What Does The Fox Say? RITUALS
Every morning, I wake up usually around 6am, and wherever I am, even when on expedition, I start the day by having yerba mate. For the ones who don’t know what yerba mate is, it is a loose leaf tea extremely popular in South America, where it is drank religiously. I lived in Argentina for 2 years so it is a habit I picked up over there and have been doing since. Drinking yerba mate is not like having an espresso – you know, a quick shot then off to work. No – quite the opposite. It is more like having a long conversation. You need to commit time. You warm up a kettle of water, making sure not to boil it. Then you have this gourd, for me I use a Klean Kanteen cup, and you put the loose leaf in. I put 4 teaspoons. You have the bombilla, a metal straw with a filter at one end so that the loose leaf doesn’t stop the water or goes up the straw. You first pour cold water so that you can wet the tea and prevent it from burning. Then you poor the warm water. You wait a little, and sip. More water. Wait a bit. Sip. More water. Wait a bit. Sip. At the beginning, all the tea leaves are floating. As they release their nutritional content and caffeine, they start falling to the bottom. Slowly, as you sip more and more and time goes by, you get to a point where the tea has given you everything it had. All the leaves are sunk and at the bottom of the gourd. This is for me, when I know my morning tea time is over, about an hour during which I listen to podcasts or watch youtube videos about science, technology or cultural issues. That time is one of my most precious moments of the the day. It is my own little private zen world.
Along with my Mate, I have a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice and a glass of warm water with a teaspoon of honey and one of coconut oil. Then, I meditate. The type of meditation I do is really focused on my breathing. For 15 minutes, I sit lotus style and take these super long breaths. I fully and deeply inhale, filing my lungs to their max capacity, and then I exhale super slowly, squeezing every bit of air out of my lungs. Each breath cycle takes me about 1 minute and 20 seconds. I follow up with 3 sets of Stop Breathe Relax Listen breathing exercise. I do 3 or 4 minutes of plank and 40 push ups.
I go through phases where I might go to hot yoga, or do a work out. But I am not definitely not committed to this routine. It comes and goes, depending of my mood, the place I am at and whatever incentive I have. I have to admit that I am not someone who loves working out. A lot of my commitment to physical exercise is influenced by how easy it is to get to the gym. I follow with brushing teeth and shower, which I end with a full minute of super cold water.
By 9am I am ready for work. I try as much as possible not to touch my phone or check emails before 9am. But I am as guilty as everyone and too often I find myself reaching out for no reason, battling the urge to get a dose of instant gratification, wanting that chemical release triggered through this piece of technology that has been engineered to make me addicted – damn you red circles and endless scrolls!
From 9 to 10 I do emails and social media. From 10 to 11, I do free writing, writing whatever is on my mind in that moment. I am usually not hungry in the morning so I don’t eat before lunch. Before every meal, I say itadakimasu, a japanese word that means being grateful for everything and everyone that made the food possible. In the evening, I love my two glasses of wine or sake. I make sure to spend time playing with the dog. Dinners and late nights are with my wife. Those are my usual daily rituals. Every week, usually on Sunday, I have a call with my mother. I will also take the garbage out and clean the house. I love our house to be clean. Throughout the month I will spend time with friends and time in nature. During the year, I will celebrate birthdays and other anniversaries, making sure I spend quality time with the people I love and care about.
Rituals give us a sense of structure that help us reinforce and maintain the things or values that are important to us. We are creatures of habits, and a species of flesh and blood. We are not machines. We need to feel things to understand them, to care for them. We don’t do good with concepts. How we learn and grow is not by assimilating information but by developing a structure that allows us to experience and connect, reinforcing and reminding us of what matters. The philosopher Alain de Botton has this great TED talk called Atheism 2.0 where he talks about the importance of rituals. When we moved away from a religious lifestyle, we also left behind spiritual rituals that were really important for our own mental and spiritual health and sanity.
Today, most of our rituals stem from a place of entertainment, consumerism, and vanity, focusing on instant gratification. Our holidays, which were originally annual rituals celebrating values dear to us, have turned to consumerism bonanza. When people go to church every Sunday, it is not to learn something new. It is to connect with the community and be reminded of the big picture, something to believe that is bigger than us. What matters to us, what is important in our lives is reflected by the rituals we structure our lives with. Work, family and hygiene are obvious important ones. And recently we have been reminded of the importance of washing our hands. I have always been baffled about the fact that we live in a world where it is a law, it is mandatory to put a reminder in the bathroom for not only washing out hands but also how to wash our hands. We have kids that can code pretty much anything but we can’t get the washing hands down? We send robots to the planet Mars. But washing our hands – that is some big challenge! Can’t we just teach social ethics and civic responsibility in school? Isn’t this as important as math?
Anyhow, what do our rituals say about what matters to us? Are those rituals something we are proud of? Or we doing them away from the others, afraid of their judgment, feeling guilty. If we feel guilty about a ritual, perhaps it is time to find a new more empowering one. What are your morning, weekly, monthly and yearly rituals? Are you satisfied with them or wished you could do more? If you want to do more, then go easy, start little. It is like climbing a mountain, you don’t jump to the top, who put one foot in front of the other, until you reach the summit.