Thursday, January 1, 2015


Almost everything we do on a regular basis is, at least in part, a ritual in the generally accepted definition of word ritual.

Wikipedia defines ritual this way:

A ritual is a sequence of activities involving gestures, words, and objects, performed in a sequestered place, and performed according to set sequence.
Rituals of various kinds are a feature of almost all known human societies, past or present. They include not only the various worship rites and sacraments of organized religions and cults, but also the rites of passage of certain societies, atonement and purification rites, oaths of allegiance, dedication ceremonies, coronations and presidential inaugurations, marriages and funerals, school "rush" traditions and graduations, club meetings, sports events, Halloween parties, veterans parades, Christmas shopping and more. 

Many activities that are ostensibly performed for concrete purposes, such as jury trials, execution of criminals, and scientific symposia, are loaded with purely symbolic actions prescribed by regulations or tradition, and thus partly ritualistic in nature. Even common actions like hand-shaking and saying hello may be termed rituals.

In psychology, the term ritual is sometimes used in a technical sense for a repetitive behavior systematically used by a person to neutralize or prevent anxiety; it is a symptom of obsessive–compulsive disorder.

Rituals serve us when we understand their purpose and keep that purpose in mind as we practice them.  However, all too often we practice our rituals mindlessly, thus turning them into meaningless superstition - acts to be performed rapidly and forgotten as soon as they are finished (or before).

Rituals should bring us into the moment, but when performed mindlessly they take us out of the moment and move us into mindlessness.

Early last summer, I shaved my beard off.  Late last summer, while shaving, I had a shaving epiphany.  Standing in front of the mirror with a three bladed marvel of marketing in my hand, I saw myself at age 15, being instructed in the proper use of a straight razor by the three barbers who owned the barber shop where I shined shoes.

Though I only had a few whiskers to shave at age 15, I learned to shave them properly.  In the process, I unknowingly learned the true power of ritual - using it to come totally into the moment.  It is a universal law that when you are shaving your face (or your legs) you either come into the moment or you get hurt.

The vision of my fifteen-year-old self faded in the steam swirling up from the hot water in the basin and I looked at the three-bladed atrocity in my hand and realized that I'd moved a long way from my original ritualistic experience of shaving.  In that moment, I decided to recapture the ritual of shaving.  Immediately, I knew a straight razor wasn't what I wanted to use - time spent maintaining a straight razor exceeds the time one spends using one, and there is the fear factor to be considered  when you see yourself holding a straight razor to your throat.  So I opted to recapture and practice the skill of using an old fashioned, double-edged, razor.  In the months since my shaving epiphany, I've done it.

Now, instead of engaging in a mindless expenditure of time and money at the foot of the altar in the temple built to pay homage to the marketing skills of the Gillette Safety Razor Company, I practice the ritual of shaving, real shaving.  

I went through a period of trial and error in finding the shaving tools and products that work best for me, and I've listed them below for your information.  You'll note that shaving is not only a ritual for me, it is also an international experience brought to me by my store of choice -

Germany - my razor of choice is a Merkur Long Handled Razor
Japan - my favorite blade is Feather (sometimes called the Ninja blade)
Italy - my shaving soap and aftershave are produced by Proraso
United Kingdom - My shaving brush is from Edwin Jagger

The Power of Ritual

Photo by Adrienne Wall - 12/31/14

Return the power of ritual to your life in 2015 

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