For about two years now I have had a weekly coffee ritual. It consists of choosing a particular coffee shop, usually one that I have researched and chosen because they source organic beans, offer french press or pour over, and have a relaxed and friendly atmosphere with free wi-fi, and then spending part of my morning truly enjoying my cup of coffee.
Because I only have coffee once a week, I take care to pick a place that will satisfy my particular idea of what makes a good cup of coffee. I make sure to allow myself at least 30 minutes to sit and enjoy the coffee. Part of my ritual is to observe the barista as they make my pour over or french press. I can always tell the ones who take pride in preparing a proper cup of coffee. It’s always worth the wait for the perfect brew. I make sure to provide my own insulated mug for it to be poured into. This ensures that the coffee stays hot for the duration of time that I drink it. There’s nothing worse than a lukewarm coffee.
Once I get the coffee, I sit down with my computer and open up Evernote. I click on the notebook called Coffee Notes and begin my noting process. I always write the date, the name of the coffee shop, and the location. I then record the roast of the coffee, e.g. dark or medium (never light…I don’t see the point in light roast), and origin.
At this point, I return to my coffee and I smell it. I smell it as if I am wine tasting. I really stick my nose into it and take a big whiff. I do it several times. The smell of a good coffee brings me almost as much pleasure as tasting it does. After I get some big satisfying pulls of coffee aroma, I record my observations. Is it malty, acidic, nutty, chocolatey? Once I spend a few minutes noting the scents, I move on to tasting.
Again, as an oenophile tasting a vintage wine, I slowly sip the coffee and savor the different tastes in my mouth. I pay attention to all the subtleties it offers. I record my notes. This whole process takes about ten minutes. Once I’ve given my full attention to the coffee and jotted down my notes, I then move on to eating, reading or writing, savoring whatever time I have left before I have to move on with my day.
This ritual began with a desire to hone my coffee tasting abilities and to increase my vocabulary of coffee flavors. What I discovered though, was that this ritual brought all sorts of other unexpected benefits to my life.
History of the Ritual
Rituals have been around since the beginning of humankind. Cultural Anthropology writes this about the subject:
One can find rituals, both sacred and secular, throughout “modern” society: collective experiences, from the Olympics to the commemoration of national tragedies; cyclical gatherings, from weekly congregations at the local church to the annual turkey carving at Thanksgiving to the intoxication of Mardi Gras; and personal life-patterns, from morning grooming routines to the ways in which we greet and interact with one another.
Rituals can provide comfort in times of fear. They can provide solace in times of grief. They serve to connect us with others in group rituals such as weekly religious ceremonies or tribal rituals such as rain dances.
But the benefit I want to focus on in this article is the cultivation of the present moment. In our goal oriented society, creating a ritual is a liberating practice that instills the importance of a process driven mindset enabling us to appreciate the beauty of now.
My weekly coffee ritual was suspended recently as I gave up coffee as part of an elimination diet I am doing. So for over two months, I was without my weekly ritual and I have noticed the absence. It’s not so much the actual coffee that I have missed but rather the formality of the practice and the enrichment of the experience that it brought about.
My coffee ritual provided a guaranteed time where I could sit and savor an experience with no thought of to do lists or achieving a certain result. It wasn’t about getting through it and onto the next thing.
It was in fact the opposite.
It was to appreciate and savor the pleasures of a set of steps that I carefully curated for no other reason than to experience them. Expectations are left at the door and the ritual becomes the focal point.
How often in our busy, goal-driven lives do we allow ourselves the luxury of enjoying the process?
Create a Holiday Ritual
As we embark on the holiday season, it is the perfect time to begin a new ritual or renew an old ritual. The magic of the holidays can easily get lost in the ever growing and expanding commercialism and consumerism that society and corporate America forces upon us.
Yet the holidays are brimming with traditions and rituals to be stolen back and savored once again.
Rather than cramming a host of holiday chores into a single morning rushing through in a haste to check each item off the perpetual list, choose one activity to spend some time on and practice with intention.
For example, tree trimming can be an activity that can easily be ritualized. Take time to set the scene by putting on your favorite holiday tunes. Maybe you whip up some homemade egg nog or caramel corn to snack on. Then take care to lay out all the ornaments and decide where each one will go. Have a specific order for stringing the lights, draping garland or hanging tinsel, and finishing it off with your tree topper. The fun is in the details. If it’s a family and friends event, maybe each person is in charge of one element of the decorations. The point is to truly enjoy the process making it an event to be treasured.
Rituals Cultivate Gratitude
Ritualizing activities ushers in a sense of gratitude and appreciation. We can take comfort in the order and formality of each step. Ritualizing also fosters a deeper appreciation for the activity itself and causes us to value it more.
Harvard Business Review reports new research that confirms this increase in the perception of value with things that are ritualized. They looked at two groups of chocolate tasters. One group was instructed to eat it ritualistically (i.e., break the bar in half without unwrapping it, unwrap half the bar and eat it, and then unwrap the other half and eat it) and another was told to eat it as they normally would. The group that performed the ritual reported enjoying the chocolate more.
The researchers explain how ritual increases value in this way:
Vohs and her colleagues found evidence to suggest that personal involvement is the real driver of these effects. In other words, rituals help people to feel more deeply involved in their consumption experience, which in turn heightens its perceived value.
From a business standpoint, you can see how creating a ritual around a product would be good for business. The report points to the great success of the Oreo cookie in which everyone knows the proper way to eat it is to twist the top off and lick out the creamy center. It also points to Guinness and its emphasis on the “perfect pour” as determining the taste of the brew. And if I look at my own weekly coffee ritual, I am happy to wait the extra time for a barista who boils the water to the exact temperature, grinds the beans to the right consistency, and pours with patience so the coffee blooms perfectly, resulting in a better tasting cup.
Would I swear by a blind taste test that I could tell the difference between a carefully made pour over or an automatic drip? No, probably not. But I will swear that I get much deeper pleasure in the whole coffee experience if there is care and detail put into making that cup of coffee.
My challenge to you this holiday season is to create a ritual. It can be social or solo. It can be daily, weekly, or just once a year. The importance is to relish the process. Pay attention to the details.
The end result is not the goal, nor is it the pleasure.
The pleasure lies in the moment.
Rituals are the formula in which harmony is restored. -TerryTempest Williams
Harmony is experienced in the moment when flow happens. Ritual is the means in which we attain flow.
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