The power of rituals, symbols and practices to create meaning

By Michelle Boonzaaier, IAM Program Manager

One of the books that has had a profound effect on my life is called Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor. Taylor reminds us that human beings did not always have electricity. There was a time when people’s lives moved at the rhythm of the sun, the moon and the seasons.

Taylor speaks about a time when all work and activity had to cease when night fell, and bodies were forced to retreat into silence and rest. A time when being alone with your own thoughts in the dark was mandatory, until the sun rose again. She goes on a journey to reclaim the promises that darkness brings as gifts to the one that will embrace it. Over the past few days of lockdown, I have revisited one of my favourite quotes from Taylor’s book:

 

I have learned things in the dark that I could never have learned in the light, things that have saved my life over and over again, so that there is really only one logical conclusion. I need darkness as much as I need light.

 

It turns out that lockdown in a time of Covid-19 can also be a learning space as we enter a time of distance from people, slowing down our usual pace and listening to the rhythms of our bodies.

When we met for our staff meeting on ZOOM today, we touched base and I was moved by the various strategies that staff members had put into place as rituals, symbols and practices. Rituals, symbols and practices can be everyday items or events that we repeat daily, connect with or adhere some meaning to; in order to create meaning within any situation. Some of these are light-hearted, others more serious; all of them ways to connect with ourselves and others during this period of isolation.

Our team is diverse, and this is what we love about who we are. We’re made up of introverts who flourish in the silence of virtual workspaces and extroverts who can’t wait for the Wednesday team check in and manage to schedule a virtual meeting for every day of the week just to have some form of human “contact.” For some of us working in silence is a gift and our creative juices continue to flow. Some of us need more contact with people. For all of this, we are grateful – diversity brings all of us many and varied gifts that make us stronger.

Even though we have rituals, symbols and practices, each of us have experienced a rollercoaster ride of good and challenging days. Going out to a coffee shop for a sandwich that someone else has made and a coffee delight would have been wonderful, but it remains a distant memory. However, the ways in which some of us are dealing with this is to pour a glass of wine at the end of the day and become creative with cooking. Cooking with a partner can be fun, though sometimes, alone time in the kitchen is the creative refuge you need after sharing a space with kids and partner the entire day.

To ward off complete isolation, hearing a voice at the other end of the telephone line can become a lifeline. A staff member shared how they have learned not to wait for the lifeline, but also to become the lifeline and call up friends and family that they haven’t spoken to in a long time. 

Several of us cannot function without physical activity and for most of us, exercise is a way of self-care and a source of physical and mental health and wellness. Varied activities from weight training to an escape to the garden with an exercise mat; from downloading an exercise app to YouTube yoga channels; we survive because we move in multiple ways…and when all else fails – put on some music and dance…

A team member shared how their family has different music for different activities throughout the day. Dividing the day by a set of tunes that accompany activities offers kids and adults fun structure to the day.

The symbol that holds promise for many of us remains a candle or two. We light it when we fail to have words. We light it as an expression of grief and lament. We light it as a sign of hope and light on an uncertain path.

We invite you to share your rituals, symbols and practices during this time of lockdown – you can click here to respond via email or join in the conversation on Facebook or Twitter.