Friday, September 28, 2012

Rituals in time

This Sunday past was the perfect Spring equinox. The weather had noticeably warmed, the light seemed brighter and there was a fresh blossominess to the air. Compared to Moscow Sydney's winter is far from serious, yet the one just passed was long and wet. If SAD really is a disorder I know I would have fit somewhere on the spectrum by September's close.

The wonderful thing about feeling a bit low at the end of winter is that the emergence of spring is totally delicious. The year I lived in Vancouver was the coldest winter for 50 years. While the novelty of living in the snow had not yet worn off, the day I saw a yellow blossom poke out from beneath the white blanket I did a jig on the spot, so ecstatic I was to see some colour after all the grey.

Noticing my reaction to this latest change in season had me thinking about how we consider time. So often we only observe it as linear - minute after minute, week after week, year after year going by towards some mysterious end like an accelerating trajectory. What we sometimes fail to notice are cycles that also mark time in a much softer way, bringing us back to ground and gently but consistently reminding us of the beauty and joy of life.

During my annual stay in France I always admire the way French life is lived by cycles of rituals and rhythms. No matter what time of the day, week, or year there seems always a moment to stop and mark a particular point in time with an appropriate ritual, whether it be le 4pm goûter, post church Sunday lunch or celebration of the Epiphany with King cake. Sure, many of these rituals have been born of religious observance, but all the same I find them comforting and delightful. They are the punctuation marks of time. Leaving my friend's apartment on a Sunday morning there is always a distinct smell of something yummy slow cooking close by. I'm usually on my way to a lunch gathering of my own.

Back in Australia, outside celebrating my birthday and having regular breakfast out on Saturdays with friends, I don't have many cyclical time-related rituals. Actually, to tell you the truth I'm even a bit hit and miss when it comes to my birthday. When I consider why this is the case, personally I'm not a routines sort of girl, preferring spontaneity rather than being locked into 'what we always do'. But on a broader scale it's just not an Australian thing to do. As a culture we seem to be hurtling down the American freeway at an ever increasing speed. With so called conveniences like 24/7 shopping and eating we are never forced to stand still. In contrast, I totally love that stores in France are not open on a Sunday except the boulangerie (one can't eat day old bread) and the boucherie for the obligatory rotisserie chicken.

So perhaps we could all do well to take some lessons from the Europeans and inject some time-marking rituals into our everyday, everyweek, and everyyear life. A regular monthly Sunday lunch or a quarterly party to celebrate the new season couldn't hurt now, could they!

Do you have time related rituals? Do you have any ideas?

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