📚 Book Report: The Power of Ritual
Finding Meaning and Connection with 6 Modern Traditions
What are your morning rituals — do you brew a cup of matcha tea, meditate to the sound of recorded waterfalls or write in a journal? Realistically, you probably check your phone, prep breakfast for yourself (and family) or maybe walk your pandemic puppy, hoping for a future with a slow start to the work day.
But, by elevating a routine to a ritual — even if it’s only for 15 minutes — you can transform those morning and daily moments from common to remarkable, according to research by Casper Ter Kuile in The Power of Ritual: Turning Everyday Activities into Soulful Practices. While rituals are typically associated with religion, this book broadens our perspective on sacred activities.
“Taking things we do every day and layering meaning and ritual onto them, even experiences as ordinary as reading or eating — by thinking of them as spiritual practices.” (3)
The book begins by taking us back in time to explore ancient practices and finds parallels to today.
“We found that not only did secular spaces offer people connection in similar ways that religious institutions once did, but they also provided other things that filled a spiritual purpose. Communities that we studied offered people opportunities for personal and social transformation, offered a chance to be creative and clarify their purpose and provided structures of accountability and community connection.” (10)
In his research, Casper Ter Kuile introduces us to the concept of unbundling — “separating elements of value from a single collection of offerings” — and the impact this has on our lives.
“Fifty years ago, most people in the United States relied on a single religious community to offer connection, conduct spiritual practices, ritualize life moments, foster healing, connect to lineage, inspire morality, mark holidays, serve the needy, support families, work for justice…Today, all of those offerings have become unbundled.
We might introspect by using a meditation app, like Headspace, find ecstatic moments of connection at a Beyonce concert, and go hiking to find calm and beautify. We set our intentions at spin classes and make a note of thanks in our gratitude journal. We express our connection to ancestors through the dishes we cook.” (20-21)
In this book report, I showcase six of these unbundled communities studied by the author. I explore the lessons their core activities can teach us about how we communicate, collaborate and connect at work.
🎨 #1 Creating
We are introduced to the Artisan’s Asylum — a makerspace near Boston, Massachusetts that describes itself as “a vibrant community workshop — we're a 52,000 Square Foot fabrication wonderland where the arts, learning and entrepreneurship come alive.”
It’s a destination for creating with a mission to invest back in its community. We learn about their annual “Makers-giving” gathering that happens around Thanksgiving where artistic creations are celebrated side by side with culinary creations. Over the years, Artisan’s Asylum has made much more than a creative impact:
“It is the place where people come to grow into the person they want to be. Learning a new skill like welding gives members the confidence to try something new like improv or singing. Becoming a mentor to someone new to a craft shapes how members see themselves in the world.
And because the space is open 24 hours a day, and a number of members have insecure housing, the whole community has become passionate about advocating to the city government about better public housing. The congregational parallels are not difficult to spot.” (10)
🥁 Applying this Ritual to Work
By applying this creating mindset to work, we can incorporate ways for our team members to embrace learning new skills — whether that knowledge is art-related or work-related — design thinking workshops are just one example.
By embracing creating, we can offer our own maker spaces on work campuses as a community building space or offer virtual art workshops to encourage approaching challenges differently — the rewards are enjoyed by both the employee and the empower. In Virtual Intelligence, Author Amy Herman asks and analyzes “how could looking at Monet’s water lily paintings help save your company millions?” (future book report coming soon 😉)
📖 #2 Reading
In this book, the author introduces us to the “Art of Sacred Reading”— which “can help us know who we are and decide who we might want to become.” (37) This literary ritual began with a very different type of book club reading Jane Eyre, chapter by chapter.
“It wasn’t a book club conversation about what we thought about the plot, or why such-and-such happened when Mr. Rochester has said so-and so-in the chapter before.
No, we were asking questions like. What can we learn about suffering? How can we better understand mental illness? What does the text ask us to do in our own lives?” (42)
After the Jane Eyre book club, Casper Ter Kuile took a new look at another classic book series and launched the Harry Potter and the Sacred Text podcast in 2016 with his friend Vanessa Zoltan. Together, they went in search of “unexpected wisdom in the wizarding world.” (43)
“Reading makes us see ourselves in other characters, become nostalgic for parts of our past, and challenge our worldview. It’s also often credited with helping people create empathy.
Reading is inherently about more than mechanistically decoding symbols on a page. It’s about interpreting characters and the situations they find themselves in. It’s about making meaning of the world around us. Reading changes us.” (45, 59)
🥁Applying this Ritual to Work:
Clearly, your organization needs a book club or two for deep discussions. Really, what’s most important is giving people the time to read and learn. This could mean fewer meetings or starting a meeting with reading time to review materials shared in advance.
Share articles about your industry and discuss them in a chat group. Give employees the time to read content that will help them think and engage in conversations to grow professionally. Overall, make time and prioritize learning and development. Here’s a prior piece on prioritizing your approach to Learning and Development.
🍜 #3 Eating
This is one of my favorite sentences from the book:
“There’s no better way to build community than to eat together.” (85)
As someone who has organized and enjoyed many meals with colleagues and communities, I couldn’t agree more. Food brings people together in meaningful ways, in particular through a cultural lens of teaching and sharing religious culinary traditions.
