How to Ritual

Rituals reorganize, affirm, and codify the emotional detritus that accumulates in adult life, and Kate Carraway has some advice on how to manage yours.

by Kate Carraway; illustrated by Amanda Lanzone
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Feb 15 2019, 9:26pm

Hello, hi, this is the second-ever edition of Feel It, a column about feeling good and feeling better. So, something that’s essential to our shared pursuit of all that (because let’s do this together, okay? Let’s be all in, blood brothers, spit sisters, in agreement that life is hard and change is harder and we need each other, c’meeeeeeeeen) is rituals.

Rituals are basically a defrag for distracted, online, busy ponies like you and me (you be Rainbow Dash, because you’re fun; I’m Applejack, because I like control). Rituals reorganize, affirm, and codify the emotional detritus that accumulates in adult life: so much of self-help and self-care is ritual, and so much of our own undoing of the self is also ritualized. (I don’t know about y’all but my own self-destructives always follow the same narrow, tightly bowered path, set on fire by the white-hot-gold sparks flying off my toxic drive.)

RITUAL MADE REAL

I get the sense, now that everyone’s excavated their stuff in the Marie Kondo mode and knows the deep salve of an empty drawer (that sweet and easy corollary to a beginner’s mind!), that instead of wondering after the themes of their own tag-popping, consumerist abandon, and animal need, they’re… just going to fill it all back up with stuff? The Kondo ritual, probably strategically, doesn’t include any commandments about what not to buy.

Still, communicating with a faded t-shirt like you’re kidding but then falling into a maybe-genuine reverie about what it’s done for you, and thanking it, is ritual we need. I think this is why people like MK so much, other than her total-quotables like “I love mess!” (If I’m Applejack and you’re Rainbow Dash, Marie is Fluttershy.)

NEEDS

My own series of rituals are all designed to unbundle what feels too real, to use whatever works since I don’t get “relief” from basically anything except swimming and screaming, to cool me out, to slow me down, to let me squiggle away just a bit from the anticipatory grief I’ve lived with ever since I blew out the candles on my eighteenth birthday (the origin story and first scene of my John Wick-esque dark-action franchise, but also really).

First thing I do when I wake up, other than micropanic about the very fact of awareness and existence (which I’ve managed down to just one or two seconds, maybe), is my gratitudes: five things I’m grateful for, and TWIST, they all have to be different. So it can’t be, like, “Simon,” who is My Mine, even though I really dig him, it has to be, like, “Simon taking out the garbage because without having to ask him or even tell him he understands how much touching used slime upsets my principessa sensibilities.”

Lots of my needs remain unaddressed by ritual. Remember what SZA told us: “I’ve paid enough of petty dues / I’ve had enough of shitty news.” Me too, SZA! Why isn’t there ritual that is anticipating and managing the particular “oof” of this moment of life? I’ve been working for ten years, where is it?

THE "MORNING ROUTINE”

The morning-routine industrial-complex will have you believe that there is such a thing. Before I started sharing my bed with a gigantic man and a dog, I woke up at 4:30, because I just did, and went through this ballet of meditation, visualization, intentions, incantations, lemon water, green tea, apple-cider vinegar, a Halloween-haul of vitamins, a cauldron of smoothie. I probably don’t remember half of the shit I was getting up to.

(Once upon a time I tweeted “I don't believe anyone's account of their morning routine if it doesn't include ‘forgot what I was doing and stood still for ten minutes’” and girl I’m still right.)

What the “morning routine” thing offers us is a vista of what’s possible. They’re so copyable, such an obvious way to two-step closer to the wizardry of your fave influencer, so able to accommodate a whole life's efforts toward making things good that 12 hours later you can be onto tacos and tequilas and the posse of lovable scumbags who will be your undoing.

The inverse of “Nothing good happens after midnight” or “two a.m. or “four in the morning” (this phrasing changes depending on who your friends are and what you infer from the word “partying”) is “Everything good happens before seven a.m.” A primary bummer for me is that every important agenda-item other than sex (because: late afternoon) is ideally performed in the same three-hour, just-up window, in that expansive, quiet, cool-blue blur-time: working out, working, writing, meditating, manifesting, reading, watching movies, talking cozy-cozy with coffees. And then super-ideally, there’s waking up in time to be on the beach or wherever to see and feel the sunrise, but what are we, fucking perfect?

SUNDAY MORNING, THOUGH

The lowest vibration on a Sunday is going to the gym. Like, how dare you spend your Sunday-morning time-bucks huffing off-gassing plastic mats or whatever and mass-produced orthorexic-fury fumes? I mean. In the morning?

“SKINCARE”

If there is one remaining common, shared ritual in secular and girl culture, it’s skincare. It’s the one thing we all do, all at once, passing, like rites, as tight bodies of received wisdom moving from one microgen to the next. So much solemnity, so many gestures, so much meaning made of jade rollers and Biologique Recherche Lotion P50, the ceremonial splashing of water and spreading of unguents and tapping of orbital bones. And, obvs, the reasons we have moved en masse to skincare-as-sacrament are the same reasons some people (the same people???) have moved toward wellness, more generally, which is some attempt at reclamation of the self, and particularly the body as totem, as beloved, as ours, as what says no, and what keeps the score. (If you get those last two refs, we are friends.)

If there is one remaining common, shared ritual in secular and girl culture, it’s skincare.

