I have always craved ritual, craved it in a deep and significant way, for as long as I can remember. My entirely secular upbringing, by unsentimental ex-catholics, meant that nothing felt sacred, nothing had any pomp or circumstance to it. The idea of imbuing an object or practice with significance or creating ritual was absurd to them, it was a trapping they had both wrenched free of as adolescents and they could not fathom, and would not indulge, my desire for the opposite.
I craved the richness and anticipation of ritual and found tiny ways to privately ritualize everyday things. I romanticized simple chores and tasks and took time to think of things in detail, to plan my micro experiences of ritual that I could covertly hide among my day to get the satisfaction I wanted. Simple things like laying the table for dinner became silently reverent. The process of getting ready for bed or taking a shower were repeated in the same order, daily because it was gratifying. I never felt compulsive about it, I could do it differently, but I enjoyed the patterns and the reliability of it.
I learned later, in my adult life, that the meticulous care and distraction that children put into ritualizing common things is a coping skill that’s common in abuse and trauma survivors. So is the secretive nature of it. It’s a self soothing mechanism to give order and consistency to your life where others (adults) have failed to do so. In therapy I learned that the shame I felt for how badly I craved those rituals was normal too. It’s amazing what the mind can do to keep us sane and moving forward. As an adult I also found BDSM. I had always known it existed, in a peripheral way, it was something people did, but you know, those kind of people, not people I knew. I wasn’t judgemental of it, per se, but I was certainly ignorant. However, as uneducated as I was in what BDSM could be or involved, I was so very attracted to its intensity and how much ritual there was. Finally, a place in my life where I could indulge in ritual, where I didn’t have to cope with small and silly gestures.
My love affair with BDSM has been circuitous, to say the least, but all of my D/s relationships have been heavy on the ritual aspect. It’s a world full of symbols and labels, and learning to navigate is not simple or easy. Learning what works for you and how to acquire it is even more challenging. The intensity and the ritualised aspects keep things interesting to me, as well as the flexibility to make your dynamic whatever it needs to be. Unlike the heavy dogma of religious ritual, D/s, although worshipful and replete with traditions and ‘ways to be’, it is also so flexible. What you ritualise in your dynamic, and what you reject, is wholly up to you as the practitioners.
I’m inclined to believe that we all need some ritual in our life. Why else would rituals be a human concept since time immemorial? Ritual allows us to step outside of ourselves and have a pure experience, be it with another person, or alone. Rituals add meaning and complexity to the mundane and elevate the sacred. Rituals, are, I believe, more than just habits or pragmatic coping tools. Rituals allow us to suspend belief and enjoy magic, they give us the impetus to feel comfort in the weight and importance of seemingly unimportant things, they give us purpose to our actions and I for one, take great comfort, and have found healing, in that.