I’ve been thinking a lot about the power of ritual this summer.
So today, I’d like to tell you a story that may help:
In 2013, I was in South India researching and training in Kalaripayattu (the world’s oldest martial art) with my master teacher, Sivakumar Gurukkal. Every morning we would wake up at 5:00 AM to practice yoga. One time, I remember he turned to me and said, “You must have a personal practice, Michael. You must have ritual. If not, your mind will go like this (he motioned his hand like a sign wave), but if you practice everyday slowly your mind will go like this (he motioned his hands with a smaller sign wave).
This is my friend John Joseph, senior student of Gurukkal, looking like a badass. Practitioners of Kalari are also known as The Flying Warriors of Kerala.
For at least four times a week for the past three years, I’ve taken Gurukkal’s words to heart. I have tracked my calories, I have worked out, and for the first time in my life, I saw what happens when you keep showing up. Indeed, as Gurukkal had described, my mind did seem to handle the peaks and valleys better.
Through this personal practice and ritual of showing up for myself, I learned there are plans and there is nature.
I love to make plans. I love ritual. My life is orderly, logical, and I love making to-do lists. Nature, however, is not so orderly. It’s mysterious and unpredictable.
This past year was a tough one for me. My mom was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer, my long-term relationship ended, and I was trying to juggle too many things at once. Often, I would wake up in a dark place where my mind and thoughts seemed like they were against me. My life felt unpredictable. Nature was reminding me that nothing goes according to plan.
The only things I could rely on to make me feel better, I learned, were my small rituals and personal practice.
So when my Mom passed away this May, I knew that I needed to lean on my community. As a result, I approached the Mark Fisher Fitness team and we created an accountability workout group. Together with Brian and Matt, we created the Trinity.
The Trinity and MFF team member, Kyle “Beast” Langworthy
What would happen, we asked, if we took our fascination with ritual to a whole new level?
So, we wore the same outfit, we chose specific times to workout every week, we listened to Braveheart, we made the lights in the Dragon Lair dark red, we drank creatine and expressed how we wanted to show up before every workout, we designed and implemented the same training program, we fasted together on Saturdays, we invited MFF team members to join us, we challenged our belief by pushing our boundaries, and at the end we always did a gratitude circle where we shared what we were grateful for that day.
People often laughed at us because it all felt a bit culty. And they were right, we were SUPER CULTY!
But, I’ll admit, I looked forward to those rituals. Those men made me stronger than I ever thought possible. I looked forward to those rituals because they brought a deeper sense of meaning to my life. I felt such FREEEEEEDOM.
I felt freedom in the idea that whatever you do or plan, nature will present obstacles that you can’t predict. I felt freedom in the idea that ritual can be a vehicle to transform those obstacles into opportunities for success. Most importantly, I felt freedom that I could always rely on ritual to help me accept and respect the mystery of life.
In fact, the more I embrace this idea, I’m reminded of Rumi’s words:
“The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
Because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.”
Today, I’m grateful for the ninja army and the Trinity for teaching me that lesson.