Everyone has rituals, things that we do in a certain way, at a certain time, or in certain settings. Some of the rituals we perform on special days of the month. Back home in Kake for example, before people go out to Grave Island on Memorial Day, family members clear off family graves and make the path to the gravesites accessible. Rituals like this will continue even after we are long gone because they have social benefit to the community. It defines the conduct of community members in regard to something sacred, remembrance of those who have walked into the forest.
I differentiate between the things I consider ritual from things that are mere habits, habits that are just repeated behaviors that are almost automatic. Rituals, for me, are the acts that connect me to the sacred and stir within me, feelings of awe and respect.
I like to rise early. It’s the best time of day for prayer and meditation. Rising early has become habitual; prayer and meditation have become ritual.
In the early morning I will sit with my cup of coffee and admire our Sitka scenery from my 4th floor window. From this altitude I will watch the rain and wind playing on our Crescent Bay, seagulls circling where a sea lion emerges, fog hugging the folds in the mountains. I will be thankful for my life and breath, for my senses with which to experience our majestic miraculous rainforest and its complex systems.
When I rise early it seems easier to be in a state of appreciation and thanksgiving. I am not yet in the hustle and bustle of the workday, and my mental to-do list hasn’t taken on a sense of urgency. In this uncluttered mental space, I find it easier to write, easier to let thoughts flow.
For the past two months, I have gotten back to morning writing, this time prompted by a quest to live with deeper appreciation and awareness of my daily gifts. Someone introduced me to the practice of keeping a daily “gratitude journal” as an antidote to depression and anxiety. Since starting this daily practice, I have been paying closer attention to details.
I took an Introduction to Drawing class last November in order to relearn some basics. One of those basics was taking my time in drawing. There were no quick sketches, but rather I had to really, REALLY study the subject, the subtleties and nuances. In this manner of looking at one thing with intense scrutiny, I began writing about one single thing or person each day for which I felt gratitude. I write about what made that special, about how it made me feel. I go into detail. I write about what qualified the daily entry as a “gift.”
There is much to be said for writers staying in the practice of writing. I had a teacher in college who rose every day at 5:00 a.m. and wrote lines of poems, whether good or bad, just to stay in the habit of writing. I’ve never been that disciplined. Sooner or later daily practice would start to feel tedious, laborious – habitual.
This kind of journaling, exploring gratitude, has not only helped me focus on details and descriptions, but it has had positive effects on me mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. As well as keeping me appreciative of things that come to me serendipitously, it’s made me care more for that which I might take for granted, to savor the mundane. It’s made me write because I want to, not because I have to. Everything is a study. I must slow down. I must find the words that deepen my relationship to the world. When I approach this practice as ritual, rather than a good habit, even the act of writing falls in the spectrum of that which is sacred.
Robert Davis Hoffmann is a Tlingit poet originally from the village of Kake, fully engaged in his heritage and culture. He describes the creative impulse for his poetry and carving this way: “My desire to create comes from a drive to connect my past to the present, to redefine the traditional as present day cultural practices.”