One has to be in the same place every day, watch the dawn from the same house, hear the same birds awake each morning, to realize how inexhaustibly rich and different is sameness. -- Taoist philosopher Chuang Tzu
We humans are habitual. We perform repetitive routines every day without thinking. If we had to think about them, we would bury ourselves with detail. The cognitive part of our brain would overheat. Our focus would ping around our personal space, and we could not get out of our way. Or move forward.
We rely on simple algorithms buried in our brains and executed on autopilot. Our parents taught us the steps and we trained for weeks. Mom or Dad took their hand off the wheel, we failed a few times, and eventually we memorized.
Most routines are simple. The morning rise: how we brush our teeth, manicure our hair, hold our breakfast spoon and fork. The routine in the car: turn a key (or push a button), adjust the mirror, snap the seatbelt, put it in gear. Write something down: hold in certain fingers, tilt at certain angle to the paper, push it to form letters.
After six decades, what if I tried to change a routine? What if I broke the chain of automated steps and made a cognitive move to alter the steps? What if I snapped one of the brainwaves in mid-route? Would it matter?
I remember a scene from the sitcom "All in the Family". Archie and his son-in-law Mike get into a loud debate about the proper sequence for footware. Mike dresses one foot with a sock and shoe, and then does the same sequence with the other. Archie berates him and directs him to do it the right way: a sock on each foot, then a shoe on each foot. He explains that if the house caught fire, and Mike was only halfway through with his footware, he would have one totally bare foot when trying to escape. Mike retorts that if it was snowing outside, at least he could hop on one dry foot. [You can find this clip on YouTube; just search 'sock, sock, shoe, shoe' or 'sock, shoe, sock, shoe', whichever you prefer.]
We all have similar processes we go through each day. But we probably do them just a little differently. Our habits are individualized. Humans are one-offs and so are our daily routines. There is no right or wrong, as Mike knew. Our own routines work just fine for us.
We can also define our habits or routines as rituals. Rituals reflect deep meaning, even in the smallest of moments. Our daily walk contains plenty of meaning when we combine the individual steps into a whole. Some of that walk may seem the same from day to day because of the sameness of the rituals. The rituals, as a whole, define who we are as people and what we do with our day.
It is a sameness that can be inexhaustibly rich. There is nothing mundane about it.