What Rituals Sustain Your Spirit? : 13.7: Cosmos And Culture Anthropologist Barbara J. King writes about her ritual of choosing three "Valentine moments" from each day to hold close in a too-rushed world. She invites us to describe how our own daily practices may prepare us to take purposeful steps in the world.

The Pulse And Beat Of A Daily Valentine Ritual

Tickets to an upcoming Bruce Springsteen concert are, indeed, something to savor. Mike Coppola/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption
Mike Coppola/Getty Images

Tickets to an upcoming Bruce Springsteen concert are, indeed, something to savor.

Mike Coppola/Getty Images

I've started to think of them as my three daily Valentines. Every night, shortly before dousing the bedside light, I pose myself a question: What were the three best moments of the day?

Sifting back through the hours, I make my choices and savor them. I carry them with me into drowsiness and finally to that place the brain goes at night, where it runs on silence and dream images.

My choices are Valentines to my life, in a way. In days too rushed, full of good fortune but not frustration-immune, holding these moments close turns out to be a more profound act than I'd thought possible.

Some examples of my Valentine recitations, from this winter:

I doze in the sunroom with a thick novel and a big heavy cat on my chest. The fading light, the words' weight, the animal connection please me.

I discover a cache of photographs of my husband and his family from many years ago. He and I go through them together; after 23 years of marriage, out tumble fresh stories.

Concert victory for a dedicated Jersey-girl fan: We land hard-to-get tickets for night two of Springsteen and the E Street Band's new tour!

That hour with my memory-stricken mother, looking through the two small boxes stuffed with her old recipes. We find find my Polish grandmother's love of cooking for her family, captured on a 3x5 card.

Glowing emails arrive from former students. The glow replicates as I allow myself to know I played a small part in their anthropological successes.

"Write for us again": Magic words from an editor more welcome than usual, as I depart my comfort zone to write more, and teach less, for a while.

The bread at the restaurant tonight is delicious and slightly salted. That bit of sea on my tongue brings back last summer's hot Miami evening swim with my daughter before she left home for college.

My Valentines emerge from small moments. Are they too bounded, too self-absorbed? In fact, some nights I could choose instead, I worked for social justice this afternoon! Because I want to remember how lucky I am to be able to live as I do in this country of privilege. I want to work, side by side with others, to bring about positive changes for people and other animals.

But that's the thing about the Valentine ritual. It only works if I choose genuinely, if I select the bits of joy that pulse and beat their way into my sleep-ready mind from the day just passed. Those genuine Valentines come from the place where I am a wife, a mother, a daughter, a person who cares for animals, a reader, a writer and, yes, an anthropologist and scientist, too.

These Valentines accumulate in my head night after night. They organize themselves into a chorus: remember us! make time for us among the clamor and clang of your life! When I do remember, and do make time, I am filled with more energy and purpose to act in the world.

Having shared my own nightly ritual, I now have the anthropologist's desire to learn about, and from, others' habits and practices.

How do you gather your energy and sustain your spirit to take purposeful steps in the world? Are there small practices, perhaps acts of memory, writing, meditating, or being with nature, that serve as your daily Valentines?

You can keep up with more of what Barbara is thinking on Twitter.