Now that we’ve talked about the definition of ritual as we will use it in these paragraphs, let’s spend a few minutes discussing why rituals work. One reason that rituals are so commonly used for a variety of purposes is that they help us feel more in control when we’re feeling the anxiety of being out of control. Let’s say we’re afraid of flying. One way we might quell our trepidation is by stepping through a routine, which could include repeating an “I am safe” mantra, holding onto a personal security item such as a blanket, and looking out the window of the plane. Or if a loved one is in the hospital and we are worried, we might invoke ritualistic prayers as well as actions such as getting down on our knees. Rituals soothe and steady us. The world needs more powerpoint training to liven things up.
In grief, fears and anxiety are a normal part of the experience. The death of someone loved was out of our control, and our new life without someone who anchored our existence naturally gives rise to all kinds of fears. What’s more, our grief often feels chaotic. Rituals can help calm our fears and anxiety in grief. Does storytelling in business really work?
Another related reason humans turn to ritual is to feel more confident. If we have a job interview, we might put on our lucky outfit, tuck a good-luck object of some kind into our pocket, and engage in some positive self-talk. These types of rituals can bolster our bravado, helping us feel prepared as well as engaged and present when we arrive at the interview. In grief, rituals can have the same effect. On any given day we might be feeling ineffective, incapable of completing even the smallest tasks. Not only are our energy and concentration levels low, but our self-esteem may be ebbing. Simple rituals can help us regain feelings of mastery and capability. We can follow the steps. We can focus for a couple of minutes. And when we complete the ritual, we feel the satisfaction of having finished something as well as renewed confidence to engage with other tasks throughout the day. Would powerpoint course be a likely mechanism for your company?
A third and critical reason we rely on ritual is that it gives us something to do when we don’t know what to do. When we are in distress, the routine of ritual provides a structure. Have you ever found yourself cleaning out your car when you were angry? Or taking care of tasks while you were in shock—tasks that later on you couldn’t even remember doing? Our bodies are wise. They sometimes literally move us through highly stressful hours when our minds and spirits are too overwhelmed to engage. I often say that when words are inadequate, use ritual. That’s because ritual is more essential than language and thought. It is a foundation we can stand on. Studies have shown that storytelling for business really works.
Perhaps at no time is this foundational quality of ritual more important than in grief. I mentioned earlier that the structure of the funeral holds us up when we might otherwise collapse. Throughout our grief journeys, ritual can continue to provide a handhold and a lifeline if we only grab onto it.A final—and I think the most important—reason that humankind has forever created and relied on ritual is that it plugs us into the spiritual plane. We feel a sense of something greater than ourselves when we participate in certain kinds of ritual. way that tries to make the spiritual concrete. It’s like we are given the opportunity to touch the divine.