Routine as Sacred Ritual
Within the past week, I have moved house and started a new job.
My 24 cycle has changed entirely. The look, feel, and content of my days are almost completely different. I’m quite like a cat in that I don’t handle rapid changes in environment very well -- even when the change is positive! It takes me an inordinately long time to adjust.
This is certainly not the first time I’ve dealt with such a major shift in my day-to-day patterns. I once spent several months living in the Occupied West Bank; I probably don’t need to explain how very different that was from East Coast USA life. That summer, I also went from 3 years of living alone to suddenly living with 3 strangers.
In fact, my twenties were characterized, if by nothing else, massive changes: I moved 6 or 7 times (including across the country), I began and completed college programs, I changed jobs and relationships, and I landed my first full-time employment relevant to my field of study. Two people I loved also died. It is true that the only thing in life you can count on is constant change.
One thing I’ve found that helps anchor me amid the tidal waves of transition that occasionally occur in my life is my daily routine.
Routine as Sacred
It was my “sacred” morning routine in particular that proved most stabilizing during my time living in Palestine. This held especially true when war erupted and circumstances went from feeling precarious and tense to totally unpredictable. Nevertheless, I started every morning in the same way:
Wake up at 6:30am (at least an hour before my housemates)
Wash my face
Have breakfast and coffee and stare at the wall or window (approx. 20 min)
Meditate and/or journal (10-20 min)
Brew a poo, Goddess willing
Apply face and get dressed
Head out the door by 8:30-9:00am
I still take these same steps and in roughly the same order today. The only difference is that I’ve added a one-card tarot reading every few days and I’ve banned myself from email, news, and social media before 8am.
So what makes a morning routine so helpful? Why do I consider mine sacred?
Following a routine helps you avoid additional mental clutter and provides the mind the space it needs to function well. When you aren’t having to run around in a frazzle each morning, making a dozen new, tiny decisions in an effort to rush out the door as fast as possible, you actually feel much more ownership over your time and that breeds a certain kind of peace and clarity. You're less likely to forget your lunch on the kitchen counter too. It’s definitely a much nicer way to start the day. This holds particularly true for “reserved” type introverts, who actually need a longer time to get ready and out the door.
My routine is sacred because it's much more like a ritual. I know, after many years of practice, that if the ritual is violated, I feel off-balance all day. Probably because my routine is so self-care focused, I’ve found it’s central to my mental/spiritual health maintenance.
An illustrative example is that I once had to work a mutli-day conference, during which I was expected to be “on” 24/7. I worked around the clock, sacrificed sleep, and wasn’t able to eat regularly -- which, especially as an HSP, threw my body into a psycho-somatic tailspin. The expectation to be available to everyone at any time, and the fact that my mornings and (precious few free) evenings were constantly interrupted by work requests, was devastating for my mental health. The event lasted only a week, but it took me nearly a month to fully recover. I could almost hear my routine, anthropomorphized, weeping in the distance.
This is also why I avoid news/email/social media early in the morning and late at night. The interruptions and intrusions into my daily life are not only distracting, but they can be mentally destabilizing. That may read melodramatic, but consider that opening these apps is equivalent to opening the front door to your home and allowing into your personal space whomever wants your attention (i.e. whoever is in the headlines, emailing you, or posting to FB). There is certainly one person topping the news reports each day that I would NEVER welcome in to my home. And definitely not while I’m still cozy in my jammies, trying to enjoy my coffee. Moreover, hearing or reading even just 3 mins of negative news in the morning, legitimately fucks you up for the rest of the day.
Get and stay woke, for sure, but aim to do it AFTER you’ve already woke up in the literal sense.
Although I love my mindful daily rituals, I could use a shake-up. When I reflect back on the day’s achievements, I usually find that errands and work activities got checked off first, while to-dos involving art, writing, spirituality, physical exercise, or home-cooking were attended to last, if at all.
Recalling my Good Life Buckets, I think this is because I tend to de-prioritize my own needs and desires. And I still value Getting Shit Done more than I should, too often neglecting doing the things that feed my soul. Also, as a recovering perfectionist, I frequently beat myself up when I don’t complete All The Things on my list--which actually makes me less motivated to work on them anyway! This has an especially negative impact on my creative to-dos, since they’re usually the stragglers I’m agonizing over.
