Updated: Dec 3, 2021
This fall, I developed a routine in which about every other day, my dog, Oatmeal, and I took a hike together at Blue Mountain. It's a popular recreational area, both for its plexus of trails and as a conduit of vitality. It‘s a special place that attracts runners, hikers, and dog-owners alike.
For a while, my routine went like this: roll out of bed, make breakfast with the sleep still in my eyes, secure face masks around little ears, and send the kids out the door with kisses on the tops of their heads.
Then, silence. Quiet. An empty house.
There I'd stand, for a moment in my bed-head state and feeling a little bit sad, until heavy, padded footsteps and Oatmeal's wet nose nudged me out of my head and back to the smell of coffee from the kitchen,
and sunlight streaming through the northeastern facing window.
With his eager eyes looking up at me and nubby, little tail wagging tentatively side to side, he would seem to ask, "is it time"?
I think, for him, the noiselessness set off a ritual whereby the sudden hush of voices, the pour of coffee into a travel mug, my donning of 'day clothes' and 'walking shoes' meant things were happening. At the sight of me reaching for his leash, and he'd be out of his mind.
The difference between between my routine and Oatmeal's ritual was tiny. What separated the two was the intention: custom vs ceremony.
Rituals of any kind have the power to focus attention to a way of living awake in the world. They invite wonder and gratitude. It's something that seems to come easy to Oatmeal, and has become more of a practice for me. Taking those careful steps towards the next right thing - be it a morning hike or moral high road - is one of consciousness and deliberation.
Oatmeal and I haven't taken a walk together in weeks. I've fallen out of routine has critically come to mind more than a couple of times. By the number of socks and stuffed toys he's brought to my feet lately, Oatmeal sees things differentl. An offering must be made, I imagine him thinking.
That's the other thing that separates routine from ritual: reciprocity.
We carry gifts of our own, when we choose to see them as such. Among the most precious of those is gratitude. Giving thanks implies an acknowledgment not only of the gift, but of the giver. When the din of the morning settles to stillness, my gratitude is directed to that vast, open space that Blue Mountain offers as acres of off-leashing running for Oatmeal. Gratitude is sourced from the deep knowing that our day-to-day relies on the subtle gifts of what's right in front of us.