I'm not sure what you are talking about, but it sounds painful.
The same thing as an physical and audible sigh caused from the intangible thing of stress.
The sigh grants some control over the stress sensation.
Practices do the same thing, but in more avenues than simple sigh.
are all spiritual practices necessarily rituals?
In my opinion, no.
Because a ritual is a ceremony, and a ceremony is defined by its containing culture or sub-culture for a specific formal act.
For instance, the inauguration of the President of the United States is a ritual.
Simply meditating is not a ritual. It is a practice, but not a ritual.
The same is for many practices.
You can take many rituals and isolate one of its practices and use it outside of the ritual, and you can take any practice and turn it into a ritual. But neither are inherent of the other.
And even if they are, can't they be graded on a relative scale in terms of say spontaneity and authenticity versus nominal going though the motions of meaningless forms?
Yes you could, but why care?
I think you mostly have a problem with practice without substance.
Which I agree with you on that. I think most around here will.
By the way, spontaneity does not equate to authenticity outright.
Or better said, just because something is not spontaneous doesn't make it inauthentic.
I create my own practices for myself regularly. I take my time creating each one and refine it over a longer period of time.
They are not empty motions. I make specific use of the meaning of each motion and form, and they come from my authentic emotions of spirituality.
Practices can be the result of long meditations on the matter.
They do not have to be impulsive reflexes.
In fact, spontaneous reactions are not practices.
Practice attempts to help spontaneous reflexes have a particular tendency of reaction, rather than flailing blindly in "authentic" attempt to function.
In the practice, however, what you want to keep is the "authentic" impulse that a person had; you only want to refine their functional control over how they react.
You want a practice to meet the person half way so that the practice is for the person and the person is for the practice.
You don't want a line-dance-a-thon of sit-kneel-pray-sit-kneel-pray's anymore than you want to run everyone through the mindless martial arts practices.
Here's something from a smart guy on the matter of practice and form.
There are no prearranged sets or "kata" in the teaching of JKD, nor are they necessary. Consider the subtle difference between "having no form" and having "no form"; the first is ignorance, the second is transcendence. Through instinctive body feeling, each of us 'knows' our own most efficient and dynamic manner of achieving effective leverage, balance in motion, economical use of energy, etc. Patterns, techniques or forms touch only the fringe of genuine understanding. The core of understanding lies in the individual mind, and until that is touched, everything is uncertain and superficial. Truth cannot be perceived until we come to fully understand ourselves and our potentials. After all, 'knowledge in the martial arts ultimately means self-knowledge.'
At this point you may ask, "How do I gain this knowledge?" That you will have to find out all by yourself. You must accept the fact that there is in help but self-help. For the same reason I cannot tell you how to "gain" freedom, since freedom exists within you. I cannot tell you what 'not' to do, I cannot tell you what you 'should' do, since that would be confining you to a particular approach. Formulas can only inhibit freedom, externally dictated prescriptions only squelch creativity and assure mediocrity. Bear in mind that the freedom that accrues from self-knowledge cannot be acquired through strict adherence to a formula; we do not suddenly "become" free, we simply "are" free.
Learning is definitely not mere imitation, nor is it the ability to accumulate and regurgitate fixed knowledge. Learning is a constant process of discovery, a process without end. In JKD we begin not by accumulation but by discovering the cause of our ignorance, a discovery that involves a shedding process.
The most pitiful sight is to see sincere students earnestly repeating those imitative drills, listening to their own screams and spiritual yells. In most cases, the means these "sensei" offer their students are so elaborate that the student must give tremendous attention to them, until gradually he loses sight of the end. The students end up performing their methodical routines as a mere conditioned response, rather than 'responding to' "what is." They no longer "listen" to circumstances; they "recite" their circumstances. These pour souls have unwittingly become trapped in the miasma of classical martial arts training."
Liberate Yourself from Classical Karate
I would like to especially highlight the following, which I believe sums up our sociological entrapment with practice and form today in regards to spirituality and religion:"The most pitiful sight is to see sincere students earnestly repeating those imitative drills, listening to their own screams and spiritual yells. In most cases, the means these "sensei" offer their students are so elaborate that the student must give tremendous attention to them, until gradually he loses sight of the end. The students end up performing their methodical routines as a mere conditioned response, rather than 'responding to' "what is." They no longer "listen" to circumstances; they "recite" their circumstances. These pour souls have unwittingly become trapped in the miasma of classical martial arts training."
To which, I believe Bruce Lee was absolutely correct in saying:"Through instinctive body feeling, each of us 'knows' our own most efficient and dynamic manner of achieving effective leverage, balance in motion, economical use of energy, etc. Patterns, techniques or forms touch only the fringe of genuine understanding. The core of understanding lies in the individual mind, and until that is touched, everything is uncertain and superficial."
But that does not mean that Bruce Lee did not practice at all.
It meant that he understood that practice needs to form to the individual so that the individual can form to the practice; so that the practice becomes an authentic extension of the person.
If a practice does not increase the articulation of an individuals authentic impulse of spirit without drowning that same spirit, then it is worthless.
So you don't really need a metric by which to gauge practices anymore than your own self.
If a practice is not reaching towards you and you towards it; if a practice is not malleable to your needs spiritually; then it is meaningless for you to participate in that practice.
If only one small part of a practice is what you connect with, but the rest is empty to you; take that small part and incorporate that as you want and leave the rest to its owner.
In my opinion, our cardinal issue is that, as a society, we still think of religion and spirituality like those sensei above thought about martial arts.
Collectively, we think there is one correct form, that will prove through its form, that it is the best and right way; the right form.
They thought that no matter the physicality of the person, the form would succeed in making the person the best they could possibly be at martial arts.
We collectively think that no matter the spirituality of the person, the form will succeed in making the person the best can possibly be at succeeding at right spirituality.
Two faults are in there; thinking every person can be connected with the same as any other, and thinking of spirituality as a succeeding margin to grossly win at.
But these faults do not mean that practice is a fault itself.
Practice is helpful. But practice that does not touch with the individuals understanding in their individual mind is uncertain and superficial.
I agree with Mr. Lee completely on that.
It took great efforts for Bruce Lee to socially challenge these ideas against his backing tradition.
Imagine how much greater the challenge is to something as large as a societies overall religious tradition?
It seems to me to be futile in so many regards due to the sheer volume.
Instead, we can each look to our own self and not concern over the volume of empty practice and focus on forms around us spiritually.
We can instead focus on what practice does help us individually and what does not; take what helps and leave what does not.
All the while, staying focused on our authentic impulse of spirit that guides what practices we try so to help that authentic spirit grow in articulation in our lives.
Bruce Lee wanted his physical prowess to be one with him in every respect. He practiced endlessly to that aim. Borrowing from anything that gave inspiration to his authentic vision for his self.
I see no issues with each person doing the same for their own spirit instead of their body.
Evolution was neither successful by uniformed ambiguous non-individualized form, or by removal of practice in all forms from growth.
Evolution has been successful because there is a generalized form that is tailored to the individual and couples with practices which borrow from anything found to be useful to the ends needed by the species.
Indeed, that sums up what has caused humanity to be so successful at all; adaptability.
It seems strange to take our greatest asset and simply toss it out under a wash of uniformed non-individual practice.
But again, this is why I still maintain that practice - on the individual levels, and yes, in groups in some forms for communication - are perfectly fine; in fact needed.
OK, I'm going to cut myself off there...this is something I could go on and on about at great length so I kind of got carried away there. Apologies for that.