The Value of Ritual

Do you have a morning ritual?

If you look at the Wikipedia entry on ritual, one might wonder why I’d ask the question.  Ritual is described as inflexible, where one is governed by rules, and the term is sometimes used by psychologists in a technical sense for a repetitive behavior that is seen as a symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorders.

That’s not my experience with ritual.  Writing in Forbes, the author Alexandra Douwes encourages millennials to establish a morning ritual.  Her reasoning is aligned with mine.

“Establishing a morning ritual, preferably one that does not involve a screen, can set the tone for your entire day.

Whether your morning ritual takes place at home or in the office, it’s important to ease into your day, and do it on your own terms. Before you let external factors such as screaming children, urgent emails, and smartphone notifications send you into a state of anxiety, start the day by focusing on the things you can control. A consistent morning ritual will put you in a proactive versus reactive state from the get-go: instead of feeling like you’re playing catch-up, you’re composed and ready to tackle whatever obstacles come your way.”

I was reminded of the importance of ritual—regular, habitual, thoughtful action—while having breakfast with a long-time friend and colleague who now serves as the Master of Emmanuel College in Cambridge.  Fiona joined me for our meal and mentioned that she’d just returned from her two-hour walk, a long-held ritual that she honored every morning, even after enduring a trans-Atlantic flight.  We spoke of how this part of her day helped clear her mind and focus on what’s really important now and in the future.

For many years, my morning ritual involved a partner: Lilly, our Sussex Spaniel.  There was never a question that we were going out for a long morning walk around 5:30, rain or shine. But I soon came to see it not as a chore, but as a daily ritual when I was free to let my mind roam. To think of the day ahead. To begin to stretch my limbs and awaken my bones.  To put me in a proactive rather than reactive state of mind.  After talking with Fiona and being reminded that I didn’t need Lilly to continue that wonderful part of my daily ritual, I’ve added it back into my life.

Lilly at Blessing of the Animals

My long-time partner in morning ritual

Rituals vary, and they should be personal.  Some people read in the quiet of the morning before stirring out of bed. Yoga practice is a key part of many morning rituals. Others play piano before facing the world. Douwes has five tips in her article for how to make a ritual that works and that sticks, and she suggests that a vacation period or a weekend may be a good time to try and begin a new ritual.  As we approach the July 4th holiday here in the U.S., consider whether something small—reading, a walk, taking the time to grind your beans and make a great cup of coffee—could help you begin the day in a proactive state.

Have a good week and enjoy the holiday.

More to come…


A Brilliant Week of English Charms and Global Lessons



In Cambridge – a lovely town with an international reputation for education – it was appropriate that the delegates to the 16th International Conference of National Trusts (ICNT) took in the charms of the East of England while also gathering so many valuable lessons from instructors both local and global.

All in all – to use the British equivalent of great – it has been a brilliant week!

The opening day’s remarks set the stage for discussions throughout the week.  Dame Helen Ghosh – Director General of the National Trust for England, Wales & Northern Ireland – began by reminding the delegates of the need to be open to change as we seek to conserve our heritage.  Jonathon Porritt challenged many of the assumptions the delegates brought to Cambridge, in a speech on our environmental challenges that was referenced throughout the week.

Tuesday took Candice and me along with half of the delegates to Wimpole Estate, for conversations around cultural identities.  This emphasis arose from the 15th ICNT in Entebee, Uganda, in 2013, which raised the need to recognize intangible heritage to new levels within the National Trust community.  The National Trust of England, Wales & Northern Ireland has placed renewed emphasis on the Spirit of Place principle, and we had good conversations around how our work reveals and shares the significance of place and ensures that their special qualities are “protected, enhanced, understood, and enjoyed by present and future generations.”  Our focus at NTHP on how the “period of significance is now” was raised by others who heard my comments on the topic on Monday.

Theatre Royal Ceiling

Beautifully restored ceiling and trim at Theatre Royal in Bury St. Edmunds

Wednesday the entire conference delegation headed to Bury St. Edmunds and the restored Theatre Royal.  A working theatre and National Trust site, Theatre Royal was the setting for a presentation by my friend and partnership colleague Tim McClimon from the American Express Foundation, as well as Kate Mavor, the recently named Chief Executive of English Heritage Trust. (I’ve worked a bit with Kate previously when she was CEO of the National Trust for Scotland.)  Both were eloquent in speaking of the ways to increase participation in preservation.

Tim McClimon

Tim McClimon of the American Express Foundation speaking at the 16th ICNT in the Theatre Royal

Our time at Theatre Royal was followed by an afternoon and evening at the magnificent National Trust property Ickworth.  There we mixed long tours with more sessions around growing the movement.  Candice and I especially enjoyed the hike down to the Ickworth Church and the walled gardens.

Ickworth facade

Ickworth’s impressive rotunda

Ickworth Church

Ickworth Church

Ickworth Walled Garden

Ickworth Church and Rotunda, as seen from beyond the walled garden

Entrance Hall at Ickworth

Entrance Hall at Ickworth

Thursday’s sessions for our discussion groups began at Anglesey Abbey and then moved to Wicken Fen for conversations around land, landscape and nature, before we returned to Wimpole Estate for dinner and a barn dance.

Anglesey Abbey 09 10 15

Anglesey Abbey on September 10, 2015

Candice in the rose gardens

Candice in the gardens at Anglesey Abbey

Birch orchard

DJB in the Himalayan Birch orchard at Anglesey Abbey

At Wicken Fen – a nature preserve – our conversations and tours focused on landscape and urban scale conservation.  An ambitious project with a 100-year time frame, Wicken Fen and the beautiful wetlands proved to be a delightful place for these discussions.  The National Trust’s Stuart Warrington was an especially effective speaker and moderator on this topic.

Wicken Fen

A wind-powered pump at Wicken Fen landscape and nature preserve

Friday came much too soon, as we gathered back in Cambridge for the final sessions and farewell.  Barbara Erickson of the Trustees of Reservations started the morning with an impressive overview of the work of this Massachusetts-based organization that was a precursor – and inspiration – for the National Trust in England, Wales & Northern Ireland more than 100 years ago.  Barbara is leading the Trustees to move more toward its original mission for both land and heritage conservation – once again proving that sometimes we must go “back to the future” as we change our work in the 21st century.  I feel our work in the U.S. has become too segmented and hope to speak and write about the need for whole place preservation in the months ahead.

INTO Ex Comm

The newly elected INTO Executive Committee gathers in Cambridge with the members of the INTO Secretariat and with Dame Fiona Reynolds, the new Chairman of INTO (second row, third from right)

Ben Cowell, our host from the East of England, and Catherine Reynolds, the Secretary-General of INTO, provided reflections on the conference before Dame Fiona Reynolds – the newly elected Chairman of INTO – wrapped up the conference.  Fiona focused on the family nature of INTO and the National Trust movement, noting that families are best when they include all members great and small; the need to celebrate our successes across the organization; and finally the urgency of expanding our voice for heritage on the global stage.  A handoff to the Indonesian Heritage Trust – which will host the 17th ICNT in 2017 in Bali – wrapped up the week.

Many thanks to the staff and volunteers of the National Trust for England, Wales & Northern Ireland for a wonderful week full of charms and lessons.  It was simply brilliant!

More to come…