What do you do every day in the same way? Do you have the same morning routine? The same night time schedule? What about something simple like the way you take your tea or coffee or the way you pack your child’s lunch?
Human beings like to have repetition. It’s part of how we learn to feel safe and allows us to feel comfortable in new situations. Child development experts often talk about how children need structure and routine to help build confidence and then to become independent. Adults need similar touchstones of routine, which I like to think of as rituals, in order to become more creative in work, play, and in relationships.
Let’s talk about those small rituals of daily living that we do almost without thinking. I’d like to encourage you to think about one in particular. Think about the way you prepare your morning beverage or the way you put on your clothes or the way you get settled in at your job. What are the small tasks that you do that bring you comfort and help you feel prepared? And, can you bring a new awareness to the whole ritual by focusing on each step?
Imagine you are in bed. It’s time to get up for the day. How does that happen? Does the alarm clock make a sound? Do you get a notification on your phone? Does someone you love whisper your name or touch you? Or do you wake up and stretch and then realize what time it is?
Now, slow down your imagination and think of each step of what happens to get you moving and ready for the day.
Here’s my first 20 minutes of the day: Hear my cat meow as she jumps on the bed. Feel her paws on my belly. Reach up a hand to stroke her head (sometimes this happens before the paws on my belly). Hear her purr and then jump down as I move into a sitting position. Stand up. Head for the bathroom. Tell the cat I’m going to feed her right away (because she’s usually talking to me and letting me know she’s hungry). After I pee, I put on my glasses and go to the kitchen. I get a can of cat food, open it up, scoop 1/2 into a small container for the afternoon feeding, and then walk into the room where the cat dish is and scoop the rest of the food into her bowl. Fill her water bowl from the bathroom sink and replace it on the floor next to the food. Fill the electric kettle with water and turn it on. Grind the coffee beans and put 4 scoops of decaf and 2 scoops of regular coffee into the french press pot. Tell the dog it’s time to go out. Grab the leash and poop bags and walk the dog around the block. Come back in, clean out the cat litter box, and wash my hands. The water is hot now, so I pour it over the coffee and let it steep while I get out mugs and cream for my wife and myself.
Now, I realize that I’m a morning person, and that my day may not start like yours does. However, I wanted to describe all these small details to get you thinking of how many steps you take each day just in your getting up process.
What each of these actions do is to affirm my place in the order of things, they help me to notice if something is out of sync and needs a different level of attention– like does my body hurt in any way when I am walking the dog, or did the cat throw up (thank goodness that’s rare!), or are we running low on coffee. I feel good when I connect with my animal companions and take care of them, and doing so reminds me that my connections to others are my primary joys. I also get to count my blessings and offer silent thanks for my bed, running water, a door that is solid and safe, a neighborhood that I enjoy, the ability to walk, the softness of my cat and dog, and the smell of coffee…among other things.
When we feel comfortable we have space and energy for creating something new or enhancing what is already good. That creating may bring a bit of discomfort as we navigate new territory or learn a new skill, which is when you may rely on your daily rituals even more for the sense of security and continuity they bring to you. We are always growing and evolving, and being aware of the importance of our daily rituals helps to keep us centered and grounded in the midst of change.