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Rituals and my mental health

My culture, that of a Punjabi-Indian heritage, is rich with sacred gestures and whether I realised it or not I picked up these rituals throughout my earliest years. For me, the first experiences of rituals was doing matha tekh at the gurdwara, where we bow to the Sikh scripture, watching my mum’s best friend perform puja or hearing my Dad’s deep voice reverberating the sounds of prayer throughout the house in the mornings. Although I knew these practices held significant weight, especially for the elders in our community, I never really connected with them fully or understood their purpose.

Then came 2020, a year that threw most people into disarray, so I won’t bore you with the details of what I was experiencing, but I will say that whilst being in lockdown I was simultaneously dealing with the upheaval in my closest relationship and the fallout from that. Feelings of abandonment, loss and low self worth plagued me and I had nowhere to escape to, quite literally. Healthy or not, many times I’ve heard people console friends and family members through hard times by distracting them with nights out or frivolous activities, but those methods were so out of reach during this period. I was lucky; many friends, my mum and my sister really stepped up to be there, but it didn’t stop the fact that at the end of the day it was just me and I couldn’t escape from my feelings.

Almost as a reflex, I picked up a pen when I couldn’t control the situation and I started to write. It was scruffy, disorganised words in my cutesy notebook, but it became a daily practise. I then started becoming militant about going on a walk for a full hour, where I listened to podcasts about music, religion and life. I lit candles when I felt lost, as the smell and flicker of the flame made me feel comforted. I started gratitude journaling each evening and thanking God, the universe or whoever was listening, for all I did have, rather than focussing on what I was lacking, especially given the very privileged position I was in.

At first I reached for these practices subconsciously. Clinging onto those small moments that started to make my mind feel less overwhelmed and my body less tense. Then I started paying attention. I leant into them, using them as significant markers in my day. I signed up to a journaling course, to solidify what I had been experimenting with and started making things like my walks, something I still do today, mandatory. They became protected parts of my days, where even a so-called ‘urgent’ slack message couldn’t penetrate. They quite literally pulled me out of a dark hole. Although these rituals weren’t like the ones I saw growing up, they were similar in so many ways, allowing me to carve out time for me and helped me develop my spiritual beliefs on my own terms. They allowed me to contemplate on things bigger than myself, unlock a part of me that lay dormant for too long and yes, connect with the universe. I started to connect with this ancient art of practising something daily for your own wellness, and it helped me find a connection to my roots.

It wasn’t until much later I was able to see these actions as rituals. After all, a ritual is just a sequence of activities involving gestures, words, actions, or objects, performed according to a set sequence. From then I could reflect on how much these rituals had saved me and I am beginning to understand why they were able to. Rituals transform the everyday, which can often be monotonous into something special. I gained a new appreciation for how lucky I was to be safe and have uneventful days. Even on days where negative self talk was constant, tiredness overcame my body and it all felt too much, I forced myself to repeat these gestures which often shifted my energy. I started to understand how daily practises that were so ingrained into my culture were lightyears ahead of me.

The most valuable thing that they taught me was to appreciate what is really important. A lot of the pain and heartache I was suffering came from what other people thought and expected of me, but engaging in small pockets of sacredness allowed me to truly connect with myself. I became more grateful, compassionate, empathetic and less judgemental, short-tempered and hard on myself, something I imagine people close to me had been getting from their own rituals years before. It was a relief to both the mind and body. It created meaning in a time where I felt hopeless and it connected me to an ancient wisdom that had always been embedded into my culture as a Punjabi Sikh woman.

I now understand the gravity of the rituals I once observed as a child; they had been providing comfort and grounding for generations before I existed. As a young British-Asian woman, I would sometimes be embarrassed of the things that outwardly showed I was different, but now I am so glad that I have come to love and accept the wisdom of all those who have come before me. And who knows, in a few years as my spiritual evolution grows I may be emulating the practices I saw when I was growing up.

Kim is a writer and content producer from London. She works for a female members club in Mayfair, where she spends her days empowering ambitious women in their careers and lives. Kim has written for Stylist, Metro, Refinery29, Mahsable and Breathe Magazine. She loves to explore all things wellness and the South Asian experience.


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