Posted by: Nancy | October 5, 2009

Rituals, or getting ready to play

Kansas City Blues in Aspen 2009

Kansas City Blues in Aspen 2009

There’s a routine that my husband goes through, painstakingly, whenever he gets to play rugby.

It’s remarkably similar to what all the guys on the team go through. And remarkably similar to how ruggers all over the world prepare.

First, there’s dressing — shorts, socks, boots.

Then the ointment. You can smell Icy Hot and all the other ointments and rubs all over the field on game day.

Next comes the tape. Bind up anything that might come loose or need a little support. Some guys will tape their wrists. Some tape up their boots — around the sole and up over the ankles — so they won’t come off. Some guys will tape their little finger to the next littlest one. After the athletic tape comes the electrical tape, which guys will wind around the head to hold their ears on. (I’m not kidding.)

Then the protective gear, which might include a back or waist brace, shoulder pads, rib padding, knee brace and ankle brace. Some wear a soft helmet, too.

Next, off with the ring and watch, handed over to me for safekeeping.

Then comes the warm up. Some stretch, an elaborate routine; some partner up and start pushing in preparation for the scrum; some jog around, some skip and jump, generally limbering up. After a while, they’re all out, tossing the ball and running drills.

It’s more than a routine, it’s a ritual. It is invested with symbolism and tradition, an act of preparation, both physical and emotional.

A serious preparation, it is a cautious and deliberate process, each step taking the rugger a bit closer to the game: ready for the run, ready for the scrum, ready for the contact.

As with any ritual, there’s meaning invested in each phase. Rituals honor the event; rituals show respect. There is a commitment in investing in the ritual, and in a team ritual like this, there is collaboration and camaraderie. Sure, there’s bravado and swagger, joking and poking fun –masking other emotions or part of the ritual, I can’t say. Maybe both. But the ritual is personal.

Watching a lot of rugby on a recent weekend got me comparing the preparations, and noting the similarities, even between international teams. I started thinking about my own rituals: making coffee in the morning, sitting down to write, preparing for a dinner party.

Not so different. I love the process of making coffee — the aroma of the ground beans, the clear cool fresh water, then the slow gurgle of the drip, the frothy pour and ahhh — the first sip! Anticipation of the outcome is one of the hidden underlying steps of the ritual.

For writing, I have my own set of preparations, both physical and emotional. I turn on the light and the computer, I clear away distractions in email/tweets/posts, etc., and I think about the story. Whoever might read it, what will they feel? What words will be important? Sometimes I need research and I take notes by hand — silly, but I feel as though I can absorb the knowledge better, more intimately, than taking notes on a computer. There are other steps, but then I’m IN the game. It’s on. It’s happening and the ritual has worked its primordial energy again.

There’s a richness to ritual, but rituals are easy to overlook… as routine. Sometimes they become so common as to be boring, just a social rite. But if you dig, there’s still meaning underneath the routine.

I’ve started looking more and I find more to savor the closer I look at the preparations. Rituals give comfort and apply balm to trepidation. Rituals are sweet, a commitment to engagement, a show of respect and an act of love.

I’m paying closer attention to my own routines, and as I do, and I’m finding that the more I prepare, the more engaged and energetic and committed I am. Maybe there’s a business case for rituals…

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