Growing up Hindu, I was surrounded by ritual. Everything we did had a spiritual undertone. In the morning, my grandfather would walk slowly out the back door with his little silver basket to collect flowers from the garden for the morning prayers. My grandmother would sweep out the prayer room in preparation, straighten up the pictures of our ancestors, the colorful pictures of the gods. I would help her remove dead flowers from the day before, put fresh oil in the lamps, twist cotton wool into wicks. Mornings were peaceful, quiet wakenings. On holy days, we would wake up even earlier, since we had to take oil baths, and those took a lot longer. We’d oil our hair and bodies, and then bathe. This was a necessary purification before participating in prayer.
Rice was a staple at lunchtime. Before anyone ate lunch or even served themselves, a little scoop was taken to the back patio and set out on a ledge for the crows. By feeding the crows, we fed our ancestors.
Before we ate our lunch or dinner, my dad or grandfather would always take a little bit of rice and put it outside the plate/banana leaf. An offering for the gods, aware that we received this food out of their benevolence.
Leaving home, we always said we would come back. It was a ritual phrase: I’m leaving, but I will be back again.
If we were not going to see our elders in a while, even if they were not related to us, but had a deep relationship with us, we would either bend down and touch their feet and then our foreheads, or do a full prostration in front of them and ask for their formal blessing before we left.
There are so many more, but my point is,there is a reason for ritual. It provides a framework for social structure, a guide for behaviors, a vehicle to spirituality. Not all rituals are good, some can be harmful, but for the most part, you are able to see, inherently, when something good can come of it. I didn’t realize how much I gained from it until I lived for decades without it.
In tossing aside all the rituals, I also discarded the means by which I could create a framework for living successfully in a foreign world, without my family. I did it, but I made a lot of bad decisions, because I didn’t have a way by which I could routinely get back to my core being, and be able to comfort my soul.
There is a peace that comes over you when you do the rituals that your people have done for millennia. There is a peace. And living without that peace did something to my soul. It started to die a little, while I searched for ways to fill that hole. I thought I had answers, I scoffed at the old ways of my family, the traditional ways, and filled it in ways that were unfulfilling. I didn’t realize what was happening until recently.
I introduced a small piece of ritual back into my life.
And my boyfriend was the catalyst.
My boyfriend. I have a deep relationship with this man. He is younger than me, he is from a different religion, a different background, a different upbringing. Ten years ago, I would not have looked at him twice. He is not my type in so many ways- physical, background, career aspirations. But there was something about him that drew me to him, almost two years ago. He asked me how my day was, and instead of the usual “Fine, how are you?” I said, completely out of character, “Better, now.” And he took a second look at me and said, “Interesting.”
You would never think, by giving him a quick glance that he is spiritual or thinks deeply about much at all. But he has brought me an awareness of what I had, took for granted, and tossed away as valueless. He has brought me a sense of respect for the soul in another human being, the impact that I have on that soul and mine by everything I do and say.
Two days ago, we started meditating together. Ten minutes on Sunday. Fifteen minutes today. And that small portion of time, carved out of my self-generated deadlines and activities, was enough to ground me in small decisions. Small, but powerful decisions. I won’t know the effect of them for a while, but as my boyfriend said, “You may think they are small, but you will look back on this one day and realize how powerful those small events were, and how they changed your life.”
He has brought spirituality back into my life by showing me how to meditate and connect with my soul. This man, born halfway across the world, has shown me that my roots and heritage have value, have worth, and that I had everything I needed, all along, within me.
And as I write this, I realize that my response to him, almost two years ago, was prophetic.
My life, because I met him, truly is better.