There are two religions in my past in which ritual plays a major part: Roman Catholocism and Judaism. In each of them, I spent a certain amount of time a day devoted to rituals, that in hindsight, had no practical value other than bringing me joy and peace. Some of these rituals took place at a certain time, such as daily mass or the liturgy of the hours in Catholocism, or the waking blessing and washing of hands in Judaism. There were also rituals that happened throughout the day, usually in conjunction with other actions. When Catholic, I used to say the rosary to and from classes at college, or while falling asleep. When Jewish, I would offer blessings before certain actions throughout the day. There was also a time when I had no official relgion, but was very attracted to hinduism, that I repeated a mantra on prayer beads everywhere I went. And if I wasn’t engaged in a structured ritual, I was still always mindful of God as much as I could.

All these rituals did make me feel better in many ways. Repitition helped quiet and order my mind. And it was comforting to feel a part of a greater tradition and community of believers. And, I also believed the rituals actually benefitted or transformed me spiritually. And maybe even improved the world in some miraculous way.

Presently, I am an atheist. And since atheism is not a religion, I no longer have any ritualism in my life. Or so I thought.

A current pursuit of mine is that of trying to live frugally, efficiently, practically, and with as little negative impact on the environment. And in trying to do so, I realized, that I am most successful when I am engaged in what may be considered rituals. Or, at least, intentional mindfulness.

I am, by nature, have a very active and disorganized brain. (Just ask my wife) And to compensate, I have had a lifelong pursuit of trying to get more and more organized. And, in turn, and on good days, I can be very organized. So much that my boss recognized my abilities and made me a project manager at our firm. Kind of like James Earl Jones, who had (or has) a speech impediment, and worked so hard to overcome it that he eventually gained one of the most classic and impressive voices in entertainment.

One of the strongest methods for helping me stay organized is doing things slow and thinking about them. I used to dash in and out of my car, and quickly retrieved or returned certain things to and from my backpack. Or I would do things while walking, thinking multitasking is going to save me some time. And often, something would get forgotten. Now, when I get to the T-Station parking lot, I take my time, put my keys away in my backpack, retrieving my mp3 player, and put in the earplugs. Or, when I get to the store on the way home from work, I park and call my wife at home, then write down what I need to get while sitting in the car. I know this sounds minor, but it’s this taking things slowly and being mindful that has helped me a heck of a whole lot.

Mindfulness also helps in sustainability and nutrition as well. When I’m doing something, especially while in the kitchen or doing a chore, I’m always thinking, is there a way here that I can save resources or money? Can I re-use this boiling water or empty container? Is this really the healthiest way to prepare this food?

My former Rabbi taught me that when one prays, they should do so with kavanah, or, proper concentration. And mindfulness is also a big part of many of the eastern religions. So recently, I realized I was still striving for kavanah. But instead of focusing on and being mindful of a supreme deity, I was being mindful of my body, my community, the environment, and the earth. And like a religious ritual, it did bring me peace and joy. But it also actually accomplished something positive in the practical, material world.

So, can ritualism be a part of an atheist’s life. There is no question. And in my case, it does bring me peace. But more importantly, I know it’s making the world a better place.

Blogged with Flock