Friday, August 30, 2013

The Power of Ritual

Happy (belated) Raksha Bandhan!

For those who don't know, Raksha Bandhan is a Hindu festival that celebrates the bond between brothers and sisters. In honor of the festival, on campus this past Wednesday ISU Hindu YUVA commemorated the event with "Universal Oneness Day." Traditionally a small band called a rakhi is tied on the brother, husband, father, uncle, neighbor, or good friend's arm, along with a ceremony that symbolizes protection. Today on central campus we tied rakhi on all friends to symbolize unity and respect for everyone. 

First I place vermillion powder, tilak, on his forehead....

Next, I tied the rakhi on his right wrist in a specific way that was a little difficult for this clumsy lady....

Then he touched my feet (not shown) and we hugged in celebration :) Rakhi is a beautiful Hindu tradition to bring to Iowa State University. For me, it was a moving way to show that my close friends in Ames have become family. This has made me feel at home in a way that I have not really felt since I left my parent's home in Minnesota many years ago, so I am forever grateful for my Ames family!

Rituals like the rakhi ceremony--religious, cultural, or personal--enrich our lives by helping us enjoy and appreciate our daily experiences. They affect not only our connections to people, but also to activities such as eating. (You had to know I was coming to this ;)

I recently read an article about a group of studies on rituals and eating. Researchers found that even small, seemingly insignificant rituals can change a person's eating experience, leading them to perceive the food as more flavorful and to savor it more.

This reminded me of a ritual that I perform almost morning cup of coffee. I use a stovetop steam coffee maker, or moka pot, which makes about 2-3 (American sized ;) cups of coffee.

First I pre-warm the water and place it in the bottom of the pot, placing the filter cup on top.

Next I add the coffee grounds, place the top part, and turn the heat to medium. This particular coffee is special to me because it was a gift from a friend from Colombia. He knows the people who grew, harvested, and processed the beans, and drinking the coffee makes me think of the amazing stories he has shared about his life and family back home. Knowing the "story" of the coffee makes this small ritual even more powerful for me, helping me stay mindful while preparing and drinking my brew.

I have to stay close to the kitchen while the coffee brews, listening for the sound of steam bubbling up through the grounds and into the top. If left to long the coffee will scorch in the pot, making it bitter. I love the sound of the coffee bubbling up into the top of the pot, that means it's almost time!

When my coffee is done I pour it into a thermos with warm milk. Then I sit down and savor one single cup, taking the rest with me to school. 

There are many ways I could get my caffeine/coffee fix in the morning, yet I enjoy this ritual so much that I wake up a few minutes early to make sure I have enough time on class days. It helps transition my sleepy mind into a more alert and reflective state. As I sip, I take time to "check in," thinking about how the day before went, how I am feeling today, and what plans I have for the day. 

What rituals enrich your daily life?