall weather and cute boots. The mask made my feet peel, which was a bit gross, but it felt like a deep metaphor at the same time.
To remind myself to do this every year, I will add reminders in my calendar for every first new moon in September. This is now my new ritual to let go of summer and prepare for fall. For me, this is the perfect time to get ahead of midterms, fall deadlines, and the onset of my seasonal depression. When I’m in the US, I have roughly two months until daylight savings ends and I know from experience that my productivity will fall with fewer daylight hours.
It may seem daunting to start your own ritual. But just fully channel your inner Goddess for all of ten seconds and you’ll wonder, why not you? Whatever festivals we have now are tainted by patriarchy and/or consumerism and/or some other dogma. Surely there’s a case to be made for new ones?
Using festivals, important birthdays, and anniversaries as the cornerstones of my calendar is not something I do out of religiosity or any sense of obligation to anyone. I may not feel like socializing or celebrating the events in a big way, but it can still serve as an external trigger for me to reflect and reassess. I choose to give the festival or holiday meaning through my words and actions. I do it to remind myself that even if I’m not celebrating big milestones, even if I’m struggling and failing and feeling inadequate, jealous, or even petty, I still get to align my efforts and try again. Falling leaves return to their roots; the tree is still growing.
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