As I write this, here in the United Kingdom, we mark the one-year anniversary of the country entering into national lockdown for the very first time. For so many of us, this week marks the point where our daily routines changed in a way we could not have begun to imagine just a few weeks before.
The year past has been a year of learning how to make do with less. For those of us fortunate enough to live in a home we enjoy, the confinement will have been made considerably easier. But no matter how much we appreciate our homes, one year spent mostly confined to this single space has been enormously challenging. Without the stimulation of new sights and sounds, new experiences, and most of all, the life force we gain from the people in our lives, it becomes incredibly challenging to know where to draw energy or inspiration from. This lack of inspiration and ability to refill our depleted energy resources has an impact on every aspect of our wellbeing.
I recently received the monthly newsletter from renowned psychotherapist, author and speaker Esther Perel that served as a beautiful reminder of how in times when novelty is scarce and ways of recharging our energy are hard to come by, our routines and rituals can take on new significance. While not a perfect solution, or anything near an adequate substitute for the vibrancy and vitality available to us in the lives we used to lead, in unprecedented times such as these, our expectations of ourselves and others serve us better when we allow them to be flexible enough to accommodate for the reality we find ourselves in. It might not be reasonable to expect thriving, after one year of enduring little and large losses on an almost daily basis, but some form of soothing and comfort is nevertheless available in the small moments of pleasure we can still gain access to.
Esther Perel beautifully defines routines as those 'concrete repetitive actions' that help us to create 'continuity and order'. Rituals, for her, are routines that have been 'elevated by creativity, driven by intention, and imbued with meaning'. She explains that both rituals and routines help us infuse our sense of the passage of time with a 'grounding rhythm' that can have a 'reassuring, calming and stabilising effect'.
At a moment in time when our sense of its passage has been distorted to a point where days and months stretch and fold and curve like the motion of an accordion, little actions that are within our control can help to give our sense of time some much needed structure and can ultimately be our life raft.
Advising people to use objects to fill the hole that a lack of meaningful, varied and nourishing human connection leaves, always feels unbearably hollow to me. But at a time when there are so few pleasures to be savoured and most meaningful human contact has been prohibited, the objects in our lives can bring a comfort unlike ever before.
The feeling of slipping into laundered bedding on a Sunday evening, in preparation for a fresh start to the week, a Friday night bath with the soulful sound of a jazz trumpet echoing through the bathroom, or a comforting meal of fresh pasta served from our favourite bowl, can be the salve we need to get us through the week when there is so little else on offer.
Whether old or new, shiny or worn-in this has been the year that we have depended on the comfort of the objects in our homes, and the routines and rituals they facilitate, like never before.
“As we process this anniversary together, taking stock of our deep losses and perhaps surprising gains,” in her thoughtful and reflective email, Esther Perel invites us to take stock of the routines and rituals that have helped us through his challenging time “and the ones that will continue to create continuity, structure, and joy as we move ahead.”
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