Rituals are founded upon principles and practices, which are all about behavior. This is how our philosophy comes off the page or the screen and becomes more than academic or intellectual – how the perspectives are put into action to help us approach a happy life of deep contentment and meaning.
Principles are ethics and standards of behavior and priorities that derive from philosophic concepts and perspectives. They do not represent some regularized activity, but define parameters of our activities – what we will and will not do or accept. Of course, a principle is always a general rule of thumb. The highly particular nature of real-world situations calls on us to understand the basis of a principle so that we can understand and identify times when it should apply, when it shouldn’t, and when some derivative of it might apply. This will help keep us from betraying the spirit of a principle even while maintaining it only simplistically or technically.
Meanwhile, practices are habits and behaviors that we intend to be regular, giving structure to our lives and helping to cultivate the qualities we believe are conducive to a good, virtuous, and flourishing life. While practices often involve activity in the world and changes to others or the world may result, the ultimate purpose and motivation of a practice is change within. Practices are intended to become integrated into our everyday lives.
Lastly, ritual is a less regular or frequent event. Here we put our regular lives on hold momentarily, to pause and set aside time to appreciate, recognize, and help internalize a perspective or principle. Often when we take physical actions (pouring sand, lighting candles, bowing, etc.), or make outward statements or expressions, or mix our activities with emotionally positive experience, or share a procession with others. These kinds of activities connect our internal thoughts, commitments, and ideals to our bodies and to the world. They ‘make it real’ to us, and help us to focus our attention where we have decided it needs to be in that moment. Rituals can be either interactive, with others, or solitary – and likely should include a variety.
We can also incorporate myth into our practices and rituals in order to embody concepts in a manner to which we can relate and which move us appropriately. In all of these cases, rituals and practices have a function and a purpose that can be very helpful to our spiritual progress. Rather than the use of ritual in the hopes of some mystical external reward or effect, naturalists find rituals to be meaningful and useful when they help us mentally, emotionally, socially, intellectually, inwardly, or in our habits and practices. While they may be imaginative, emotional, stimulating, musical, artistic, and so on; ritual for the naturalist will tend to have some practical, rational purpose in the natural world.