Thus the first shift I need to make is a mindset shift. You can read all day every day about personal growth, but if you don’t believe you deserve the positivity that results, you won’t ever get moving.
Interestingly, mindset shifts tend to stick better when they’re made kinetic. One shortcut I’ve found is to trick myself into making time for something, by incorporating it into my morning routine. From previous experience, the mind will then adjust and conform to the new reality. If I am creating creative time for myself each day, perhaps it will follow that I will start believing that I deserve to create each day.
So I’ve begun applying a new technique, widely referred to as the “Morning Make.” I’m actually testing this out with this very blog post!
The idea is to take some time each morning, as soon after waking up as possible, to work on a creative project. 10-15 minutes is sufficient. Ernest Hemingway was just one among many artists/makers cited as using this technique. In his own words:
When I am working on a book or story I write every morning as soon after first light as possible. There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write. [...] You write until you come to a place where you still have your juice and you know what will happen next and you stop and try to live through until the next day when you hit it again.
The Morning Make has been recommended by so many of my favorite podcaster, authors, and artists that I actually don’t know who to credit with first delivering the idea to me. Most recently, I listened to Kim Werker, professional crafter and creative inspire-er, discuss it the Morning Make concept on her podcast, Compulsory.
What struck me was Kim’s confession that she had tried it before and failed, for various reasons (most of which involved deferring to the needs of others, namely her family and not wanting to wake them up). I had a similar experience, whereby I tried it out and as soon as started feeling guilty/indulgent, I stopped. Kim decided to re-commit after her guest, Cheryl Arkison, described not only how effective it was in getting personal creative work done each day but she also offered several recommendations for different ways the Morning Make can be executed.
Arkison also noted that 1) it was as effective as meditation, and 2) it removed the pressure of stealing away creative time later in the day, when she had less energy and time to dedicate. As a fellow morning person, I really feel that. I’m usually next to useless when I get home and my evening priorities are spending time with family, eating, bathing, and sleeping.
The Morning Make works best, intuitively, for morning people. If you are more of a night owl though, fear not! Consider moving this to a 10-15 min habit before bed or at some other time in the evening when you have guaranteed undisturbed free time. If you’re not sure when your most productive time is, I recommend taking this quick quiz to determine your Circadian Cycle.
So far, I’ve already fallen in love with this new morning habit. It has proved quite effortless and really works well to (mostly) scratch my creative itch for the day. Also, I’ve somehow managed to not only NOT be late to work, but I’ve arrived a bit early each day! I've also knocked out two blog posts and an illustration -- a new record. Maya Angelou was right when she said: “You can't use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.” Creativity begets creativity.
Too much of a good thing?
Of course, routine can have a dark side. It could prove numbing and bad daily habits can be destructive. If your daily routine is not serving you, if it feels less like a mind-decluttering self care ritual and more like the opening scenes of Fight Club, disrupt it! Go routine-less for a while or add or subtract habits until you find the right balance. Try the Morning Make, if it strikes you as interesting.
And, for those of you who enjoy unpredictable and varied mornings, please carry on! As with anything I post, I encourage y’all to take what resonates and forget about anything that misses the mark.
For folks whose harried starts cause stress, consider beginning a self-care focused, healthy morning routine/ritual. Start slowly, adding one piece at a time until you have a schedule that feels right for you. It takes between 2 and 8 months to make a new habit stick, so be sure to take it easy on yourself if you struggle with new-routine-adoption! And don’t worry about being perfect with it; self-flagellation will only deter you from picking a habit back up.
Also, developing a routine, like any other self-care activity, may require a certain mindset shift. It is critical that you put your needs first before trying to meet the world’s expectations, and routine can help remind you of this. Recall what they say about the oxygen mask in the airplane? Put yours on first. Even if you live with others or have a family, it is still important to find a way to have time for yourself each day. From my experience, having some of that time scheduled for the morning gets me on track to have a good rest-of-my day and to be more emotionally available for my loved ones as a result.
How about y'all?! Have you seen the benefits of routine/ritual in your life? Does it anchor you when shit gets bananas? Let me know in the comments below!