The Fresh Start of Small Rituals

Beautiful TelephoneWhen the phone rings, it can seem like one more thing you suddenly have to juggle, along with everything else on your plate. But if you’re going to answer the call, the phone can also be a great chance to stop and give yourself a momentary break from the crush and rush of the day.

Because you don’t actually have to rush to answer the phone as soon as it rings. Even in the middle of a frenetic day, seconds don’t count. You can stop and listen to the phone ring two or three times, and pick it up on the 3rd or 4th ring. Let your attention rest on the sound of the ring, or if it’s your cell phone on vibrate in your pocket, feel the vibration. Let your attention rest on your sense of hearing or your sense of touch for those few rings. Let your vapour trail of preoccupation dissipate, and then pick up the phone and meet the person on the other end with a fresh start.

Even a few seconds spent stopping to just listen to the phone ring, can be surprisingly refreshing. Take a deep breath too. Maybe you’ll go for a run or get to yoga at the end of the day, but this is a moment’s yoga for the mind you can do many times a day, and it takes no time. It’s the kind of thing a colleague of mind calls “a palate cleanser for the mind.”

Telephone practice is a way that you can bring a new intention to something simple and ordinary, something you do all the time anyway, and turn it into a helpful ritual. Rituals can be excellent ways to give yourself a fresh start, and everyone has them, starting with how you get dressed in the morning.

A doctor client of mine told me that on the two days a week he’s in the clinic, he has a ritual for how he brings in his next patient. He goes out to the waiting room and finds them, then leads them back to the exam room. He sits down in his swivel chair, picks up his pad of paper with his left hand and his pen with his right, crosses one knee over the other, rests his hands with pad and pen on his knee, and swivels to face the patient. He does this habitually, but in our session on “stopping practice” he realized that it is his way of leaving the previous patient behind and starting fresh with the person in front of him. By seeing his habit as a ritual with a subtle purpose, he is able to make it a more intentional, and therefore more powerful stop, that helps him start again fresh with each person. He likes his pen, and appreciates the feel of it in his hand. He likes the clean whiteness of the sheet of blank paper, and realizes that it is a visual reminder of the open, unencumbered state of mind he hopes to bring to his encounter with this new person.

You can create small rituals to help others have a fresh start too. An excellent way to start a meeting, for instance, is to say, “I don’t know about all of you, but I’ve been rushing pretty hard today, and I wouldn’t mind taking a moment to stop and catch my breath before we start. How about we all take a minute to stop and have a breath or two, so we can have a fresh start.” It may not be helpful to explain about ritual and all that, but who doesn’t want a moment in the day to stop and catch their breath?

Catching your breath for a moment in silence is a great mini-ritual to bring a more expansive, unencumbered atmosphere to the whole situation. The environment itself slows down, and you can all bring your more expansive, unencumbered selves to whatever needs to happen next.

(Excerpted from “The 5-Way Stop,” the 5-week online support program for making stopping practice and fresh starts an integral part of your everyday life. For more information, click here.)


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