The importance of ritual

caveI spent much of the last two weeks or so traveling through the south west of France (think in the direction of Toulouse, toward Spain), and had a chance to visit some of the caves that were decorated with prehistoric cave paintings. Of course, seeing these paintings, deep in the earth, brought many more questions than answers. Many of these paintings probably date more than 10,000 years before (we think) humans started writing; who were these people—did they have some vibrant culture we can only guess at, or were they huddled naked, alone, and afraid of the dark? Did they know their campfires were ever pushing the edges of that darkness back, and what would they think if they could stand at the edges of our cities bathed in electric fire today? How much is different, but what would we share with these prehistoric people—of their thinking, culture, and art?

Poetic thoughts and musings aside, one thing seems clear—these paintings were done at considerable effort and expense and people did this for at least a few thousand years. Many times, the caves were inaccessible—scaffolding probably had to be built to paint high on the walls, and this after crawling through long passages that were scarcely a meter high. These were highly motivated people with a reason for doing this, and it’s also curious that every surviving culture today has stories of people descending into the underworld and returning with power and insight. (I wrote on the power of myth and transformation here and there’s also a podcast or two on the subject.) It seems quite likely that these paintings were infused with elements of ritual and meaning that we will never understand—too many pieces missing from the puzzle and now all that remains is mystery upon mystery…

But there is something here for us: I would like you to take some time today to think about the power of ritual in our daily lives—the power to shape and transform intent and will. We live in concrete and glass jungles today, in many cases far removed from our roots in the Earth, but this does not have to be so; with very little effort, we can reforge some of those connections. The structure of ritual invites the strength and assurance of rhythm back into our chaotic daily experience. This is an invitation to transformation—an invitation to the Dance of life.

How to do this? Well, the first thing is to create an intent to do so. Perhaps there is some small benefit to doing some of these things sometimes, but much more to doing them regularly. Create a daily practice, and make some of these pieces a part of what you do each and every day. I’ve written about some of these before, but here are a few thoughts:

Create a daily gratitude ritual. Spend a few moments each day in quiet reflection, and then simply write down three things for which you are grateful. Though this seems silly, it’s not—you’ll find it’s quite impossible to live in a mindset of tension, fear, and scarcity when you turn your mind to gratitude. Simple things are good: be grateful for your socks that keep your feet warm, or for the cup of coffee with which you began your day. Simple things matter.

Create a ritual for intent for the day. In very practical terms, sit down with a piece of paper in the morning (or perhaps the night before), and write the three most important things you will do tomorrow. This is a commitment: give some thought to what you write, and only write the most important things that must be done. If you write it, do it. This very simple “to do” list has the power to literally transform your working and personal life.

Eat consciously. How many times do we shovel food in our mouth while watching TV, reading and answering email, or having a phone conversation? How about all at once? This is not the best thing for our minds or bodies, and there’s strong evidence that simply thinking about what we eat when we eat it can improve our health. When you cook, spend a few seconds of gratitude (there’s that word again) for the fish that is no longer a fish so you can have a meal. When you eat delivery pizza, think about the flavors and joy of each bite of food. If you do this, you’ll slow down and probably will think a bit more before you eat something you don’t like or something that is not good for you.

Create a process and ritual around your work. My blog is ostensibly written for traders of financial markets, but, whatever your profession, there is value in structuring your work around ritual and regularity. One of the teachers who taught me musical composition began his work each day by sharpening a few wooden pencils—when they were dull, his work was done. I begin each trading day at the end of the previous day, first by reviewing large volatility-adjusted moves across a wide range of markets. This tells me where I must naturally direct my limited resources of time and attention, and I next drill down into relevant markets to look for new opportunities. Managing existing positions is a simple matter of following my rules. On the weekends, I do a deeper dive into relative strength and patterns evolving across all global markets, paying special attention to higher timeframe patterns that do not need (and, in fact, suffer from) daily attention. I have created worksheets and a workflow that structure this work, and that structure allows me to turn my total focus and attention to the markets, rather than reinventing the wheel each time I sit down at the computer.

Of course, you can go much deeper with these ideas, but maybe these ideas will get you moving in the right direction—think about structure, regularity, and inviting some aspect of ritual into your daily experience. These simple things have the power to transform both what you do and what you receive from your efforts—powerful, simple tools for change.


Adam Grimes has over two decades of experience in the industry as a trader, analyst and system developer. The author of a best-selling trading book, he has traded for his own account, for a top prop firm, and spent several years at the New York Mercantile Exchange. He focuses on the intersection of quantitative analysis and discretionary trading, and has a talent for teaching and helping traders find their own way in the market.