Even when we say “cheers,” there’s a deeper meaning to this practice of connecting over food and drink.
“We clink glasses before a meal. If, as our glasses touch, the liquid skips over from one into other, we can all be assured of our safety…Some of the most important religious rituals center on shared eating or drinking.” (86)
🥁 Applying this Ritual to Work
For in-person, there’s nothing quite like the “office dining hall” where colleagues can gather for meals. For hybrid workers who get together occasionally, there are special meals out at restaurants or cooking classes together.
For remoters, there’s a lot that can be offered with food and drink — recipes can be shared around holidays, and employees can learn to cook from a team member via video chat. I led a series that did just that called Spin Can Cook — named in honor of the classic PBS series Yan Can Cook. Each month, a different team member, many in leadership roles, taught a culinary dish that mattered to them.
🚲 #4 Exercising
Fitness is a major focus of this book. Casper Ter Kuile studies several exercise communities, but the stories of The November Project and CrossFit, which he compares to a church, captured my attention the most. Each group has unique rituals that connect their community in meaningful ways. Here’s more about those practices:
“The November Project has developed two key rituals for participants so they can keep putting one another at the center and keep one another honest. Each week a ceremonial stick, known as the Positivity Award, is given to the person who has most benefitted the community and the wider city.…But the carrot of motivation is only one side of the story. If friends promise one another that they’ll show up but then break their word, their names are listed publicly on the website with a note of (loving) accountability.” (106-107)
“In order to open a [CrossFit] ‘box’ — ‘what HQ looks for in these essays is not an applicant’s business savvy, training skills, or fitness level—the key ingredient is whether one’s life has been changed by CrossFit and whether the applicant wants to change other people’s lives with CrossFit.’” (7)
With both of these programs, people show up for the workout, but they return for the community. The November Project both recognizes and holds people accountable. CrossFit is about more than just fitness, it’s about transforming your lifestyle. Communities and businesses have even developed from it, including the RxBar. There’s a fascinating NPR How I Built This podcast episode that tells this origin story.
🥁 Applying this Ritual to Work
Start an office running group! In all seriousness, wellness programs should be celebrated and prioritized. Consider teams signing up for local versions of national races or walks for a cure. Each group can have a custom city experience and form a community connection with colleagues in other locations who’ve had a similar experience.
If it’s not your employees exercising with each other, ensure they are incentivized to work out on their own, giving them time to stay healthy however they enjoy it — hiking, cycling, swimming, dancing, jump roping and more options. Exercising is also good for mental health and community connection, giving people increased energy and the ability to focus.
Finally, consider your benefits plan — by offering reimbursement programs or discounted insurance rates for staying healthy, employers can create a brand that makes their employees appreciate working there. Internal communicators who work closely with the People Team write and create campaigns to show these benefits in action.
🧳 #5 Traveling
In this book, readers are reminded about the impact of pilgrimage from a faith perspective but challenges us to consider this travel with a purpose as a ritual for anyone.
“Pligraminage can happen anywhere: a hike in the desert or a walk around the block, solo camping in the Rockies or a family trip to the dog park…What matters is setting an intention before we head out, paying attention to the natural world along the way–using all five senses if possible –and returning again with a new perspective.” (126)
With this concept in mind, we learn about the Millennial Trains Project, a community that took young innovators to explore “new frontiers” with impact in mind.
“A cross-country train journey to learn about social entrepreneurship and to see anew smaller cities that have been dismissed as ‘rust belt’ urban areas in decline.” (126)
🥁 Applying this Ritual to Work
Ensure team members have time to take off for personal travel as well as volunteer experiences. Consider the importance of caring for our employees to ensure they do not burn out and also offer them extra time off to give back locally or globally.
In addition, giving mental health days or closing down for a day each month or a “week of rest” so that everyone can disconnect at the same time provides employees peace of mind. Internal communicators often helps draft these messages and talking points so that employees are aware of these opportunities.
🙏🏽 #6 Thanking
There’s so much power in a thank you — simply expressing appreciation in writing can transform someone’s day. It has a powerful impact on the giver and the thank-er, according to research by Professor Adam Grant. Casper Ter Kuile confirms this with the study of gratitude through a ritual lens.
“Giving thanks to that source of goodness outside ourselves–whether a specific person, the luck of a certain opportunity, or something more deeply spiritual–contributes to reorientating our lives away from the dominant cultural narrative of our own success, desires, and ambitions and toward a perspective that is more holistic.
“Gratitude is not about stuff…Gratitude is the emotional response to the surprise of our very existence, sensing that inner light and realizing the astonishing sacred, social, and scientific events that brought each one of us being.” (170)
🥁 Applying this Ritual to Work
Cultivate a culture of appreciation among colleagues. Depending on the platforms your organization uses, create a channel or group for employees to express gratitude to recognize each other.
Executive communications should ensure that gratitude comes from the top with leadership also recognizing team members. There are ways to incorporate gratitude into a weekly ritual with a public thank-a-thon of appreciative posts or sending cards to colleagues.
What rituals are important for you to incorporate into your work routines?
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