The Benefits of Tiny Traditions
The Festival of San Silvestro has us thinking today of traditions. Not big ones, like holiday-themed ones—though those, too, are a topic in much need of some revelating—but little, tiny ones. Like Sunday breakfast, or picking blueberries in the summer. Taking a long walk after dinner. These seemingly insignificant rites characteristically shape who we are and offer insight into how we might spend our time, doing things which delight us, and as a result show a faith and commitment not unlike those Ddarara we wrote about last weekend, but toward the sainthood that is our happiest, most authentic self.
For instance, when our children were young, after dinner one of us would bathe them and change them into their pajamas and we’d all go for a short walk up the road. We called them Pajama Walks and after a while of this they became pretty much the routine—it’s nearly impossible to say no to a five year old who just wants to go for a walk! They would last anywhere from twenty minutes to an hour, and as the kids grew older, the walks got longer, the topics got deeper and the stress we all shred from being outside and moving, became even more beneficial.
On foot, with no phones to distract, the conversation came easy, inspired as it were through singing and laughter and anything under the sun. The weather, some school project, a neighbor’s holiday house decoration. Later, more serious topics arose and sometimes there were tears, but never regret. Those evening walks became part of who we were and remains a thing we do still today whenever we’re all together.
Our walks demonstrate, by their very slow, intentional nature, that to manifest a better self you have to manifest better time. For us, that meant setting boundaries around evening activities and regulating dinner plans and involved limiting extra-curricular activities and creating a weekly menu, for which we then made a list and did the shopping before the work week even started.
But not all tiny traditions have to fall to rigorous scheduling. They can and should become part of a routine. The book Flow, published in 1990 by the Legendary psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, suggests that what makes an experience genuinely satisfying is a state of optimal consciousness, called Flow, during which people report feeling deeper enjoyment, greater creativity, and a total involvement with life.
“...It is when we act freely, for the sake of the action itself rather than for ulterior motives, that we learn to become more than what we were.”
This almost magical state of mind, where you become completely absorbed in whatever the task, taking a walk, playing a game, or listening to live music, is such that nothing else seems to matter. The experience itself is the purpose, and you’ll find ways to do it again and again, even at great cost, simply for the sheer sake of doing it.
We all have these delightful moments—you may remember, I shared a few of ours in a post a couple of weeks ago—and yet, for some reason, these are often the hardest to maintain by making them part of our daily or weekly routine. Perhaps because they may seem a waste of time or appear non-productive, to ourselves and for some reason especially to others. They may not even (gasp!) be making us any money. But we know in our hearts that our lives would be infinitely better if we could just give ourselves over to them as often as we possibly can.
Acting on Desire
And this is my great take away as I watched the Festival of San Silvestro. For days, weeks even, months perhaps, through planning and preparation, these men, women and children of Troina set aside much everything else in order to sustain the rites and tradition that have been a part of their history for centuries.
Through pandemics, wars, strife and who knows what everyday struggles living here may beget (of which we are just now finding out) the tradition lives on and it does so because of the people. Not laws, not rules or regulations, certainly not government. But because people find reward in the personal act of participation.
So maybe, for the rest of us, setting aside our worries of productivity and wasting time is not asking too much. In fact, it may be of utmost importance, because in the fierce words of William Blake, "He who desires but acts not, breeds pestilence.”
That may sound a bit harsh. It did to me when I first read it, but then sometimes, I guess, to achieve whatever equivalent kind of sainthood exists for the freely living soul just trying to get along in this world one slow, intentional step at a time requires a bit of jarring honesty when asking the question: What kind of life do you want?