A client was expressing frustration over her untidy house and her struggle to manage the minutiae of her daily life more efficiently. Hearing Virgo and the sixth house in her statement, I summoned my Gemini moon for a lightning fast conference and calculated a response: “Maybe you’ve just formed some bad habits out of fear you won’t be able to make things perfect and keep them that way,” I suggested to her. “Why not focus on forming new habits that help you get this day to day stuff in hand?”
It that was a pithy recommendation, and we were both pretty pleased with it at the time. But remembering it now, I think I did my client and her Virgo planets a disservice by pretending her problem was one merely of housekeeping and habit. It’s not that what I told her was wrong, exactly; but it didn’t go quite deep enough. “Why,” I might reasonably have asked her, “have you turned the maintenance of your life into a drudgery to be avoided?”
Habit vs. Ritual
The Full Moon (March 12, 2017, 10:54 am EDT) is at 22.13 degrees of Virgo, the sign associated with those routines that comprise most of our days— working, running errands, preparing meals—as well as the habits we form through repetition of those routines. For the most part, we regard these habits and routines as entirely separate from our spiritual lives, a perspective this extends to our astrological lore, which relegates poor Virgo to the role of hapless drone while conferring spiritual honors upon its opposite sign, Pisces. In fact, the practices we identify as “spiritual” tend to be those traditionally associated with Pisces—meditation, bodywork, yoga, all of which have acquired increasing cachet while the homely tasks associated with Virgo are denigrated, and when possible, delegated.
But something is being lost, I think, in our determination to avoid these humble occupations; it’s often these small, ordinary tasks that offer the most accessible route from unconscious habit to mindful ritual, as well as the most frequent opportunities for attempting the journey.
Nag your child to finish her homework; do it every single weeknight (whether or not she actually has homework assigned), and soon you’ve got yourself a habit. Set aside half an hour each evening to sit with your child and talk about school, her assignments, and her experiences there, and you’ve entered the realm of ritual. You can immediately sense the difference between the two approaches; yet, both habit and ritual involve doing particular things at regular intervals in a particular way. What distinguishes them from one another?
Intention, and consciousness. You can sweep the kitchen floor each evening and hardly notice doing it, beyond a vague desire to have it over with as quickly as possible. But imagine you instead give your full attention to sweeping the floor carefully and thoroughly, visualizing the debris and disorder of your mind being swept away with the bread crumbs. Feel the difference?
Why make such a big deal out of sweeping a floor? Because we don’t live forever. Do you really have five minutes every day—more than thirty hours each year!—to waste on meaningless, unconscious activity? And yet the floor needs to be swept– a consequence of inhabiting a body that walks on things, eats things and spills crumbs. If you don’t occasionally sweep up the debris, pretty soon it offends the senses. So why not enjoy sweeping the floor, clearing it of life’s thriving, lively messiness? Why not use those five minutes as a sort of practical prayer, to celebrate being alive?
Honoring the Invisible
Virgo is the sign of habit, but equally the sign of ritual. Ritual is not magic; it is ordinary, everyday action performed with magical intention. It is the union of practical and spiritual, Virgo’s practicality and Pisces’ sensitivity. It is honoring spirit through the offering of our humble earthly abilities—modestly, with love and devotion.
Ritual is present in a house of bereavement, where friends and neighbors show their concern for the grieving with practical gifts of lovingly prepared food. It is present when I use my grandmother’s 75-year-old masher to prepare the Thanksgiving potatoes. It was present when my husband’s cousins spent the first days after their father’s death building an exquisite casket from wood their father had saved for this purpose.
Ritual is ordinary action carefully performed with extraordinary intention. It is how we honor the invisible with visible gestures.
From Habit to Ritual
During the two weeks between the Virgo Full Moon and the next New Moon, ferret out those circumstances that bore you, irritate you, or overwhelm you. Where in your life do you encounter drudgery, the feeling you’re “just going through the motions”? Where are you most likely to be annoyed or short tempered with others? What ordinary situations make you feel so overwhelmed, you no longer know how to untangle them? These are situations that suggest unconsciousness. They are situations which, if approached with intention rather than a sense of distasteful obligation, present the greatest avenue for your spiritual growth right now.
The client I mentioned at the beginning of this article, for instance, was overwhelmed by the idea of literally getting her house in order. She disliked housework, yet craved the order and serenity of tidy surroundings. What were her options? Here are a few that spring to mind:
- Forgo cleaning the house, and grow increasingly dispirited by the disarray.
- Hire someone to clean the house (not always an option).
- Jump right in and start cleaning the house, gritting her teeth and cursing with every stroke of her scrub brush as her mind wanders to all the things she’d rather be doing.
- Initiate this daunting project by tackling a single, well-defined task—say, cleaning one closet. Putting a favorite CD on the stereo, pouring something nice to drink, and taking the first, satisfying step toward restoring order and sanity to her home.
Which of her options sounds most spiritually energizing? Which carries the seed of spiritual expression? Which honors the invisible with a mundane but visible action?
The price we pay for too much unconscious, habitual activity is boredom, drudgery, fatigue, and irritability. So I invite you to experiment, at this Full Moon fortnight, with offering up whatever practical, Virgo skills you possess in the daily service of spirit and intention. With all the love and attention you can muster, bring order and attention to your abundance by balancing your checkbook. Honor your mobility and independence—wash your car! Bring serenity to your home by cleaning your house, one room, even a single drawer. Do these things not as a kind of hairshirt to prove your spiritual worthiness, but to celebrate and honor the spirituality that inhabits the everyday, the simple, the here and now.
© 2006-2017 April Elliott Kent