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Set Up Your Day With Morning Rituals and Routines

In these tumultuous times, as I wrote about last week, morning rituals and routines set the direction for our days. They offer a base of calm stability from which to travel into our work and to-dos.

Plus, they’re fun to design.

For years, I’ve been interested in the rituals and routines that famous artists and writers have used. Sure, using Hemmingway’s routine won’t make you a writer, and I don’t recommend booze before breakfast. Still, I’m fascinated by the diversity of practices used. The creatives I’ve studied choose what works for them, and what fits one won’t fit another.

In a world that demands so many choices, I use my morning routines to cut a groove where I don’t have to think about what I’m going to do.

My morning routines and rituals remind me of who I am, what I care about, and my intentions for the day—before the world attempts to give me marching orders.

If I make the mistake of moving too quickly into my workday or (oh no!) swallowing an infusion of news, I’m likely to slide down the slippery slope of agitation and forget my powers of agency.

In 2024, finding a calm, centered place from which to anchor my day feels particularly critical.

My new mantra? “When the storm rages, practice returning to calm.”

Routines and rituals: what’s the difference?

While some might argue that they’re totally different beasts, I disagree. Routines are activities done in a regular, patterned way. Rituals add a pause, focus, intention, or awareness to routines. In addition, rituals can be more complicated and ceremonial.

I once tried to make my routine feel “ceremonial” by ringing a bell and lighting a candle before I began my morning free writing (journaling) session. Then I became so absorbed in my writing that I forgot to blow out the flame before I left. When I went out to write the next morning, the candle was still burning. My prayer that day? Thanks for not burning down my cabin.

I decided it was better to create a ritual by inserting a moment of pause into ordinary life.

For example, every morning I have to feed the dogs (my husband helps, too). Cleaning their muddy paws when they’ve been outside before breakfast is not my favorite task, but it has to be done. I can transform an annoying routine into a ritual of gratitude when I pause, think about my love for my critters, take an extra moment with them (punctuated by their delicious licks), and give thanks for the joy they bring into my life.

Infusing ritual into a routine invites magic to enter the ordinary. It doesn’t have to be fancy.

A routine I loved

In Meeting the Muse After Midlife, I described the morning routine that worked when I was first writing the book. I’d wake up, make tea, and pause for a moment to enjoy the steam rising from the cup. I’d feel the weight of the mug and enjoy the slightly bitter taste of the yerba maté. I’d sense hot waters entering my body and caffeine gradually waking me up.

There was nothing particularly “spiritual” about the experience—but that’s what rituals often are: ordinary acts that we infuse with meaning.

From there, I would leave the house and walk down an 80-foot path to my writing cabin, enjoying the crunch of gravel and the smells in the wind. I’d check the trees for changes and listen to the swallows’ morning songfest or a symphony, in season, from the tree frogs.

After a consultation with the Muse, I’d “free write,” journaling whatever came to me. Even 40 minutes of writing set me up for the day. If the hours that followed were full of obligations to others, I’d be thankful that I’d taken some time for me.

Then it was off to feed the horses and muck the stalls. You might not think of picking up manure as sacred work, but with ritual, anything can be sanctified. Mucking settled my mind, and got my body moving. Plus, it was a great time to sing. The final piece of my morning ritual was walking back to the house and talking to the trees while saying, “Thank you” for the privilege of being alive.

Things change

Those routine-rituals carried me for several years. Then, as my book progressed and required hours of editing, I needed to protect my wrists. I switched to writing and editing at the more ergonomic work station in my office. Sitting there never felt as free—I was surrounded by reminders of my client and administrative responsibilities.

After a summer trip to Italy, I added a morning walk to my program and loved it, until pounding November rains made walking at 7 am neither safe nor fun.

Over time, I gradually lost the beat of my sustaining routines. This year, I’m designing anew. 

I decided to offer a group called “Morning Altars/Morning Rituals” so that I’d have support in redesigning my rituals. We’ll be “hybrid” meeting face-to-face and on Zoom and you’re welcome to join. Sharing with others fortifies my commitment to actually do what I am thinking about. I have no formula to follow, but lots of curiosity.

Designing a morning routine/ritual is like creating a recipe from favorite ingredients:

  • Something sensory—a cup of tea, a chime, three deep breaths.
  • Words of invocation; a prayer; an intention.
  • A contemplative activity like meditation.
  • Movement such as yoga, stretching, walking, dancing or other.
  • Journaling.
  • Small centering practices like doodling, drawing, or humming.
  • A moment of gratitude.

Whatever I come up with, I know a ritual can help me:

  • Slow down.
  • Move with more intention.
  • Find magic within the ordinary.
  • Sense the sacred, or the world that lives beyond what we can see.
  • Set the stage for a transition, like into my day.
  • Connect to my deepest self.

Let the explorations begin! 

As we start this maybe-it’s going-to-be-crazy year, I hope that my morning routines and rituals will give me a “base camp” for my days. The winds may roar (thank you pundits) and I may get a deluge of terrifying information, but I’ll have a safe space to which I can return as often as needed.

Here’s to new beginnings and safe travels.

PS If you’re interested in joining the group “Morning Altars, Morning Rituals” it’s free thanks to the wonderful organization, Women Hold the Key. Just send me a note and I’ll get you connected. We start 9 am January 16th, with a follow-up intro session on the 23rd. And we’ll stay connected over a private FB group.

PPS If you like the quotes, here are the sources: Bayo Akomolafe shared the African saying in this wonderful article.  The Day Schildkret quote is from his book Hello, Goodbye: 75 Rituals for Times of Loss, Celebration, and Change. The Michael Meade quote was from his talk on healing and ritual; Angeles Arrien was referenced by Valerie Brown here.

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