Secular Structure – Caitlin Wienkes

How important is routine in life? Waking up at a certain time, planning meals with companions or by oneself, and completing daily chores—standing alone, all of these have importance, but I would like to draw attention to one feature: the pattern of repetition. This has been a topic on my mind as I have learned about my peer’s religious activities during the “Core of Our Traditions” unit of the fellowship. Each tradition has its own form of prayer or meditation and in many cases a religious practitioner is required to make time for prayer multiple times in a day. What does this daily ritual do for mental health? How do the frequency, commitment, and intentions of the act impact the experience?

I view many religious practices as ways to cope with life’s hurdles. Being agnostic, I try to adapt practices that appeal to me to improve the quality of my life. For example, the concept of “impermanence” from Buddhism has helped me conquer moments of great anxiety. I do not have one belief about what happens to my soul after death, but learning about the different theories of the afterlife brings me solace because the possibilities are endless. Let’s consider prayer as a religious practice: it is the consistency and dedication to the act—its being a ritual—that catches my attention and leads me to reflect on an activity I do four times a day: walking my dog. Being a dog owner has improved my life in many ways. Every day I must put my personal needs aside and give my dog fresh air, exercise, and a bathroom break. It gets me outside—out of my house and out of my head. My physical health has improved from walking many miles in a week. When my roommates aren’t home it is nice to have a friend greet me at the door who is always so excited to see me. Something that may seem like an inconvenience is having to plan my day around my dog’s needs, but I think that is one of the greatest benefits. It gives each and everyday purpose no matter what else is going on in my life.

I have experienced the benefits of structured daily activity, but I see a way to make my four dog walks a day even more beneficial. Though I’m not religious, there are certain elements of prayer that I’m interested in incorporating. Before leaving the house, I could make an intention of something to be mindful about. For example, I could spend fifteen minutes thinking about those I am grateful for. If I am stressed about something in my life, I could spend that time trying to perceive the situation from different viewpoints. I can send positive thoughts to my loved ones. This will bring me happiness and maybe they will feel it too.

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