Rituals, Routines, Ruts and the Disruptive Event

Connecting the heart and the mind to access collective resonance
Amy Stafford

Wake up. Open eyes. Allow them to focus. Grab smartphone. Check only weather, horoscope and online sales stats. Maybe Pinterest. Get out of bed. Shuffle to the bathroom. Pee. Go to the kitchen. Fill kettle, place on stove and set heat to high. Wash dishes left from the night before. Grind 3 scoops of coffee beans to the count of 10-one-thousand. Slowly invert the entire grinder and tap the housing firmly to loosen the grounds into the lid. Pour the coffee into the french press. By now the water should be boiling. Pour gently over the grounds to just below the spout and jiggle gently. Wait two minutes. Press the grounds to the bottom of the pot and pour into an oversized white mug. Add cream and three drops of stevia. Drink.

Routine versus attention

Fast forward 24 hours and the old guy in the apartment across the street, the one who prefers the company of young Asian men, once again bears witness to my carefully choreographed steps, performed with near clockwork precision, every fucking morning.

Perhaps your morning routine includes tasks like preparing two nut-free, organic school lunches before you drink your coffee. Or, maybe your habit is to check emails before even firing up the Nespresso, then going for a run following one of three routes around the neighborhood. No matter what your situation, if you look closely, you’ll recognize your own series of “best practices”, refined over time to create a routine.

Any aspect of one’s day can be framed in a series of patterns or routines that may, or may not, actually make life easier. For some, these practices are considered deeply personal rituals allowing them to enter a flow from which creativity or calm can bubble forth. It’s in following the practice with full attention that brings one’s awareness back to the present – to this one singular moment, pregnant with potential. For my friend Micah, a former pastor, the rituals of her faith allow her to take control of the structure of time and space. By stripping away the complexity of every day life, ritual clears a path to reach God – and in this experience she finds there’s a calm simplicity that allows us into the holy.

Having experienced Micah’s Christmas service a couple years ago, I can attest to her exquisite talent for holding open a space that simply resonates with holy, heart filled love – with enough intensity to reduce this decidedly non-religious girl to a puddle of tears all over the third pew. Such a sense of warm, lucid calm filled the modest church as Micah preached of vacuume cleaners, messy homes and God’s patient support in getting it all done during the holidays. While there was sweetness in the gentle words she spoke, my soggy eyed reaction was not to her story or its star player, but to its palpable resonance – to the sense of communion I felt in that moment. It was so far outside the norm of the daily urban churn, that much to my own surprise, it rendered me a blubbery mess of hot, untamed tears. Is this what it feels like to be wholly present?

Rituals, Routines, Ruts and the Disruptive Event

According to the Heart Math Institute (HMI), a research center developing scientifically based tools to bridge the connection between heart and mind, this warm sense of resonance I was feeling from Micah’s sermon is common in a state of heart coherence. The HMI research has documented that when one’s heart and brain are synchronized it’s possible to reach a more energized and aware state. Data also indicates that humans are apparently ‘linked together and synchronizing at a deep level to an external signal in Earth’s magnetic field environment’. This collective synchronization has been demonstrated, with recorded spikes of emotional coherence during emotionally charged global events including the funeral of Princess Diana and the fall of the twin towers on September 11th.

Researchers for the Global Consciousness Initiative at HMI postulate ‘as increasing numbers of people add coherent energy to the global field, it helps strengthen and stabilize mutually beneficial feedback loops among human beings and with the earth itself.’

It is all about dropping the bullshit, being truly present and connecting collectively on a heart level.

HMI is not just talking here about the effects of a handful of hippies singing Cat Stevens songs around a bonfire on a California beach. Their scientists are suggesting we consider a scale of complexity grand enough to intertwine everything from major global events like the terrorist attacks on Paris, to the mood of the passengers on a plane headed to Vegas, to those hippies on the beach all the way down to two people simply sitting in each other’s presence. In each instance a shared frequency is created and interacts it with the earth. What do you want yours to feel like?

