There is a great Buddhist story that teaches about our human ability to choose meaningful rituals for ourselves. The story takes place in a Buddhist monastery. The monks are meditating and they hear a cat meowing loudly. This happens every time they are mediating so the monk in charge orders that all cats be tied up before mediation begins and let go right after. Years later, this 'practice' had become rolled and enmeshed into how the monks do their meditation, that it became routine to find a cat, even when none was meowing, and bind him before any mediation was to begin. No one knew quite why this was, only that it was part of their sacred ritual.
I think of this story and ask myself, what do I do daily that's a ritual, yet carries no true and genuine purpose? The first thought that comes to mind are the roles we play. Through TV, media, parents, books, we come to learn and understand that there are certain 'roles' we become part of in life, roles as mothers, as friends, as partners. We strap on these sets of preset expectations and do not see the unnecessary weight they carry in our every day lives, in all our decisions. We essentially become trapped by them. In some ways these roles are like walls to the world. They become like cold shields, protecting us from the world outside.
In my opinion, the institution of marriage carries the most sets of expectations often creating much unneeded suffering to all involved. How many times have we thought "If only she loved me THIS way", or "If he could only really UNDERSTAND me". All this pain and suffering comes from a one-size-fit all expectations within a marriage. I will never forget having a discussion with my husband about him not being "demonstrative" enough. An argument I am pretty sure 90% of women have had with their spouse at one time or another. His response brought me quickly back to reality and allowed me to plainly see that love was flowing all along, just not in the wave length I was looking for. He said, "I talk to you, you don't see me sharing anything with anyone else do you?".
Institutionalized religions also has a tendency to carry within it routines and set of expectations that may also no longer be applicable to our lives today. A good example I encountered a few months back as a baptism I was photographing. During the baptism's reception, I come to find out that one of the godparents did not consider themselves 'religious' and that he had to go through an accelerated set of rituals to be godparent-ready. Would you consider these rituals this godparent has to go through a genuine and true spiritual awakening or a mere spiritually meaningless hurdle ? Obviously the majority find great and deep meaning behind the ritual, but for those who don't, shouldn't the priority be genuine belief?
A few years back I worked at an amazing school where most people often brought god, Jesus or the the church up in conversation. I absolutely did not and do not mind this type of interaction; I love discussing spirituality with anyone. What I did mind was the assumption that if I did not speak on spiritual terms, with spiritual words that somehow I was not in their same level spiritually, or that I must need to be saved. This assumption that somehow the absence of an outward expression of awe for the Infinite somehow translated to the absence of a spiritual center is a huge wall to the world. This is a great example of the unnecessary expectation carried on by certain roles. We should absolutely always question these assumption in order to see people and life clearer. Is talking about being religious really an essential part of being godly?