I’ve never been that great with routines. My first unedited thought upon waking is usually, “What do I feel like doing today?” and then my inner grown-up cringes as she realizes that there are, indeed, things she has to do. So when my recent reading lead me to think more deeply about creating a morning ritual, I had a sinking feeling that it was going to be dreadful.
Then I started to think about the difference between routine and ritual. I think routine is what you do every day because you have to or need to — get dressed, eat your breakfast, brush your teeth, get the kids off to school, go to work. You might enjoy parts of it, and you might grit your teeth through others. Ritual, on the other hand, is more mindful — it’s that thing that holds meaning, that you do carefully and with a sense of reverence. And it might be smack dab in the middle of your routine, or it might stand alone. Now, these are my definitions, not Webster’s, and yours might be different. But these are mine, and it’s where I’m starting.
When the recession hit, I was newly divorced and just scraping through every day. For a three month period in 2009, I actually had difficulty paying my rent and buying food. But every single day, I got up and brewed my coffee. But it wasn’t just any coffee. I made it special. Unintentionally, I made it a ritual.
I bought the very best coffee I could afford. I bought cream. I had the same ceramic hand-thrown coffee mug that I bought for my sister and me some years prior. I carefully measured out the coffee beans, ground them, and brewed the perfect cup of coffee. I held the warm mug in my hands and closed my eyes, breathing in the aroma and feeling every part of my body relax. And I enjoyed that first cup of coffee every morning quietly — no music, no TV, no chit chat.
I did this every single morning, the same way. For me, it signified that, even though I was stressed, life was no picnic and I was financially stretched out on a limb, there were simple, beautiful and gracious things that I could enjoy about my life. Kind of like how the Balwin sisters on The Waltons TV show had their afternoon tea (and maybe sips of The Recipe) in precious china cups despite the hardship surrounding them and their community.
I’ve broken two coffee cups since then, but I always choose the next one with great care, because it’s the cup I will be drinking out of every single morning. It has to feel right in my hand, it has to be beautiful and it has to be hand made. No exceptions.
As much as I revel in my morning coffee ritual, with everything it continues to signify to me, I want to create a more full morning ritual that sets the tone for my day, and one that serves as a parenthesis for the rest of my hours. (I’ll likely creating an evening ritual, enclosing my day in a complete set of parentheses — I’ll let you know when I do.) I want it to reflect the balance I am seeking in my life, to incorporate the outdoors and to include thought and movement.
Here’s what I’m thinking:
7:30 a.m.: Before getting out of bed, have a check in time. How is my body feeling? How is my mood? Did I sleep well? Stretch limbs (important for me with the scar tissue from my breast cancer surgery). Keeping eyes closed, have a morning prayer/gratitude. For many, many years now, I have silently sung the words to the first verse of “When Morning Gilds the Skies,” a hymn from my childhood church that I have always loved. It helps to set the mood for my day. (I love this version sung by a church choir and full orchestra.)
7:35 a.m.: Get up at relatively the same time every day and make the bed. Since I’m self-employed and work from home, it’s easy to sleep in when I want or need to. Most people don’t have that luxury. But my aim is to roll out of bed between 7:30 and 8:00, and make the bed. To me, making the bed is important because that simple act says, “I’m starting my day by putting to rest what is behind me.”
7:40 a.m.: Drink an apple cider vinegar mixture before consuming anything else. There are many recipes/combos out there, but the one I’m using is similar to this one, omitting the cayenne pepper. I don’t jump on trendy health bandwagons, and I don’t do crazy cleanses (and I won’t ever recommend those to you), but I’ve read a lot about the merits of apple cider vinegar, so I’m adding that to my morning ritual.
7:50 a.m.: Make coffee. You didn’t think I’d forget that, now, did you?
8:00 a.m.: Get grounded. My holistic doc, Dr. Robin Mayfield, suggested that I add this to my morning. Take your cup of coffee or hot tea outside with you, walk around and feel the ground beneath your feet. Check in with the garden (don’t actually garden, just check in with it), smell some flowers, feel the sunshine, say hello to my animals (chickens, ducks, goats). Breath in and out deeply.
8:15 a.m.: Practice 20 minutes of yoga. I love yoga, and it’s been extremely beneficial for my peace of mind, keeping my scar tissue from tightening up, keeping my lymphedema swelling down and keeping my body flexible. I use a yoga app on my iPad called “Daily Yoga.” I’m not a pro; I stumble and literally fall over on occasion.
8: 30 a.m.: Practice 10 – 15 minutes of meditation. My Daily Yoga app also has meditation sessions for when I’d like a guided sequence and meditative music, otherwise, I simply sit on my yoga deck quietly. My mind can be very busy and anxious on occasion, and I’ve found meditation to be a great tool in keeping me focused on my own stuff while staying out of other people’s stuff.
Only after this ritual will I open my computer and check email, or get ready for a client appointment. No electronics/checking email in bed, no watching The Today show first thing. This ritual takes one hour the way I’ve planned it, and to be honest, I do many of these things very often anyway. But the difference is to make all of it a morning ritual — things that I do in a sequence because they have meaning to me, and because they help me to begin my day in a purposeful, mindful way. My day is filled with a lot of computer work, social media with thousands of people I’ve never met, marketing, writing my new book, and designing. I love all of these activities, but they can have the ability to keep me from interacting with the life I’ve built around me and from taking care of myself physically, mentally and spiritually.
You’ll have noticed that my ritual includes practices from both the Christian tradition of my upbringing (prayer, hymns) as well as more Eastern traditions (yoga, meditation) — I weave both of these together in my life in a way that makes sense to me. As you are developing your own morning ritual, you’ll use the traditions that are meaningful to you, and you’ll create a ritual that fits with your work and family schedule, whether it’s 20 minutes or an hour and a half. The point is to simply create the ritual.
My advice as you begin to develop your ritual:
- Don’t make it too complicated or difficult to follow or remember. If it gets that way, then you’ve probably added things in because you thought you “should” and they are not that meaningful to you.
- There is no place for “shoulds” in your ritual!
- Remember the difference between routine and ritual.
- Be mindful as you are practicing your ritual — what is it bringing to your life? Are you noticing less stress, more peace?
- Incorporate your garden — plants have a way of luring you into their live-and-let-live, be-present way of existing.
I want to stress that I don’t have this down yet — I’m on the journey just like everyone else. There will be days when my ritual flows, and days when I oversleep and run behind, days when I skip part of it as I’m getting used to practicing it. It’s okay. For me, the value is in the practice, just like with yoga. If I wake up and don’t feel like doing the ritual, I hope I ask myself why I don’t feel like doing the ritual, and I hope my future self thinks about it and gains some insight as to what’s going on in my life that is preventing me from doing something meaningful and healthy.
I’m creating a morning ritual in order to be an active participant in my life rather than simply letting life happen around me. I’d love to hear about your rituals, too — large or small, elaborate or simple — so please leave a comment for us. We can all learn from each other, and the Baldwin Sisters.