Years ago, I began to understand the power of ritual, while learning to cook in a professional kitchen.
Repeating tasks daily gave me the chance to observe my mind changing in the learning process. Now I use ritual throughout my whole life and most importantly in my relationships with those around me.
What I intuitively stumbled upon in the kitchen is that all activity is repetition, giving way to the mystery of personal experience. Ritual shows us that what we do presents us the potential to change who we are. Whether it’s our walk to work, kissing our partners in the morning, or brushing our teeth, these repeated activities can become rituals that empower us to change and affect our lives.
Neuroscience theorizes that the activities and mental states that fire together, wire together. This means that change arises through doing things in a different way. To take hold of this power and use our mind-body consciousness constructively is the main task of living a better life—and this is the process I am delineating through ritual.
A four-step experiment to heal your relationship through ritual:
1. Identify the structure of the ritual.
When we want to create change in our relationships, we first need to broadly identify what we desire to change. Do we want more peace and ease with our partner? In what area? To improve our sexual connection? To enjoy more connected activities? What are you inspired to change in your relationship? This is where it begins.
Once identifying what we want to change, we choose specific actions where we experience this emotional dynamic. It could be the five minutes after arriving home and greeting your partner at the end of a long day, going on a date together, or making love.
Whatever it is, we begin by identifying a beginning and end, so that we know the framework of the experiment. Whatever you might choose, I find that simple physical actions are best—something I can recognize in the midst of possible emotional distraction, like going through a doorway. The simplicity of the action lets me know exactly the structure of the ritual, and this makes the process measurable.
2. Shape an emotional intention.
Sometimes we think of emotion as arising from our external experience. I suggest that we flip this on its head and think of emotion as giving rise to external experience, which works because neural pathways that fire together wire together.
I start by asking myself: how would I like to feel in this situation? This helps me identify my emotional intelligence, before I get overwhelmed with the actual experience with my partner. As you identify your intention, take some time to visualize what the experience looks and feels like. Be specific! This is very important (and sometimes hard).
3. Embody the emotional intention.
Since our thoughts and emotions are not separate, we can actually sit and change the way we feel by processing through the reasons we feel that way. Setting the intention starts the process of understanding why we don’t already feel that way. Hold tight for the ride, and don’t give up until you feel your emotional intention. This the real work!
I know when I have succeeded at this stage, because I feel different. When I feel different, I know I have changed my mind and rewired neural pathways. This is embodying the emotional intention and signifies that we are ready to enter the ritual space.
4. Enter the ritual space.
A big part of success is believing we can succeed. Science has shown that ease and confidence are critical to success, so after I embody the emotional intention, I let the rest go as it will with confidence and faith. I don’t try to manage and make the circumstances how I want, because I know that the world will deliver the most delicious surprises when I am ready to accept them.
The true work lies in changing our own minds and riding the experience throughout our life. When we embody how we want to feel, we can trust our bodies and minds to be natural, easy, and simple, responding in ways that will deepen our emotional experience in highly creative ways.
By beginning with a short ritual structure and holding the intention as clearly as possible with the body, change becomes manageable, measurable, and fun. It’s very important to experience the positive feedback of success, so we begin to make positive change a habit in our lives. In my experience, once we become comfortable with the process, our partners will take notice, and then we can begin doing the process together. Try it in your relationship—I’d love to hear how it goes!