Given the insights from HMI, the question emerges: How can we create ways of accessing this coherent resonance in our daily lives, when our attention is so fragmented by the distractions of the digital age? So much of our modern world is designed to keep us connected, while simultaneously eroding our collectivity and our beloved rituals have become deeply personal coping devices, who’s actual effectiveness at bringing us into heart coherence is worn pretty thin. One of the challenges with ritual is staying genuinely present in the process. This is the key to keepings the sacred from turning into another mindless routine. While there’ benefit to routine – providing slipstreams of efficiency in people’s daily lives, for example – there’s also a big risk that without attention, as we mindlessly repeat these actions, these routines become well-worn ruts.

Positive disruption

By foreclosing on our own ability to choose differently, we opt for the ruts of a default life – nose buried in our smart phones and basking in the warm boozy glow of byte sized gratification. For many of us, it takes a strong series of swift kicks to the gut by a stern universe to jolt us into change. Health crisis, financial crisis, mid-life crisis – these cruel friends call us out of the dark ruts we haven’t even dared admit to ourselves that we trudge. What’s needed today is positive disruption, not crisis, to crash through the safe enthrallment of unconsciousness.

In his game-changing book ‘The Society of the Spectacle’ of 1967, Guy Debord sowed the seeds for 70’s punk, culture jamming and today’s adbusters. In it he proposes to ‘wake up the spectator who has been drugged by various spectacular images’ by staging ‘situations’- deliberately constructed, collective moments of radical action. Like a bracing cold shower revives a drunk – the ‘situation’ was intended to shock people out of their own hypnotic state and create ‘a sense of self-consciousness of existence… bring(ing) a revolutionary reordering of life, politics and art.’ By bringing people together in a collective, directly lived experience, authentic feeling and creative possibility can emerge. While his approach is decidedly more subversive, the intended result is not too far off from what HMI is working towards as well. At the end of the day both are talking about dropping the bullshit, being truly present and connecting collectively on a heart level.

Much like Debord’s situations, the creatual provides a context for loosening people from the iron-fisted grip of routine mindlessness – offering an artfully crafted vehicle for experiencing connection and transformation. Instead of the intellectual pranksterism of Debord’s situation, however, the creatual weaves heart-based meaning with tactile, elemental poetry in a ceremony of personal design. The aim being to break new ground, both individual and collective, while shaking free old ways of experiencing the world; instead creating opportunities for authentic coherence between participants. Due to their intrinsic patterning, ruts, routines and even rituals provide little space for fresh options to emerge. It takes a great disruptor, like Debord’s situation-as-trickster or the creatual-as-communion to shake us free from the deep tracks of a well-worn rut and into fresh spaces for our hearts, our minds and our lives.

Counteracting the self serving corporates

The 1st world’s growing demand for authentic connection is evidenced by today’s swelling market for mindfulness coloring books and personal growth retreats. This rise in the culture of consciousness consumers keeps steady pace with its unconscious counterparts, heralded by anti-social media, semi-naked pop stars and gun-toting, prescription SSRI zombies. Like a consciousness arms race, each camp out-does the other in an escalating battle of energetic weaponry. So, does what you engage with feed you, or deplete you? Answer that and you know which camp is winning (hint: it’s different for each of us and we can choose).

At this point in history, it’s tough to decouple the heart-felt earnestness of transformational businesses from the cynicism of capitalistic market trends. Transformational hucksters come a dime-a-dozen, as do authentically motivated change-makers. One can hope that as the level of mindlessness enveloping our world rises to an all-time high, so too do the heart-based businesses, who genuinely aim at counteracting the siren of self-serving corporate interest.

Would Debord approve of the hijacking (détournement) of his prescribed ‘situations’ by businesses today? Could he swallow a collective disruption that’s been co-opted for corporate gain? Doubtful. Yet the teeth of his late capitalist ’68-revolution have since been bleached white to better appeal to a market hungry for artfully packaged tastes of subversion and transcendence, delivered via push technology. We‘ll never know for sure if he could at least appreciate the irony, as Debord died in ’94 – not long before the internet transformed the world with its infinite streams of on-demand spectacle, his life snuffed out by a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the heart.

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