I've always struggled with mornings.
Just ask my father; he's the one who would knock on my door (per my request) at 6:00 a.m. to wake me up and tell me that I still had an hour left to sleep. Yes, he woke me up to tell me that I could go back to sleep. The human version of a snooze button, I guess? (Thanks, Dad!) I loved the coziness of snuggling back, deep into the covers, for what seemed like it would be an eternity... but, of course, only felt like two minutes.
In college, the dining hall breakfast lured me to get up early enough before class, although spring of junior year (after studying abroad and learning to eat dry cereal in my room) saw me frequently booking it up the hill to American Lit stuffing half a granola bar in my mouth (sorry, Annie).
In the nearly seven years since then, I've wrestled with how to be a morning person, or at least more of one. For me, it became an identity thing, a "supposed to" thing, a somehow-I-got-this-message-from-society thing. I'm a writer! Writers are supposed to get up by five a.m. and write for two hours before the real world awakes! I'm a Christian! Christians are supposed to get up at six and do half an hour of centering prayer and then be ready to face the day!
I'm Claire! If I get to work at 9:06 it's an impressive day!
I took writing workshops. I took a mindfulness course. I was in a spiritual formation group. All important, all worthwhile. But I slowly began to face my authentic self, especially after my MFA advisor told me, "Well, obviously not all writers write at five in the morning, because you don't. So stop thinking that you should, and find what works for you." (Thanks, Nicky!)
It took a season of stress last fall to finally spur me forward, in an authentic way. My mind would go on loops, fear growing every time I circled back. The present moment seemed like a deterrent to my fear loop, rather than something I was supposed to enjoy and live into.
And then, in women's group, someone mentioned the meditation app Headspace. (Thanks, Brenna!) It had ten day sets of meditations, and you could go for as short as 10 minutes or as long as 20. I started with the first "pack" of meditations, for ten minutes right after I woke up in the mornings, and I haven't stopped since. It wasn't half an hour of focused, centering prayer. But it was something. And it started to interrupt my fear loop.
Other authentic elements of morning routine began to fall into place after that. I took home my enjoyment of our workplace workouts with Jessica Smith TV, and began to do one of her stretching routines on the days we would work out at the office, and a quick workout itself on our days off. ("Breathe, Stretch and Relax" and "Wake Up and Walk" are two of my favorites.)
I'm not sure what sparked my return to journaling, except for the dragging feeling that I have when I'm not doing some sort of personal writing every day. I'm not myself when I don't do it, and there's no use pretending. For awhile I played with the timer, saying that I would write for five minutes, or seven. These days, I write a page as soon as I finish my Headspace meditation. I try to do it without thinking what I'll write next, and as soon as I shut the journal, I'm done thinking about it. But the practice has still done its work: I've been able to express thoughts and feelings about my life that would otherwise remain stuck in my head. I often find that this writing practice gets me moving on goals or ideas I didn't even know I had.
I've done this for awhile, ever since we moved into our house that has a dining room, but I relish the routine of sitting down at our dining room table to eat breakfast. I have NPR on, I have my English breakfast tea and my peanut butter toast and my fruit (oh, peaches! you are not allowed to go out of season, my dears), and it is a glorious 15-20 minutes.
Finally, this fifth element of routine isn't morning-related, and it's newer, but it may be one of the most important: I'm taking Saturdays off from social media. At the breakfast table is usually when I first open Instagram and Facebook, and I find that if I simply don't open my phone during breakfast, it's a lot easier to keep it dark for the rest of the day. My job entails a lot of social media management during the week, so this day off is a great way to refresh and concentrate on what or who is in front of me-- and I like to think that it impacts how I think about social media all week long, even if I'm on it. This is not the end all be all. This is not the most important thing.
A couple of caveats: I know this is so much easier to do without children in the picture, and I know that no routine is forever. But I feel truly uplifted by these practices that have risen up organically for me over the last year, and I hope that I'm able to have some version of each in all phases of life.
I'm a writer who writes one page. I'm a Christian who attempts silence for ten minutes. I do a quick power walk and sit down for a piece of toast and tea before I'm off and running. It's something. It's who I am, right now. And it makes the days so much brighter.
What about you? What are the practices, daily or not, that make your days better?