Life Hacks by Charles Assisi: The sublime value of the daily ritual
To ease the stress of lockdown, it will be vital to replace the bridge of little habits that marked the start and end of a day.Updated: Aug 23, 2020 13:36 IST
The last two weeks felt like they would never end. And the week that preceded them passed by in a blur. Two things are common to both experiences. First, whether it’s been a blur or a drag, when the day finally ends, it leaves me feeling fatigued — mainly because I don’t seem to have accomplished much despite having given it all I have. Second, the weekends don’t feel rejuvenating at all.
Which is why when my colleague Kavi Arasu asked, as is his wont, “How was your weekend?” during our Monday morning review call, something snapped.
“Lousy. Absolutely lousy,” I blurted out.
Kavi, who is a leadership coach as well, sounded unfazed and asked me to explain why I felt this way. A long rant followed. As I heard myself speak, I was alarmed. I thought, this isn’t me. I was the one who had it all figured out; the expert in scenario planning; the go-to guy when all else looked bleak; the man with answers or at least workarounds.
“Is something the matter with me?” I asked outright at the end of my rant. “Nothing is the matter with you,” Kavi replied. He went on to offer a perspective that hadn’t occurred to me before — a bridge has broken for many of us, and we have not yet found ways to rebuild it. Much of our day-to-day stress comes from this sense of no longer knowing what bank we’re on, or how to get across.
Until a few months ago, we had spaces we inhabited for different tasks. Children went to schools. Gyms were where we worked out at. Restaurants and cinema halls were spaces to unwind. We worked in designated buildings constructed for that purpose, amid others who had travelled there to work too.
To get to all of these places, we commuted. We cursed the traffic, dissed the trains, but most of us are only now beginning to realise how pivotal that part of our day was.The commute was the bridge between home and work, between personal and professional. It was a ritual, a means and an end in itself.
Even if it had been a lousy day, the return journey carried a sense of achievement and / or closure. It marked the completion of a phase; the closing of a tab, as it were.
The bridge was made up of rituals — the act of a walking a child to the school bus stop in the morning, the daily trek to a Metro station. We are all now feeling the absence of those rituals. By the time one got home, the mind had received the signal that it was time to unwind. Without our looking at the clock or the calendar, this was how we marked the passage of the days and weeks, until a few months ago.
Now, all our spaces have collapsed into one, and all our rituals have evaporated. Our days, nights and weeks fuse. Our markers of time have begun to erode.
Conversation with Kavi and others made it clear to me that it was time to carve out new rituals to replace the ones I’d lost, and to help me once again mark the passage of time.Here are three rituals I plan to try out:
Journaling every night: This gives one the space to reflect on all that has happened and been accomplished, and can bring a sense of closure to the day as well.
‘Dark hours’: On weekdays, past a certain hour, there are to be no work-related calls to colleagues, and Sundays are off-limits entirely. This will help mark the passing of each day, and open the weekends up again.
Decluttering every weekend: I plan to clear my work desk of all clutter, clean my home office and erase junk from my laptop over the weekend. This will help mark the end of the week and signal to the mind a new beginning.
How well these rituals work it will take a while to tell. For now, I draw comfort from the words of the author Susan Cain, who wrote, “We all do regrettable things as a result of our own circumstances, and new rituals are frequently invented in response to new circumstances.”
The writer is co-founder at Founding Fuel & co-author of The Aadhaar Effect