This post is a part of the Humanist Community at Harvard’s 2012 Blogathon, a 12 hour blogging marathon by Chris Stedman and Chelsea Link to support HCH’s end-of-the-year fundraiser. Chelsea and Chris are both publishing one new post per hour, for twelve hours straight, and none of the posts have been written or drafted in advance. For more blogathon posts, click here. If you enjoyed this post or any of the others, please consider consider chipping in to support our work.
For the last two months, I’ve been touring to support my new book Faitheist. I’ve been giving speeches, doing Q&As, meeting new people, and doing interviews. Throughout this process, I’ve been surprised by how many people have asked me whether I have any “nonreligious practices” or “rituals.”
At first I wasn’t sure how to respond to this question — it almost seemed like a joke. “Of course I don’t!” I wanted to say with a laugh, brushing it off. “I’m an atheist! We don’t do that!” But, of course, it’s not that simple. I do recognize the ways in which we often ritualize our lives, whether we are religious or not. And recently, I started doing a kind of ritual that I find particularly useful.
Right around the time of my book’s release, I met up with my dear friend Valarie Kaur, who is the founding director of Groundswell, an interfaith social action organization I help advise. Valarie is one of the most intelligent and graceful people I know, and she’s someone I turn to when I need advice or am trying to sort something out. Feeling somewhat overwhelmed, I was trying to figure out how to navigate life with a book out. We had a wonderful conversation, and she shared a practice she engages in every night. I hope she won’t mind if I share just a little bit about it with you now. (I tried to call her to check in, but this is the nature of a blogathon… It’s all happening so fast!)
At the end of each day, Valarie closes her computer, turns off her cell phone, and shuts out the cacophony of the outside world. Sitting quietly, she reflects back on what happened that day, treating the day as if it were a lifetime. She asks herself what her greatest challenge was, what her greatest joy was, and what she was most grateful for. And then, after she’s reflected, she asks herself if she is ready to let it all go — to die to that lifetime. Can she think of all that she did that day and decide that it was enough? Can she appreciate and acknowledge all that she loves, and then let it go?
This idea is very powerful. Sometimes I find myself so caught up in all of the work that I have to do, all of the expectations that I have for myself, and everything I haven’t finished, that my evenings stretch on very late, my work continuing into the early morning. I sometimes have a hard time letting go, and letting myself rest and renew for another day. So I have decided to adopt — or, rather, adapt — her practice. Now, I try to take a moment at the end of each day to take stock of what I have done, what was difficult, and what I loved, and then let it all go. This practice, which I think is entirely Humanistic, has helped me find balance during a busy, challenging time, and I am grateful for it. Chelsea blogged earlier this morning about living as if the world is about to end, and I couldn’t agree more. I certainly don’t always live that ideal out, but it is worth thinking about and striving for.
I’m not really a “ritual” kind of guy — it’s hard for me to remember to pay bills on time, let alone engage in a ritual every day. But I make the effort because I find this kind of mindfulness practice useful. I don’t always do it, but when I do, I’m glad I did.
Do you have any Humanist rituals or practices? Or, if you are religious, do you see any overlap between what you do and what I’m describing?
Chris Stedman is the Assistant Humanist Chaplain at Harvard and the Values in Action Coordinator for the Humanist Community at Harvard. He is the author of Faitheist: How an Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religious, and the founder of the blog NonProphet Status.