Doing ritual, whether it's a religious ceremony or a simple greeting on the street, is a powerful way to break bad habits and improve our lives, says Harvard historian Michael Puett. His latest book is "The Path: What Chinese Philosophers Can Teach Us About the Good Life" (http://goo.gl/Sltm1b).
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Transcript - A lot of our philosophers have what would seem to us a very counterintuitive idea of how to break patterns. Among the key things they will say are rituals. Now we often find rituals to be a bad thing. Some of them are okay, you know, prayer ritual presumably is a nice thing and a family get together on a holiday. But the idea of doing lots of rituals over the course of the day strikes us as archaic. It’s things that traditional people used to have to do. And we tend to think it’s good for us that we don’t have to do it because if we’re going to be sincere and true and authentic to ourselves we don’t want rituals that tell us what to do. Well again let’s suppose for a second that perhaps our philosophers are on to something. That we are just these patterned creatures and these patterns are potentially very dangerous. So how do we break them? That’s why you do rituals. What rituals do is they force you for a brief moment to become a different person and interact with those around you in a different way. So for that brief moment suddenly you’re no longer repeating the same old patterns, you’re doing something else and what they argued was it’s that break that really matters. Let me give you an absurdly mundane example. Typical of one in America is we see someone that we sort of know and we say, you know, we’re going through the usual day, our anxieties, fears, angers, blah, blah, blah are typical patterns in this language.
And then we see someone and we say oh hey, how’s it going? And the other person goes oh pretty good. How are you? And we say oh yeah, I’m pretty good too and then we walk off. Now if you think about it you might think well it’s sort of silly that we do that because that’s inauthentic. I’m actually not feeling pretty good right then. But if you think of it as a ritual it’s actually a very good thing to do and we should even do it more fully. Because then what you’re doing is you’re breaking out of that standard set of patterns of the ways you’re going about the day. For that brief moment and I’ll use their language you enter a ritual space. You’re connecting with someone. Things are going well. You’re connecting with this person perfectly. It breaks you out of those patterns. And then if you’re doing that sort of thing, these little seemingly meaningless rituals over the course of a day consistently you’re breaking yourself out of these little patterns and opening up other possibilities. And they would argue that is why ritual matters. It breaks us out of patterns. We enter it to it as a space. We act as if we are a different person with a different set of emotions interacting with those around us in a different way and that is, over time, how you break these patterns. Read The Full Transcript Here: http://goo.gl/Egs9eH.
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