Rabbit Holes 🎄 #61
From the shaman santa to the power of rituals, learnings for 2024 and happy thoughts
This is my last newsletter for this year. This short Rabbit Holes issue has a bit of a winter holiday 🎄 feeling to it. I hope you’ll like it!
I’ll be back in the first week of January with more Rabbit Holes, a new version of the Alternative Prosperity framework I developed, and more articles that seek to reframe how we see, experience, and design the world in order to envision and build a better one.
If you appreciate my work, please do share this newsletter with your network!
Enjoy this last issue of 2023, and see you next year! 🎄
THIS WEEK → 🎅 The Shaman Santa 🕯️The Power of Rituals 🎯
Goals Learning for 2024 🚿 The Problem with Happiness
Rabbit Holes 🕳️
As always, here are three perspective-shifting ideas to create a better world, plus some fun extras below. Enjoy!
#1 🎅 The Shaman Santa
There is this theory that the story of Santa Claus actually comes from a ritual of the indigenous Sami people of Lapland and includes psychedelic mushrooms, shamanic healing rituals of introspection, and indigenous wisdom. This story reminds me of Tyson Yunkaporta’s reinterpretation of history from an indigenous perspective, which I shared here previously.
“Until just a few hundred years ago, the story goes, the indigenous Sami people of Lapland, a wintry region in northern Finland dense with conifer forests, would wait in their houses on the Winter Solstice to be visited by shamans. These shamans would perform healing rituals using the hallucinogenic mushroom Amanita muscaria, a red-and-white toadstool fungus that they considered holy. So holy, in fact, that the shamans dressed up like the mushrooms for their visit.
Wearing large red-and-white suits, the shamans would arrive at the front doors of houses and attempt to enter; however, many families were snowed in, and the healers were forced to drop down the chimney. They would act as conduits between the spirit and human world, bringing gifts of introspection that could solve the family’s problems. Upon arrival, the healers were regaled with food. They would leave as they came: on reindeer-drawn sleds.”
#2 🕯️ The Power of Rituals
Is modern society ritual-deprived? And can rituals help us get agency back? The article below shares a beautiful framing of ritual as a powerful tool to take control and reshape our lives in the midst of a world that feels increasingly out of control.
“So many of the forces that impinge on our lives are well beyond our control. We make contributions to charities to help the unfortunate, but we really can’t cure cancer, prevent homelessness, or end the war in Ukraine. Faced with inflation, we make small adjustments to our spending, trim our budgets, or take on an extra job. But we really cannot do much about the economy. To help the environment or slow climate change, we may recycle our garbage or invest in an electric car. But we know we’re not making much of a dent in the climate or the environment.
But there is one thing over which we have remarkable control: how we shape our time. My surprising conclusion is that ritual is perhaps the most powerful tool in the human toolkit that is largely under local control. Orchestrating our rituals is a human power. […]
Something done once is just an act. Done twice, it is a repeat. But beyond that lies the endless expanse of ritual. “This is what we do together.” “We always do that.” “We used to eat here.” “This is who we are.” In the age of the internet, ritual gatherings can be accomplished through video calls, so physical distance is no longer an impediment to ritual gatherings. And it’s not just for families. In that closing chapter I describe rituals that bring together groups of friends or even whole communities. Such rituals may be hard to get going, but after a few successful gatherings, social rituals tend to take on a life of their own. This is the gift of agency reversal.
And finally, there are the miraculous powers of individual rituals, which can provide a surprising sense of peace and comfort in the face of sorrow, loneliness, or stress. Consider the power of an evening cup of tea enjoyed in a favorite teacup. Quickly, “a cup of tea” becomes “my cup of tea” as you take a simple act to heart. Ritualization is a potent stabilizing agent, a simple salve for a stressful time if only we are mindful of how we use its powers.”
» MIT Press Reader | The Hidden Powers of Everyday Ritual by Bradd Shore [author of the new book “The Hidden Powers of Ritual”]
I believe that rituals are also a powerful starting point for envisioning alternative societies or systems. Which is why I asked the following thought-provoking question in my report on Alternative Prosperity:
How would you spend a public holiday named 'Day of Resonance,' where the goal is to engage in activities that yield a strong sense of connection and transformation?
Imagine an ‚Interdependence Day‘, as opposed to an Independence Day. What rituals and traditions would it entail?
Imagine a society that regularly holds 'Hero Days' to celebrate individuals who embody the spirit of pluralism. What characteristics would define these ‚heroes‘?
How might a calendar that celebrates natural biodiversity look like?
Goals Learnings for 2024
The end of the year is usually a time of reflection followed by making (often too ambitious) plans for the year to come. explains what’s wrong with our achievement culture and suggests replacing it with a culture of learning. In other words, the idea is to shift from a focus on the outcome to a focus on the practice or process itself.
“The passage from one year into the next is a natural time to reflect and reset. What have I achieved? And what will I achieve next?
Most of us also take for granted the imperative to get a little better, do a little more, become a little more every year. There's a growing, if niche, discourse about whether or not this is actually healthy or even creates the kind of lives we want to live. And rightly so.
Sure, achieving a goal is nice. But the satisfaction that achievement creates rarely stays with us very long. Instead, we find ourselves on a treadmill—setting and achieving goals that ultimately leave us feeling a little empty. […]
Personal growth at all costs has downsides, just like business growth at all costs. […]
So, if the hedonic treadmill leads to an insatiable quest for more and the negative effects of goal achievement theory are ultimately unsustainable, it seems like a wholly different approach is in order. For years, I’ve used the concept of practice to shape my approach. I still use it and will continue to—probably for the rest of my life. But I’m inspired to add something new into the mix.
The approach I'll be using to structure the year to come is learning. […]
For instance, I know that I want to learn better reporting skills next year. I'm not interested in breaking news or trying to keep up with the headlines, even in the realms of work or the economy. I want to learn to ask researchers and scholars to talk about their work with me. I want to get better at sourcing stories to build essays around. And I really, really want to learn how to spot story ideas in the wild.
So I'm planning projects that will encourage me to learn those skills. Through those projects, I'll gain the daily, deliberate practice I need to learn (and apply).
Learning, for me, is its own reward.
I don't need the surge of achievement-driven excitement that's here today and gone tomorrow. Nor do I need to put myself through the consequences of goal-related failure. I can find meaning in what I'm learning and how I'm learning it.
Unlike achievement, learning has long-lasting emotional and psychological benefits. The intent to learn can turn challenging activities into opportunities to play and experiment. Learning boosts our sense of autonomy, self-efficacy, and confidence. There is always a learning outcome within our control, something that cannot be said for goals!
With a focus on learning, we also have better tools for meeting uncertainty and dealing with novel problems. Ambiguity isn't a sticking point; it's a chance to formulate a new hypothesis and experiment. Encountering something unexpected isn't a reason to panic; it's an opportunity to ask new questions.”
» | Planning to Learn by
🚿 Shower Thoughts….on Happiness
That’s it for this week (and for 2023)!
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Enjoy the time in between the years! 😉