When tea becomes ritual, it takes its place at the heart of our ability to see greatness in small things. Where is beauty to be found? In great things that, like everything else, are doomed to die, or in small things that aspire to nothing, yet know how to set a jewel of infinity in a single moment?
—Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog
Once upon a time I boasted that I didn’t have an “addictive” personality, but I’ve since decided that some habits are the best thing for me. One of these habits has taken the form of a morning ritual. Ritual has many definitions, but for me it is simply, an established rite that I follow no regularly and consistently. My morning ritual is the vehicle I use to integrate mindfulness wisdom, which has been accumulated over thousands of years into my daily life, so that I can live a more full and joyful life. I looked to three keys as I put my put together my morning ritual: self-awareness, intention and a process. Using those three things I created something that is easy to do and therefore easy to integrate into my daily life. My routine has made it easy to meditate regularly. With a solid meditation practice in place, my mind is clearer, my body is less stressed and my spirit is calmer; and every other area of my life is better for it.
I wrote about creating rituals with regards to New Year’s resolutions and goals here, but up until recently I never thought about how I’ve applied the same logic to my day-to-day routine. But now that I’m thinking about it, I want to look more closely at what exactly what my ritual is and how it works, so I can apply the principles to other areas of my like. The first thing that jumps out to me is that my mornings has many of the commonly accepted characteristics of many sacred rites:
- I follow a fairly formal code.
- I approach it like other traditional practices.
- For the most part it is invariable.
- It is regulated.
- My rite is sacred.
Rituals shape the way our brains are feeling, thinking and acting. They serve as a mental trigger telling us it is time to engage attitudes or activity. They effortlessly get us ready for what we need to do next. That how rituals work technically, but on the outside there’s nothing extraordinary about how I start my days.
I wake up every morning when Sébastien’s cell phone rings, sounding the alarm that a new day has begun. Most times he jumps out of bed. I however need a little more time. By the time I start to gain some semblance of consciousness, he has already showered, dressed and perched himself on the bed by my side with a bowel of granola ready to talk about his day. After he finishes his cereal, he takes Samantha and Zachary outside to go to the bathroom. I peal myself out of bed, make the bed, take a shower, get dressed and prepare the dog’s bowls and drink a glass of water. It is about this time that the three of them reenter the house. Sébastien has trained them to sit at the entrance of the kitchen before they eat. He then calls me into the kitchen, gives me a big kiss and a hug, and then signals the pups in to come eat. He then rushes out the door to go to work. After the house has settled down I meditate. I write in the morning. I run errands or having meeting in the afternoon. There’s a slight variation on the weekends, like I tend to meditation in the evenings on Sundays, but that’s pretty much it. The performance of my rituals creates the frame and set the tone for my day.
The five steps to create a ritual are fairly straight forward.
1) Prepare your environment. I’ve taken an honest assessment of what I need to do and prepare my work area according, so my meditation space and workspace are always organized and ready for me.
2) Find your productivity window. I know that trying to get up before a certain hour is a recipe for being tired all day, so despite what other’s say I don’t do it. I wait until Sébastien has gone to work. That’s my moment.
3) Get the hard stuff done first. For me getting Sébastien out of the house and the pups fed is what I have the least control over, so I go with the flow of the house and get everyone settled and or on their way.
4) Choose specific activities. Since I have a long-term vision of being grounded, focused and sharing mindfulness, I’ve prioritized meditation and writing as my first activities of the day because they are the most useful in getting where I want to go.
5) Focus on completion, not perfection. With my schedule in place I get something done every day. Sometimes I get more done, sometimes less, but I’ve notice because I chip away regular at my objectives, I consistently get more done with less effort.
Following each of these simple steps enables me to create something that works for me regardless of what’s going on in my life. Nothing complicated in creating this plan.
There are two other things that strengthen my ritual. The first is awareness. Awareness of what’s going on with me strengthened my the process because by calmly acknowledging and accepting my feelings, thoughts, bodily sensations as well as the circumstance of my everyday life made it obvious what to include in my ritual. Kabat-Zinn says that with the birth if his children he started to begin his morning ritual early before everyone in his house wakes. That made perfect sense given his circumstances. That means that I wait until the dogs have been fed and Sébastien has left the house before I start my meditation. In the end, it’s more important to find a realistic schedule that I can do consistently, than one that someone else says is perfect. So although my ritual may not seem conventional I’m still able to “drop in on myself and rest for a stretch of time,” as Kabat-Zinn suggests. Self-awareness was mission critical to creating a truly mindful ritual because with it I tailored a ritual to meet my needs and my considerations.
The next thing that fortifies my ritual is intent. Intention is a state of mind that accompanied by commitment to carrying out something. Brenna Yovanoff writes in The Replacement “Intention is one of the most powerful forces there is. What you mean when you do a thing will always determine the outcome.” So while I suppose that doing the same thing could become rote and mechanical, my intentions to appreciate the small things provides a lens though which I can really notice the wonder and appreciate the mundane, which gives the entire endeavor the backbone I need to keep going. On Super Soul Sunday with Oprah, Jon Kabat-Zinn says, “There’s waking up—dragging yourself around—and then there’s waking up.” As he suggests, I use my morning routine to develop awareness and with my ritual I feel a greater sense of appreciation even for the smallest of things. The appreciation of ordinary keeps my morning routine fresh.
My morning ritual, supported by awareness and intent, serve as a way for me to connect with what is needed right now. My days seems to have expanded and hold more than they ever have before because I feel more, I notice more, I see more; all of my senses are heightened. Knowing what you need in the present moment and starting your day with that knowledge is a gift that keeps on giving. So, if you don’t have a ritual, I invite and encourage you give it a try. As you can see from my morning routine, it doesn’t have to be fancy and ceremonial, it just has to be done. So although ritual may be simple, “There is something in the nature of [it, like] tea that leads us into a world of quiet contemplation of life” (Lin Yutang, The Importance of Living.)