Sustainability through Ritual: Shaving

I want to start this post by reminding everyone that each of these rituals is one thing that you may add to your repertoire to create sustainability in your life. My goal is to introduce some options I have learned that help bring mindfulness to the chaos and disruption of every day life. Please do not let the option become even more disruptive by attempting to implement them all. Treat them as a smorgasboard. Take what you like or resonates with you. Try it for a while. Leave the rest or come back to try them later. Experiment with your life to find the things that create your individual sustainability.  

As a male, I have spent a large portion of my life avoiding shaving. Based on conversations with my wife I understand there is a comparative disaffection with some personal grooming tasks for women as well. However, I discovered something about shaving that I had not considered when I started so long ago. Shaving, and numerous other personal grooming habits, can be very focusing. Think of some of your own grooming rituals as I share with you my experience with one.  

A few years back I was part of multiple conversations about what has become quite a following, the ritual of wet shaving. There are groups and forums on the topic now and a very lucrative trade in the products associated with it. That was surprising to me. I had grown up thinking shaving was something I just “had to do”— every day— and the tools were ubiquitous and expensive for their commonness. These conversations peaked my interest and started me down a path of discovery about myself and the ritual that was shaving.

I will only share a little of my own observation here as this is not intended as a dissertation on the “Art”. What I discovered along this journey was that beneath this chore that I had to do every day was an opportunity. Hidden in the steps that I had run together over the years just to get through was a meditative ritual.

Through the act of focusing on the basic steps:
laying out the razor, towel, bowl, and brush and other needed items
Getting the temperature of the water hot enough
warming the bowl and preparing the soap
Wetting my beard and applying any initial oils
Teasing the soap to get the correct consistency of lather
Applying the lather evenly
Carefully shaving and learning the best ways to get to a clean shave
I learned something. All of these things that I had taken for granted when I had learned to shave, each step that I rushed through each day, was actually a way to calm my mind as I prepared for my day. Giving focus to each act of shaving required me to slow down. I opened myself up to the sensations of the water, heat, lather, and even the sharpness of the blade. It allowed me to gain control to the start of my day. As I completed each step, my mind could focus better on what was to come.

This was not about solving a problem at the mirror. I was not thinking about work or the challenges to come. But, sometimes, because I was giving my mind a chance to rest, solutions would come to me at the sink.   

There are many ways to explain the mechanics of how this works, and every time I do, it takes away from the art of it. What is important is that taking time each day to focus on an act of personal grooming has helped me slow down the frantic start that can impart a hard edge on my mood. When I faced my mornings with that hard edge, I became a brittle person. The first challenge I faced could break me and turn the rest of my day into a series of stumbles until I could get control of my self.

The way I faced my days often determined how I felt at the end of the day and even the successes or failures I created. Starting in a brittle mood left me tired and overwrought. Using a ritual like shaving to focus myself helped me soften my mood so that my first challenge didn’t break me. I was more prepared for the challenges that came.  

Shaving is one of many rituals that can help an individual find a sense of focus. The same is true of night rituals, except they are meant to help you relax and improve the rest you need.

What I described in short above and all of the others is a type of meditative preparation for the day. It is similar to ritual donning of armor by knights and warriors. The individual uses the ritual to prepare themselves for what was coming, to focus their mind on the challenge ahead. It is not about thinking of every step or act, it is instead about calming the thoughts and fears so that mind and body can act together.

We all know what kind of days we have ahead of us and what we need to be able to face them. Using a ritual to prepare for it and stabilize our mind and body to be ready for whatever comes is part of making our life sustainable. I share one ritual of personal grooming that I use. There are others to consider. Think of all of the things you do to “get ready”. Make it more powerful by using the word prepare. Think of each of the steps we take as a way to prepare our mind and body through focus to face what is to come and make our lives more sustainable.

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