I've been thinking a lot about mindfulness. This subject comes up a lot in the Dharma talks in "Going Home", though I imagine that mindfulness will be a prevalent subject throughout my Buddhist reading. Based on the way Thich Nhat Hanh explains it, I understand mindfulness to be about bringing your full attention and awareness to a specific thing, often to the presence of something in the actual moment. It's about being able to focus on the details of the present moment and to stay with these thoughts instead of sliding into memories from the past or projections of the future.
More specifically, I have been thinking a lot about how he identifies religious rituals as opportunities for mindfulness, opportunities to be centered in your spiritual self. I have taken these ideas and brought them into my pagan paradigm. This most specifically happened during two separate conversations recently, when I was listening to two of my pagan friends talk about their disappointment with their commitment to regular rituals in the last few months. As they talked about missing holidays or not feeling spiritual every day, I could see that they were both confusing the quality of their spiritual path with how frequently they had taken advantage of their opportunities to practice their religions. While it is true that we are more likely to develop our spirituality further if we take advantage of the opportunities to do ritual and participate in our holiday celebrations, taking time away from our spiritual lives to work or handle other life concerns does not necessarily do harm to our spiritual identity nor does it indicate that we do not have strongly developed spirituality. If as Nhat Hanh suggests, rituals are simply opportunities to be mindful and present with our spiritual selves, then they are just a tool to cultivate our spirituality and not a direct reflection of it.
This leads to a second point. If we follow this logic, then all of the rituals and holidays of our religious traditions are not only actions that mark us as followers of a specific path but are activities that serve as tools for the nurturing of our spirituality. Our presence and participation at a Christmas Mass, a Beltane Celebration, or a Passover Sader is not only a custom but an opportunity to see ourselves as the spiritual people we want to be. If we find that the ultimate beliefs of these traditions are similar, and in the right light they do indeed seem to be, then it doesn't matter which rituals you attend or perform for they all lead to a full spiritual existence if we are mindful in our worship.