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A New Daily Ritual

Every morning, some days even before our multiple rounds of morning tea (or coffee) were yet to be completed as we sat by the pool overlooking the vast lake, she would arrive. Her smiling, glowing, full-of-life greeting was always the same – “Namaste, Sir. Namaste, Madam”. She would be decked with gold jewelry as if she was ready to attend an Indian wedding. This ritual became part of every single one of our ten days in Kerala.

She was the housekeeper who took care of the entire span of the five bedroom home that we were staying in. After her welcome greeting, she would immediately start her work. Broom in hand, she would start her slow back and forth walk. First, in all the common areas and all the walkways. Then, when we were at breakfast or at lunch, she and her helpers would take care of the bedrooms and attached bathrooms. Every time I saw her, she was working, focused on her task at hand, standing tall, head slightly bowed, radiating pride. If she ever took a break, I did not see it.

Adherence to Ritual

Now that I have been back for almost two weeks, my sleep cycle has mostly reset itself. Except when it isn’t. I was awake at 1am last night, and decided to pull the “Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda (Vol. 1)” from my go-to stack of books. Randomly opening the book, I found myself in the midst of the essay on “Karma Yoga” (Science of Work) titled “We help ourselves, not the world”. It happens to be one of my favorites because it includes the following quote:

This world is like a dog’s curly tail, and people have been striving to straighten it out for hundreds of years; but when they let it go, it has ruled up again. How could it be otherwise? One has to know how to work with attachment, then one will not be a fanatic. If there were no fanaticism in the world, it would make much more progress than it does now.When we have avoided fanaticism, then alone will we work well.

It often comes to pass that we so fervently believe in our path, our vision, our righteousness, our desire to do good that we may unwittingly take on the traits of working like fanatics. Our work-ritual becomes our refuge, our excuse to become so hyper-focused on our goal that we lose sight of detachment and the real purpose of our life’s work. We think that our single-minded devotion to our cause is doing good to the world. But is it really so?

Ritual and Philosophy

At the beginning of the same essay, Vivekananda posits that there are three components of every religion: philosophy, mythology and ritual. Philosophy forms the essence; mythology explains and illustrates through legendary lives of great men and women; and ritual gives to that philosophy a concrete form so that every one may relate to it. Ritual is in fact concretized philosophy.

Ritual leads to symbols, to language, to communication and connection. In its pure state, it is in fact the seed bed of the science of work. In addition, the connection between word and thought often occurs through symbols. When I offer a greeting to you with folded hands and a radiant smile, my whole being assumes the symbology of love. The energy transfer in this ritual needs no scientific proof – try it and experience the goodness that it creates for the world, and more importantly, within you.

The Ritual of Hope

Her name was Asha. It simply means, Hope. On my last day at the lake house, I engaged her in a bit of conversation. A high-school graduate, married to Shenoy, mother of two kids – a boy aged eight and a girl aged six. She worked because she wanted to help supplement her husband’s income, so that they could save up enough to send their boy and girl to college. Her philosophy in life seemed to reflect her simplicity. “Do the work that is assigned to you with joy”.

Every time I think of her approach and attitude to her work, I draw hope from her daily ritual. She seemed to model Vivekananda’s suggestion for us regarding work:

It is the level-headed person, the calm person, of good judgement and cool nerves, of good sympathy and love, who does good work and thus good to themselves.

Thank you, Asha. I am going to adopt your attitude to work. And if you will allow me, I also plan to adopt your family – not to help you, but to you help myself. For you reminded me of the power of joy in work, and making work play.

Playing with Ritual

And as I played with this topic, it dawned on me that ritual is embedded in spi(ritual)ity. It may seem like wordplay, but maybe there’s more to it. There’s more. Ritual begins with ‘ritu’, which means season, i.e. in every new season, we can adopt a new set of actions, create new rituals. A further reduction leads us to ‘rit’, which reminds me of ‘writ’ and the Sanskrit ‘reet’ – which means code (of ethics), tradition, and yes, concretized philosophy. Finally, there is ‘ri’ – which is the root word for ‘rishi’ – those who follow the path of goodness and become illumined.

So much for science, eh? Sometimes it just gets in the way of play. Maybe we will just rebrand ritual as #workscience. What do you say? Who’s with me?

Kumud @AjmaniK

P.S. Join us in our weekly conversation on twitter with the #spiritchat community. Sunday, January 20 at 9amET / 730pm India. We will talk about the role of ritual(s) in our lives. Which ones did we inherit? Which ones serve us well? Which ones do we need to walk away from? How do our ritual(s) help us on the spiritual path? Does science understand the effect that ritual(s) have on our emotional and spiritual well-being? So many questions. Come share – in the ritual that has become an integral part of my well-being. Namaste – Kumud.

Asha in Kerala
Asha – the Hope of Kumarakom, Kerala