Personal rituals are important

Rituals are important, even to people like me, who claim to not particularly care for them.

But a ritual isn’t just a ceremony a community practices during special occasions, sometimes to the point of rote. They can be personal (sometimes also to the point of rote), and they serve a purpose.

Rituals don’t have to be grand celebrations in lavish settings. They can be simple, held in solace with little to no accoutrements.

I’ve come to rely on rituals during times of uncertainty. When I’m seized by anxiety for no reason, I usually do one of two things: I either keep on doing what I was doing and hope that the bad feeling goes away, or I dig into my arsenal of little rituals (you can tell I get anxious a lot), pick one, and practice it with intention until I feel safe again.

I say “little rituals” because that’s what they are: simple, almost innocuous practices that help ease my mind. Writing lists is a favourite. I like to write to-do lists and cross them out when I’m done. The visual of a crossed-out task makes finishing it doubly satisfying.

I also like bathing with sea salt, lighting incense or palosanto (not recommended anymore as the tree is apparently endangered), giving myself a sound bath using ting she (Tibetan cymbals), or simply standing on grass. I also pray. Hard.

All these things have been used to either cleanse or ground. Practicing them with intention pulls me tint the moment, and when I’m concentrating on the now, I forget to worry about everything else.

I also sometimes read for myself. I use my intuition to give me a broader view of what’s happening. It’s like an extended version of list-making. Seeing the bigger picture helps calm me, because I feel like I know where I’m headed.

You may believe in these things or not. I’m not even sure if I believe in them myself. All I know is that they’re effective, at least for me. Whether it’s because they really work or because of the placebo effect, I really don’t care. All I know is that these rituals make me feel better, and that’s good enough for me.

I think community rituals serve the same effect: to calm people down, to reinforce solidarity and camaraderie, to lessen anxiety and to foster feelings of safety and security. But whereas community rituals serve to strengthen the bonds between many people, personal rituals strengthen the bond you ave with yourself. And you own self is more important than you think.


Yvette Natalie U. Tan is a multi-awarded author of horror fiction and the Agriculture section editor of Manila Bulletin.