27 | The Disappearance of Rituals

“Rituals are to time what a home is to space: they render time habitable.”

Byung-Chul Han (The Disappearance of Ritual)

In a restless, noisy, rushing world, rituals are symbolic actions that give us a sense of home. They are anchors in the flow of time. They anchor us somewhere before and beyond time.

We poke at these ideas in this episode of The Gentle Rebel Podcast.

What are the differences between rituals and habits? Festivals and events? Recollection and repetition?

How might we get off the hamster wheel of novelty and newness that leaves us unanchored and anxious in a world where time feels uninhabitable, rushing from one fleeting moment to the next?

Rituals And The Fight Against Restless Novelty Kingarth - Isle of Bute - two way sign and lighthouse

Table of Contents

Tranquility and Ritual

June is the month of Tranquility in The Haven. The topic of rituals, habits, and routines emerged from that.

We explore Tranquility as something we find through doorways, over thresholds, and in the space between the noise. How will we breathe new life into the old and familiar?

Tranquility is the threshold between the hustle of the world “out there” and the stillness deep within.

Rituals are tranquil anchors in the noise. They help us become what is through acceptance, silence, and pause. Not to escape or hide but to come home. To let go. To stop clinging, chasing, and craving so we can create, contribute, and collaborate.

The Disappearance of Rituals | 2:14

Rituals give us a different experience of time—a non-linear feeling of coming home.

The folded page moments we experience when coming home to a good friend, a familiar place, or a meaningful activity. When it’s like no time has passed between visits. The timeline folds in on itself, and this moment becomes all moments. The past becomes the present.

In The Disappearance of Rituals, Byung-Chul Han writes, “today, time lacks a solid structure. It is not a house but an erratic stream. It disintegrates into a mere sequence of point-like presences; it rushes off. There is nothing to provide time with any hold. Time that rushes off is not habitable.”

I feel this. It resonates. The slippery slope. A sense of time rushing through my fingers like uncontained water.

Letting Go of Meaning

Life doesn’t need to be understood for it to be meaningful.

Rituals provide the experience of meaning through action rather than knowledge. While information might help us describe, it isn’t the same as true “knowing”. Embodiment. Life.

We don’t trust our intuitive judgements. Instead, we outsource them to others to tell us what we should think, feel and do. In our quest to feel at home in the world, we suck the life out of life through the compulsion to communicate, define, and label.

The Drive To Possess | 5:17

Rituals provide rhythm and repetition that gives us home in time without explaining.

The drive to explain restricts, controls, and destroys.

It replaces life’s mystery, magic, and enchantment with endless discourse, description, and definition. Leaving us exhausted and empty.

Life doesn’t need to be meaningful for it to be meaningful.

Repetition and Discovery | 6:47

Rituals are repetitive. They are intentional, ordered, and formulaic. They carry structure and sequence.

Rituals are not the point, but they make space for the point.

They are tracks for us to wander. A familiar pathway in an uncertain and ever-changing world. The path to which we return and from which we see.

Rituals open the door with open-handed expectancy for unexpected detours so we can find ourselves lost.

They are not something to get through and get done.

Rituals are like music. Dance. Dinner with friends.

Time is different here. It’s about the motions we go through, not where we end up.

Automation and Ritual | 8:46

Rituals might become routine when they turn into mindless habits. At which point they lose their ritual value.

A habit is different from a ritual because it is mindless. Once established, it occurs without thought. That’s the point. The action occurs without conscious intention or attention. Habits are about getting things done along a line of least resistance.

A ritual is different from a habit because it is mindful. It isn’t about an outcome or getting things done. It’s an invitation for life to relate to life in the here and now.

Where a habit always takes us somewhere else, a ritual cannot happen anywhere except here.

Rituals are performed by individuals, with loved ones, in families, social groups, and communities.

When attention turns toward.

Repetition and Recollection | 10:23

Repetition isn’t sameness.

To repeat is to return. Coming back without getting stuck on what was.

Repetition knows this moment will never happen again.

It’s aware that to recall the joy we experienced isn’t the same as the joy OF the experience.

It’s the whirlpool through which the water flows.

We sometimes live as if trying to catch the water downstream and force it back into the whirlpool where it once flowed.

We focus on what was but no longer is and don’t notice the freshwater flowing through the whirlpool today.

Repetition is a permanent lingering in the present – it enters the space where the past occurred but doesn’t attempt to repeat what was. It is repeating what IS.

The ritual cannot happen anywhere BUT now.

What “is” will become what “was”.

Novelty and Newness | 12:33

Ritual is different from routine.

Newness and excitement become routine. The pursuit of novelty, difference and experience. They are chasing, searching, longing for the thing that will satisfy the unscratchable itch.

We might think of a sunset as a novelty. It’s an event, which when complete, cannot be repeated.

The novelty routine drives us to believe we can possess the sunset and repeat the experience.

Ritual is the path from which the sunset is witnessed.

The path CAN be repeated. It can be followed again. It will bring myriad new ways to encounter and enjoy the world. You do not grow tired of the path.

We can prepare ourselves for what might be when we repeat the path.

Without ritual, we are forever checking the inbox and chasing the sunset. Waiting for a new distraction and promise to take us away from here.

Festivals as Events | 15:41

The erosion of public space in the physical world and our collective consciousness coincides with turning festivals into events.

We might think of events as characterised by performance and consumption. To be entertained and fed.

Festival is community, contribution, and collaboration. Like rituals, a pathway opens the door to possibility without prescribing the contrived outcome everyone needs to take away with them.

We are involved in “festival”. Not as consumers or stakeholders. But as equals. We are all dancers, musicians, writers. We are painting the world with our presence in it, moving with the path in the here and now and flowing through the moment, expectant and uncertain.

Repeating the folded page. Excessive. Wasteful. Unproductive. Beautiful.

Ritual and Rest | 17:20

Creative repetition is not the same as productive repetition.

Your inner artist is not a content creator on the production line.

She is a conduit beyond time. Dancing with her medium to express some truth, she glimpses as it glances back at her. She doesn’t seek to possess the truth and isn’t determined to discover the secret or meaning where there is none. She dances with the mystery and moves to the rhythm of her restful core.

Space. Silence. Stillness.

Rest comes from stillness. Silence. Letting go of the compulsion to perform, communicate, and consume allows life to grow from the inside out.

Like rest is not transactional or linear.

Rituals in rest rebel against the urge to produce. They help us waste time in the most beautiful ways.

Rest connects the past with the present, and the future folds back to this moment when it feels like no time has passed.

Not because time is slipping away from us but because it means nothing.

Rest At The Fireside | 20:07

I have finished creating my Fireside Rest program to support people who feel like weary travellers. Tired, overwhelmed, and numb to certain things that used to bring them joy.

We use stories, poetry, music and creative prompts to play together and give your mind and body space to return to a place of rest.

Many of us resist rest BECAUSE we are exhausted and have been taught to believe that we should be making “better use of our time”.

The program is built on the ideas I’ve been talking about in this episode. The call to ritual and non-productive pathways is the foundation for rhythms that bring us home in time.

“Our bodies cannot fully function when they are in a constant fight for excellence, high performance, maximum effectiveness and optimal capacity.”

Saundra Dalton-Smith, MD.

I want to invite you to rest at the Fireside with me if you find yourself in a state of:

  • Urgency and Reactivity (panic mode)
  • Functional numbness (operational but have lost touch with what’s alive in you)
  • Chronic exhaustion and overwhelm

The Fireside Spirals will help you slow down, listen within, and connect with your needs beneath the noise.

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