Creating and Altering Rituals
Remember the world is fragmented, and we are too. Instead of thinking of ourselves as one single unified self, we are trying to discover through self-reflection, we could think of ourselves as complex assortments of emotions, desires and traits that often pull us in different and contradictory ways. Suppose you have been having a conflict with your spouse. The problem between two of you may not be that your personalities are incompatible. It may be that your communication has fallen into a pattern. You are stuck in your roles and so is your spouse. Neither of you feels good about this but you can’t see any way out. Remember your spouse is not static or unchanging. Your spouse is a complex, multifaceted person. Think through what you can say to elicit other sides of your spouse and then behave “as-if” you are speaking to those sides of your spouse. How could you alter the things you say or the tone of your voice to appeal to your spouse other side?
Like the above “as-if” roles play, a Confucian approach would be to note the patterns and work actively to shift them. Over time, you internalize a more constructive way of acting instead of being led by undisciplined emotional reactions. Little by little you develop parts of yourself you never knew existed and become a better person.
Our patterned behaviours and rote habits, not rituals, are what really dictate our lives and get in the way of caring for other people. But through doing “as-if” rituals that break these patterns, we gain the ability to be good ton those around us. This is “ren”, or a sensibility of goodness.
Creating rituals just for ourselves can help alleviate grief and make us feel less out of control, which could help now when the world seems so uncertain. If you can design a ritual that is meaningful, that it touches your heart or brings someone to mind or gives you a sense of your own purpose, all the better. Look beyond formalized rituals to everyday opportunities to share positive emotions and a sense of solidarity from a distance.
“I love you”, one of the most common phrase people in intimate relationships construct new realities with. Couples who are in the habit of saying this probably do not feel loving every second of the day. They certainly have a variety of complicated feelings towards their partner from time to time. But there is a greater good in nurturing the relationship through such rituals that let them break from reality and enter a space where it is “as if” they do love each other at every moment. At the moment when they express their love in an “as-if” way, they are really doing it. Saying “I love you” these “as-if” moments create moments of connection throughout the day that build up slowly but no less dramatically over time.