I was building a campfire at one of our Getaway outposts recently when I started thinking about rituals. Whenever I spend a night at one of our tiny cabins, no matter how cold, tired, or uninspired I am, I always build a fire. There’s something about the physical work of arranging the wood in the fire pit, the sight of the flames catching and growing, the sound of crackling and that unmistakable sweet, smoky smell that makes me feel like I’m truly somewhere else, far from the stress and pressure of my life back home. Committing the time and making the drive from Brooklyn helps to get me here, but it’s the ritual of the campfire that allows me to really let go.
Unlike habits—things we do so routinely we barely notice we’re doing them—rituals are performed with awareness and intention. They’re hardwired in us: humans from every time period and culture on earth perform rituals, sometimes together and other times alone. We have rituals for luck, for courage, for celebrating births and honoring the dead, for healing, for good vibes, for bringing the rain.
Whether rituals can actually deliver luck, fortune, or good weather is an open question, but recent studies show that we receive concrete psychological benefits from them either way. The repeated gestures and actions of a ritual can give us a sense of order and control, measurably reducing stress and anxiety.
Like a lot of people, I’ve had to let some rituals go this past year. Over the holidays, which Michael and I celebrated quietly in our apartment, I found myself missing not just my family but my mom’s jello salad, a regular staple of our Christmas dinner. (I could’ve made it myself, but it wouldn’t have been the same. And you can be sure that Michael, who didn’t grow up with this particular midwestern delicacy, was not missing it.)
Luckily, I’ve been able to maintain one of my favorite rituals: the email list-serv I started years ago with some grad school friends, in order to stay connected after graduation. Every two weeks like clockwork, one of my friends sends out a new email, and the rest of us reply with brief bullet-point updates about our lives. Exchanging quick email updates with friends doesn’t always feel super meaningful in the moment. But over time, these biweekly dispatches have become an indispensable archive of who we were and who we’re becoming.
Like any investment, the value of a ritual isn’t immediate, but cumulative. As behavioral scientist Nick Hobson explains, “The more we do them, the more meaningful they become, both to us and to others with whom we might share them.” For my friends and me, our listserv has become a lifeline, especially over this long hard year of social distancing.
And then there’s the Getaway campfire, which always takes me back–not to a specific time or place, but to a particular kind of feeling I get when I’m surrounded by nature. It’s peaceful and simple and elemental: the heat of the fire on my face, the stars overhead. I feel like I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.
What rituals–whether new, modified, or old standbys–have been getting you through this winter? Share them with us at [email protected]
Ready to create some of your own rituals in nature? Book your Getaway today.