Part Two of a three-part series of articles on a collaborative experiment conducted in 2020.
In Part One of this series of articles, ‘Experimentation as a means to grow and innovate‘, I outlined the broader context of the Experiment.
In this article, I explain how our co-creation ensemble explored the idea of ritual, and shared an experience of co-creating our own rituals.
Our ritual co-creation approach
These are the steps were took in our approach for a shared activity with 8 people.
[“—” signifies where there was a gap in time, set intentionally to provide opportunity for personal thinking and action. These gaps also created a calm pace to the approach, without the need to rush to quick conclusions.]
1. Set the scope and intention for the ritual(s) to be created
2. Gathered co-creators (our ensemble) with interest in that scope
3. Started with an exploratory group session around questions:
a. What is ritual?
b. What rituals have we been part of? Followed?
c. Why do we do/use rituals?
d. What were the key elements of those rituals? (e.g. music, symbols, props, etc)
4. Formed smaller teams (3-4 people) to diverge and create, choosing at least four elements to incorporate into a new ritual.
5. Composed one ritual per team during offline team sessions (in whatever manner the team wished to do)
a. Defined steps to follow
b. Specified the props to use
c. Assigned responsibilities for who would deliver
6. Gathered in a whole group separate session to do the rituals as a fully embodied experience with no explanation and no reflection.
7. Allowed a week elapsed time for enduring impact.
8. Took time for personal reflection on the ritual experience and impact, after the elapsed week.
9. Gathered in a whole group session to collectively reflect
a. Make sense of what happened
b. Share the felt-experience and impact
c. Reveal insights and learnings to consider taking into the future
Reflections on co-creating rituals
The primary purpose of an experiment is to learn, particularly things you didn’t know you didn’t know. In this article, I reflect on my personal learnings of rituals and ritual design/co-creation.
The approach above achieved a good outcome (I wasn’t sure it would), and I would follow this approach again – allowing for it to adapt to another group or context.
It was really useful to have an initial discussion about rituals before jumping into the action of creating rituals. Turns out there was not a common understanding about what was a ritual, particularly differentiating it from a habit or routine. We could declare a dictionary definition, however a more meaningful (though fuzzy) definition emerged from discussion. Those in the group who got to make that meaning could actively own this (with all its fuzziness), rather than passively receive meaning made by others.
In retrospect it seems obvious, however I’d say it’s very important for something that is in itself laden with meaning, that such an activity starts with meaning-making. I learnt about the diversity of thought and value of rituals that can exist in a group, which extended my current perspective. This in turn gave me additional insight in how I might approach ritual co-creation with others.
Subjects related to rituals came up and enriched our understanding and search for the contours of what was a ritual. A subject like Mindfulness: If there was a mindful intention associated with a habit/routine (that is to be fully present in the moment), could it upgrade to a ritual? For example: teeth-brushing vs preparing for bed. Some of this thinking was a personal preference, some of it was influenced by cultural background. For example: In Japan (where two of the participants had lived), there are a serious of activities at the end of the day that cleanse and relax the body in preparation for bed.
I was reminded that rituals are a holder of culture being. They are a way into a culture; and a way to reflect back on one’s own culture. As individuals we are primed to see certain activities in a particular way from the culture we come from, as well as the culture we’ve adopted where we might reside. This can result in a hybrid version of a ritual – where we’ve chosen what a ritual means to us individually, sometimes moving away from a central meaning. And that’s ok!
There is a collective component to rituals. When a ritual is shared in practice (even if the meaning differs) we can have a feeling of togetherness and connection with others, overcoming a sense of isolation. A ritual can be a testament to what was or is, and for this it needs witnesses who may not be full participants in the ritual, however are still present.
A ritual can make a temporal and conceptual space that is outside of normal activity. Within this space, can be a sense of safety and comfort. While our digitally mediated experience meant an absence of shared physical space, we were still able to create space within time and within our group. It inspires me to think about other ways to create space that has some slack and stillness in life and conversation.
I’ve come to appreciate that a ritual is an opportunity to grow and evolve; while rituals themself also evolve in usage and context. We discussed a range of elements that make up rituals – and these ranged from abstract intangibles to concrete things. As our rituals took place over telepresence, we took our chosen elements and evolved a different kind of ritual where we each had concrete items that were unique to us (e.g. washing and drink containers), yet met an abstract norm.
Moving forward with these learnings, I intend to purposefully create more rituals, to further explore the contours of this form of activity.
That’s my personal reflections.
Listen to some of the participants share their thoughts on rituals and co-creation in this short audio podcast (18 min).
This article is the second in a series of three. The third article looks at the rituals we co-created and reflections on what it was to experience these.
Helen Palmer is Founder and Team Development Facilitator at Questo. Like Winnie the Pooh, she ‘sits and thinks’ … and imagines how people can make a better life for others and themselves. She likes to share those thoughts with the possibility that they inspire and initiate meaningful change.
Share with others