It was my birthday yesterday and though I’m not much of a birthday person I do have birthday traditions that I honour and observe each year and one I’ve introduced this year. They are, first, a delicious meal either by myself or with people I love at a restaurant I love or have wanted to try. Second, I make a birthday list, in this case, 28 things to do while I’m 28 (inspired by the awesome Rosie Molinary). And, new this year, I go through my “box of lessons learned” (more on that in a bit).
I am someone who likes ritual and routine. I find them grounding and meaningful. Ritual gives me a way to connect with myself and something outside myself, while routine grounds me in my day and my life. I’m not totally sure what the difference is between ritual and tradition, though I think they often overlap. Perhaps tradition is ritual given larger significance. It is a way to mark time, to note lessons learned, things tried, love given and lost. It is a way to give your life meaning and direction, and this is what I spend part of my birthday doing. I reflect on the previous year’s list, things checked off (got my Master’s degree, bought a DSLR, made gluten-free muffins), things left uncompleted (try salsa dancing, do 1000 burpees in a month) and things I still want to do badly enough to bring them forward into this new trip around the sun (learn to surf, get an academic article published).
It seems to me that with the increasing secularization and atomization of society and loss of community many of us have lost ritual and tradition in our lives. We have lost the importance of marking time and lessons. I don’t think this is a coincidence. When we have rituals that honour the earth we can’t help but protect it from the damages of capitalistic excess. When we spend the time to check in with ourselves and create goals that give our lives shape and meaning beyond making and spending money, producing and consuming, we are less distractable, less tractable, less willing to sign our rights and needs away to politicians and corporations who seek to exploit us for gain. So these are a few of the goals with which I give my life meaning and shape for the next year:
1. Take surf lessons
2. Try Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
3. Learn 4 songs on ukulele
4. Try one new recipe per week or 52 recipes in year
5. Run a 5k race
6. Hold crow pose for 15 seconds
7. Do Radical Self-Love Bible again
8. Make vegan cheese from scratch
9. Dye hair blonde
10. Read 28 books
I don’t intend to hit all of them, nor will I beat myself up if I don’t. Rather, they give me something to shoot for, something to mark my time and see how my priorities and desires change. A way to check in and see what still matters, if I’m challenging myself enough, inviting enough fun in, spending time living. I invite you to try this exercise on your next birthday. This is my third year and I find it immensely rewarding each time.
My third (and new) tradition, my “box of lessons learned” started from a Facebook friend’s post. She had a jar in which she would collect all the lessons she learned for the year and read them on January 1. Because I already have my birthday list I thought this could be a nice addition. So I got a box and decoupaged some pretty paper on it and started writing. Sometimes they were hard-fought lessons. Other times they were words of wisdom I wanted to incorporate and live. Sometimes they were the small things in life that make a big difference. Here’s a few:
Clutter makes me lose my mind.
Potato chips have a low satisfaction:calorie ratio. I almost always regret them.
Interact with people like they’re already your friend.
Begin as you mean to go on.
When buying something (clothes, art, furniture) ask, “Will I love this a year from now? Five?”
Living somewhere walkable/bikeable is necessary for my physical and mental health.
A high protein breakfast and a hearty lunch with whole grains sets me up for the day.
So there you go. Goals for the next year and lessons from the previous. Traditions that give my life meaning and shape.