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Ritual and Connection
Mastering connection when we are all adrift
I recently bought a turntable. A modern one with a Wi-Fi connection. A far cry from the cheaply made multi-tiered Hi-Fi system of the 80s, bought with my paper round earnings. I’m enjoying being reacquainted with my old vinyl collection, hitherto unspun for at least 30 years. Regrettably, my favourite records are being stored somewhere else. Until I can get my hands on them I’m listening to my overflow collection which was boxed up separately all those years ago.
Playing them again feels like ritualised nostalgia. Choosing which record to play, sliding it out of its dust cover, placing it on the turntable, lifting and positioning the needle… It’s a deliberate investment of my time and attention. A distinctively different intent compared with a casual mouse click on Spotify.
I notice that even my ordinary movements around the turntable are more deliberate, careful to avoid knocking the tonearm out of its predetermined journey along the spiralling grooves revolving thirty-three-and-a-third times per minute.
As I recline in my chair next to the speaker, absorbing the unfolding compositions in their intended sequence, I feel a connection to the artist and the flow of their music that’s not accessible to the barbarians who listen in ‘shuffle’ mode. There’s a physicality to the process. The needle translates the contours within the grooves into audible vibrations, giving the listener a visceral connection that digital cannot match.
Perhaps I’m over-romanticising the process, but that’s my aim. While enjoying the hospitality of a friend recently, he offered to make me a cup of tea. Instead of putting the kettle on, he used the fancy tap in his kitchen which spouts boiling water on demand. We lost the opportunity for ritualistic conviviality while waiting for the kettle to boil. Does a Japanese Tea Ceremony enhance the taste of the tea or the experience of tasting the tea?
The point I’m making is that ritual is significant in enhancing the essence of the experience resulting in greater connection. Rituals can make sacred the ordinary tasks of our life. Creating a sense of sanctity around our ritualistic systems of practice is the essence of mastery. Your workout is sacred, laying bricks is sacred, writing code is sacred, practising your paradiddles on the drums is sacred, and tending to the satisfaction of a customer in an ordinary interaction is sacred. Creating a sense of sacred reverence towards countless repetitions of ordinary practices gives us a meaningful connection to the process that we often only apply to our desire for the outcome.
We can imagine ourselves in the dojo, practising our katas with a sense of reverence for the generations who have practised in this way in the past, elevating our practice to the sacrosanct, with all other distractions abated as we’re in touch with the divine.
As Johann Hari writes in Lost Connections, we are a society in desperate need of reconnection. We have lost our primal connections to nature, to work, to a meaningful system of values, to the spiritual, to ourselves, and to each other. Many of us live dissociated lives of alienation and separation. So many of us are lost and all adrift.
Part of the remedy, I would argue, is to reawaken our connectedness through the deliberate ritualisation of our practices on our chosen paths of mastery.
“What if depression is, in fact, a form of grief—for our own lives not being as they should? What if it is a form of grief for the connections we have lost, yet still need?”
Johann Hari, Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression and the Unexpected Solutions
How am I doing personally within my own ecology of practices? It’s mixed at the moment. I’m doing well in my own personal health and fitness. There is an untouchable sanctity around my quarterly extended fasts that ceremonially align with the changing of the seasons at the equinoxes and solstices. My physical exercise routines are layered with ordinary rituals and are adhered to religiously. Food is sacrosanct at the moment, my diet has never been cleaner.
But there are some areas where I’m slightly adrift. Work and finances are currently uncertain and I feel no connection to an assured vocation. Amidst this uncertainty I’ve allowed my musical practices to wane a little, they’ve been subverted by life’s ordinary struggles. I need to regain my habit of creating a dedicated space for deliberate musical practice and creation. My writing too has been intermittent, it deserves more ritualistic devotion.
But such is the course of our ordinary lives as I must constantly remind myself that mastery of life begins with mastering connection to my values, to my practices, and to my calling.
Mastery is the ritual practice of connection.
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