By Beate Trück.

Rituals are a beautiful way of giving depth and meaning to our life and creating a sense of belonging.

There are two ways to approach rituals: you can celebrate them always in the same way because this is how it has always been. It could be that you are just reproducing the Christmas rituals of your parents. It could even be that you find it extremely boring and meaningless.

Another way to approach rituals is to have a fresh look at them or to even invent your own! Rituals that match the context of your life and family and that provide you the feeling of connection and meaning. It could also be that you encounter a ritual that you would like to bring into your family or community of friends.

Last summer I have been with my family in Plum Village, a mindfulness center in the south of France, created by the famous Vietnamese buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh. The community of monks and nuns have many rituals which I have found helpful to bring mindfulness into my daily life.

For example, every time the big bell rings, everyone in the whole center stands still and connects to their breathing. At the beginning, it might feel strange to have a few hundred people standing still, like in this children’s game where you run and then at the sign of someone stand still in the posture you were just in. However, I have found it profoundly transforming to stand still a couple of times per day and simply connect to the breathing.

Another ritual at Plum Village is to share the meals in silence so that you can truly savour and appreciate the meal that has been prepared with lots of love by the sister nuns or brother monks. I have very much appreciated eating in silence with a group of people.

Beginning anew
The most beautiful ritual which I have taken along from Plum Village is the one called “Beginning anew”. Since last summer we try to practice it about once a month as a family and will certainly do at the beginning of the new year.

This is how it looks like.

To begin anew is to look deeply and honestly at ourselves, our past actions, speech and thoughts and to create a fresh beginning within ourselves and in our relationships with others.

One person speaks at a time without being interrupted. It is also a way of practicing speaking kindly. The others practice deep and compassionate listening. The ritual has 4 parts:

  1. Watering the flowers – This is a chance to share our appreciation for the other person. We may mention specific instances that the other person said or did something that we have admired. This is an opportunity to shine light on the other’s strengths and contributions to the family and to encourage the growth of his or her positive qualities.
  2. Sharing regrets – We may mention any unskillfulness in our actions, speech or thoughts that we have not yet had an opportunity to apologize for.
  3. Expressing a hurt – We may share how we felt hurt by an interaction of the other person, due to his or her actions, speech or thoughts.
  4. Sharing a long-term difficulty & asking for support– Sometimes we have difficulties and pain arising from our past and manifesting in the present. When we share an issue that we are dealing with we can let the people around us understand us better and offer the support that we really need.

Beginning Anew is a practice of recognition and appreciation of the positive elements within a family or community.

In our family, we have sometimes been surprised by the things that have been said in those moments. For example, my younger son said to his father, who does not like to cook: “I liked it when you cooked for me last week”.

This ritual has strengthened the connections between the individual family members and helped to voice difficulties we have had with each other in a safer environment. For example, I have experienced that talking calmly to my elder teenage son about how I had been hurt by his recent outburst was received with an open ear whereas in the moment he just would not care less.

To make it more concrete we have adapted the ritual a little and changed the 4th step into expressing an intention towards each other. For example, in the specific situation with my teenage son I started by 1. giving him a few compliments, then 2. apologised for shouting at him when he slammed the door, followed by 3. expressing my pain about his outburst and finally 4. pronounced the intention to not react immediately anymore when he is overwhelmed by his hormones.

Recognising others’ positive traits allows us to see our own good qualities as well. Along with these good traits, we each have areas of weakness, such as talking out of anger or being caught in misperceptions. When we practice “watering the flowers”, we support the development of good qualities in each other and at the same time we help to weaken the difficulties in the other person. As in a garden, when we “water the flowers” of loving kindness and compassion in each other, we also take energy away from the weeds of anger, jealousy and misperception.

We can practice Beginning Anew as often as we wish by expressing our appreciation for others and apologising right away when we do or say something that hurts them. We can politely let others know when we have been hurt as well. The health and happiness of the whole world depends on the harmony, peace and joy that exists in each of us.

May you be able to water your seeds of peace and happiness in 2017.