Episode 41 of The Informed Life podcast features an interview with Arvind Venkataramani. Arvind is Director of Research at SonicRim, a consultancy that supports innovation through co-creation. Alongside Adam Menter, Arvind is developing a toolkit to help people design secular rituals. In this episode, we discussed rituals: what they are, and how being more intentional in their structure and use can improve our lives.
Early on in the conversation, I asked Arvind what he meant by “ritual,” and this is what he said:
a ritual is a nameable container for managing transformation and making meaning. And by container, we mean like a defined and bounded process, right? So that’s the key characteristic. It’s a thing you do that sort of changes you in some way, and it is meaningful in some way; you use it to either acquire meaning or apply meaning to some situation or you use it to uncover the meaning that exists in that situation, for you.
This concept of rituals as containers for meaningful experience echoed throughout our conversation. Towards the end of our time together, Arvind articulated it in a very compelling way:
You want to build on the lived world that you’re in, but the lived world that you’re in may not just be enough in and of itself to help you create meanings, sometimes. And that’s the idea of why the ritual toolkit helps you structure an experience to create that special-ness; the ability to step out of mundane-ness and into ritual time. And some people might know how to do that. And so, what we’re doing is, for the people who don’t know how to do that, provide scaffolding for them to be able to go into ritual time and bring the people into ritual time. But then the things you put into ritual time can come from all of these different sources. And one really important thing is a lot of the meaning that emerges in a ritual is not just from the fact that something is deeply meaningful. A huge portion of the meaning comes from the separation of ritual time from world time. Things become meaningful in the context of ritual, because you have wrapped it in this container. You have separated it, you put it in here. Its significance, its salience, its power, its focus becomes amplified by putting it into a ritual. Whereas if you were to just encounter it in an everyday context, that same thing in your own world would just not have that much power.
I love this idea of setting aside time and space to undergo some kind of meaningful transformation. It’s especially relevant in these days when so much is changing around us. Arvind and Adam’s work could help many people through these difficult times; check out their ritual design toolkit.