The Ritual of Intent & Mindfulness By Stefano Tripney
Stefano creatively bridges the inner workings of the mind and body with our collective external landscapes in order to explore, learn, experience, and play with the world and our place in it. He is known for his bright energy and ability to inspire mindful execution, technical skill, physical competence and limitless creativity in his clients and classes.
Stefano Tripney is a Level 3 MovNat™ and Combatives Trainer, a MovNat Certification Team Instructor and a Martial Arts, Personal Protection & Awareness Educator. You can find out more about him via his website.
It’s funny but I set off on this project not really knowing exactly what constitutes a genuine ritual. I mean, at the outset I figured it was something revered as sacred and is therefore dealt with in a very serious tone. The idea of and even the word “ritual” actually gave me pause until I extracted meaning from it. In actuality a ritual is merely a set or series of actions (sometimes words) performed regularly, especially as part of a ceremony. Damn! I do that, (we ALL do that) to some degree every single day of our lives. Here’s another way of looking at it.
To ritualize is to imbue an action with some degree of mindful execution and repeat it with accuracy.
Sure, this definition describes the many traditional cultural ceremonies and religious occasions that have survived into modern times. Complete with their costumes and colours. It also relates to the process of skill acquisition through focused practice. It’s this second feature which I’ll be addressing today.
It’s not difficult to see the obvious benefits of creating ritualized constructs around important events. They help conceptualize complex or difficult ideas and assist in memorizing and prioritizing the relevant procedural steps that create the desired effect. Oral traditions relied on ceremony and repetition of specific language in order to pass on wisdom and information pertaining to the survival of the group. Modern parenting and child rearing takes advantage of this strategy by creating a format with which to assist in everything from social interactions to personal grooming. So it seems everything at one point then was once a ritual. From tribal dancing to toothbrushing, but it takes INTENT to maintain its edge.
It becomes clear then that a potential downfall of a ritual is that after some time they fall prey to complacency. They then become rote and resemble merely repetitious acts of which the performance becomes purely mechanical in nature. The once potent aspects of the action(s) degrade into worn facsimiles and bloated pageantry. What’s worse is that age old, institutionalized forms of ritual if not checked can and will acquire various degrees of dogma. In worst terms this results in twisted, unquestionable adherence to doctrine and beliefs but where it concerns us is, eventually it just becomes quite stale. In other words, what was once powerful becomes increasingly impotent, still requiring equal effort but providing diminished returns.
My approach then is to recapture the magic of the ritual. To reclaim the essence of the act which once required determined focus and attention. Salvaging the experiential hallmarks of the tired routine, breathing life into them, and passing them through the lens of the beginner's mind in order to see it anew.
The act of creating novelty through self-imposed demands on seemingly effortless and mindless daily tasks is the ritual I chose to present. I’ve provided three ways to add INTENT and MINDFULNESS to engage with humdrum moments of your life which hopefully will enhance your experience, develop your cognitive and physical abilities, and turn up the fun factor by creating opportunities to engage with your surroundings.
It’s kind of like gamifying your life and the results are easy to quantify. Over time you just end up getting better at the thing you're doing. And it’s seemingly limitless.
Take the skill of balance. It’s incredibly important but most of the time we take it for granted and can manage a mountain of other tasks simultaneously never once faltering. It wasn’t always the case though. As babies we developed this aptitude as part of the daily grind and once we got the hang of it raced off to more complex movements, rarely looking back. So let’s challenge and optimize this ability whenever we get the chance. Good news is they come up all the time!
Next time you find yourself standing, anywhere, for a period of longer than 5 seconds, do so on one leg. I do it at street corners while waiting for the lights to change (I balance on my bike when I ride), personal grooming, changing clothes, sending texts, or talking on the phone. Feel the line of gravity mingle with your centre mass and the weight shift through the 33 joints in your foot. Once you establish a good base continue on to moving your limbs to counterbalance and even picking up light objects from the ground. The benefits of this small new habit is one that you can take into old age where you’ll be soooo happy you did. Single leg stability means strengthened feet, ankles, knees, hips, and spine. Balance is the cornerstone of all movement and it can be developed like any other skill. As well, it facilitates other aspects of equilibrium as pertaining to mental and emotional wellbeing.
Another way to introduce more balance play into the ritual is to actually balance on things. Develop your optical optics and look for objects to balance on while you’re walking in nature or around your neighbourhood. A natural setting will give you stones and rock ledges, fallen trees, exposed roots. Urban centres provide curbs, low walls or rails, even lines on the ground. If you love it know that less than $5 will get you a 2x4 to keep around the house or apartment if you want to incorporate a balance regime to your day. A simple and cheap way to develop a vital skill.
If we were to revisit the toothbrushing example through the experience of a child again you'd see the same trajectory. We begin at a time of development where it is an absolute chore. We fumbled and strained until arriving at the point where eventual mastery of the oral hygiene tool was attained. So let’s force ourselves to focus again, do so by using your OPPOSITE hand. The cerebral and motor challenges are almost palpable. You revisit the awkward strokes, the bashing of gums, and grimace as you almost jam yourself in the eye.
Obviously, this can be applied to any facet of your already bulging library of hand dominant actions. Writing, drawling, texting, throwing, catching, cooking, or simply turning things on and off. The third activity that that we would be wise to practice is the cultivation of awareness. A very simple activity is to expand your peripheral vision. Begin by picking out a point in the centre of your visual field, it can be any fixed point at varying distances. Keep your eyes locked on the object and then begin to relax your focus taking in the surrounding features. Continue this and explore further out into your periphery, at first just observing colours, shapes, and movement. Over time you’ll begin to make out small details. Keep on this expanded visual awareness and even start to count and name all the object that exist in your expanded field of vision and objects that come in and out of frame without looking directly at them.
An offshoot of this is to start looking for particular items, activities, and characters in any given situation. Expanded awareness of your environment, in terms of safety and security, could include always knowing your exists and creating an escape route in your mind. This will encourage you to be and stay aware of new environments as well as reorienting you in familiar ones. Keep a running tally of people in a shared space, look for signs of shared reactions, out of place individuals, or group dynamics. All of this feedback and information will open your senses, make you keenly aware of shifting situations, and make you feel incredibly alert. As this continues, look deeper into the scene and start reading people, their level of awareness, interactions between pairs and groups of individuals, body language, emotional cues. From a safety standpoint this will allow you to see potential trouble before it boils over. You’ve already made note of the exit and have a strategy in place to evacuate if need be. Now, this needn’t be a mechanism for paranoia or fear. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. You’ll start to feel empowered and a step ahead. Awareness brings a sense of freedom and power. Yes, it’s another tool to be developed.
These three new rituals can be easily integrated into your routine and shared with others. Children will love the new addition of playful, game-like, activities and they’ll benefit tremendously from their inclusion into daily life. Hopefully there is a spill over effect to other facets of your life where it becomes second nature. It is a rewarding practice and ultimately serves to enliven both your role as a professional as well as personal downtime. So, here’s to your new ritual of opposite sided maneuvering, on one leg, while counting birds pass in the corner of your eye. Enjoy!