Anyway, I think my skin is basically good because of my lack of skin care: like, washing my face every other day-ish, and how, when I have good makeup after a dinner or event or whatever (“event”! Hahahahaahhhhh, adult life is so hideous), I try to sleep really delicately, principessaishly, so I can wear it around the next day, too. You know, I don’t exhaust the skin by cleaning it. I let it chill, like an unattended teen who reads theory alone instead of getting drunk with boys.

CIRCLES?

Okay so there is something called “circling” and based on some very light Instagram investigation I think this is rich-ish people getting together at the richest one’s house and sitting on fur throws, for sure there is tea (but this is, crucially, not an ayahuasca thing) and chic vegan food, and so far I guess I’m in, but then…. what? There’s a facilitator, fine, but like I’m sure my energy would clash with hers, and then there’s very likely a group agreement to use language like “Mother” or “Gaia” or “Force” pretty seriously, so, nope forever. Is this because I was raised by laconic boy wolves, and despite having a mom, two sisters, many besties, and Girl Island citizenship, I am fundamentally uncomfortable in groups of women, because there’s something about the collective-feminine-expectation that is like an invisible arm choking me out?

Anyweeeeeey: Stuff like this, that is obviously corny but makes other people happy, makes me feel so lost and small, a little peanut in purple overalls, like, I’ve never been able to drop down into the shared feeling-space of any kind of group ritual, including a seance I went to in high school thrown by my older sort-of friend/obsession/teen-dream, Andrea (what’s up, Andrea!), to yoga, where I completely fake it, to this couples massage I got in Mexico where I just cried because I was so uncomfortable and a drip-drop of snot fell from my nose through the face-cradle and onto the massage lady’s shoe. And, and! I once got free group therapy but was allowed to have usually-not-free individual therapy instead, because it was mutually determined that I was “past” the group, just dirt-biking in circles around those nerds and their dumb, slow problems.

FAKING IT

The self-care-ish rituals that I see my proxies cultivating the most are usually some collaboration between their existing habits, and something they’ve seen other people doing, and literal nothingness, and that’s dicey, right? Especially if thirty to eighty percent of the point of doing self-care is about, it seems, posting it somewhere. This is going to be journaling, detoxing, praying, something. The best/worst is this thing where bloggers tell you super-seriously they’re going to take a day off social media. Nothing evokes in me a stronger Holden Caulfield Response than that. How could it?

MEDITATION

Can we talk about this later? I mean definitely do it, it’s the only way to adequately process a life that is even five-percent online, but I kind of feel like my friends should stop asking me questions about how to meditate and then try it once and tell me they “can’t.” It’s so annoying!

DINNER

You guys: the dinner ritual is the worst! How is this the seat of social and family communion? Why are we eating this whole thing and then rolling onto our sides to watch Russian Doll on Netflix (which is a YES, btw) and then slithering into bed? Also! Who wants to start a whole project at like six or seven at night if it’s the kind of thing you’re supposed to clean up after? Dinner is a NO!

Also: post-work drinks? Are you for real? You want me to go somewhere and sit more, and take in more, when what’s called for physiologically and psychologically is obviously release? Unless the group fun thing at 5:05pm is a Polar Bear Plunge or a bonfire fed by decommissioned client files, count me out, please and thank you.

But then: when? This is why I am very “for” the pre-work/weekday friends breakfast, which I invented.

LIMINALITY

“Liminal” is a joke-word now, and yeah, it’s overused, and yeah, it’s about as strung-out as “dialectic” for the academia-lite that so much online language is leaning on, but it’s where we live, not just “in between” or “both” but always on the edge (and still taking up too much space). This is a terrible and stressful conceptualization but kind of cute if we think of ourselves as changelings, maybe, forever in between our selves and each other’s, mediated only by an idea of something.

But, that’s what ritual’s for: mediating people and groups via, LET’S SEE: makeup, dressing, social graces, food, words, parties, meetings, whatever-whatever, between realities and selves, achievements, failures, beginnings, ends, losses, days, years. Ritual is me writing this and you reading this and us being us-y, having this interstitial-existential tongue-touch and then parting maybe forever, unless we’re friends and you’re weird to me after because you egoically assume I’m talking about you. (I am! I’m not!)

Ritual, really, is just anything we do to make order, which is my fundamental issue with ritual, and any kind of formalism: what counts? Let’s say you do half the ritual and then stop. Let’s say you do the ritual sometimes, kind of whenever. Let’s say your materials are improvised: is it ritual if you use a picture of a crystal, or an idea of a crystal, instead of charged quartz? What if the quartz is fake but you don’t know that until you’ve already imbued it with your own magic, which is definitely real? What if your intentions are good? What if they’re pure? Can ritual be meaningless and also transcendent? Why do we associate it with the self and the group but not as a way of creating, or doing love, or getting loose?

But here is what I’m sure of: as the differentials in culture and meaning, and public and private, flatten or disappear—like, Kylie just threw a birthday party for her one-year-old that looked like the warehouse launch of a beauty brand owned by a disaffected billionaire; athleisure is workwear, exercise classes promise heavy emotional release, work email trills under satin pillowcases—even the attempt at ritualizing, or interrupting and interpreting as a way to live through the wildness and unwieldiness, is just kind of all we have.

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Follow Kate on Twitter @KateCarraway and on Instagram @KateCarraway.

This article originally appeared on VICE US.