My alarm sounds at 5:25 am. It’s still dark when I open my eyes to look out the window. I take a deep breath in and say Thank You. I am alive to greet another morning.
I creep downstairs and begin my morning ritual. I love the quiet darkness, and I am a creature of habit and order. I have found that by starting my day with intentionally mindful practices, I can better manage the many demands and stressors in my life. Additionally, a morning routine influences healthy eating habits and boosts self-esteem.
Yet as our lives get more and more crowded, our “TO DO” lists continue to expand and our minds fill with anxiety and worry. According to Anusha Wijeyakumar in her indispensable book, Meditation with Intention: Quick & Easy Ways to Create Lasting Peace, “the wallpaper of your mind becomes the landscape of your life”(20).
So here are five practices designed to unclutter your thoughts, reduce your worry, and invite you to shift your perspective. I am not a doctor, but on any given morning, I am doing one of these. All I know is how good I feel when I begin my day with conscious intention.
SIT & BREATHE:
According to Wijeyakumar, all you need is FIVE minutes. It’s so true. Try it. Find a comfortable seat, turn on your timer, and breathe. Focus your mind’s energy on your inhales and exhales. When the mind begins to wander, which it will do, gently glide your awareness back to your breath. Over and over. With practice, you’ll soon find that 5 minutes becomes 10, even 15.
For a deeper understanding, read Meditation with Intention. Her book includes 5-minute exercises; a lived-experienced history of meditation, mindfulness, and yoga; and nine intentions to “create lasting peace.”
If you’re living with a chronic disease, watch my interview with her. Here, we discuss the positive implications of meditation for people living with MBC.
KEEP A GRATITUDE JOURNAL:
This practice is quite straightforward yet has profound implications. First, find a journal, your computer, or scraps of recycled envelopes to write on. If you’re handwriting, you’ll need something to write with. This could be a crayon, pencil, fancy pen, marker, you decide. From there, the practice is to write down FIVE things that you are grateful for.
This may be a daily practice or a twice-a-week practice. You might number your list or put stars by each. You might come up with five or fifteen.
At the end of each list, notice how you feel. What came up for you as you were making your list? What surprised you? What themes are there across lists?
For more information, check out these resources:
- “Tips for Keeping a Gratitude Journal”
- “Gratitude Journal”
- “If you Feel Thankful, Write It Down. It’s Good for Your Health”
- “5 Reasons Keeping a Gratitude Journal Will Change Your Life”
This practice, like all of these practices, is also straightforward yet may have far-reaching and profound effects on your life. Often, I am drawn to reading poetry. I immerse myself in the language and feelings and invite poems to show me how to be more human. For a morning practice, you may choose:
- The Essential Haiku: Versions of Basho, Buson, and Issa edited by Robert Hass
- Women in Praise of the Sacred: 43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women edited by Jane Hirshfield
- The Essential Rumi: New Expanded Edition, Translated by Coleman Barks
Or you may choose other anthologies of poets that speak to you. With the book in hand, randomly choose ONE poem. Read it in your head and aloud. Once. Twice. Maybe five times. Then, choose ONE line from the poem and write it down. Use this line as a jumping-off point for quiet written or meditative reflection.
For example, from Rumi’s poem “After the Meditation,” you may choose the line: “Do the careful/donkey-tending work” and explore what this means in your life.
SNUGGLE WITH YOUR PET & DRINK COFFEE:
Recognizing that not all of us have pets or drink coffee, I encourage you to substitute here. Perhaps, you find a blanket or stuffed animal. And perhaps you substitute green tea for coffee. Either way, this practice invites you to engage with touch and taste, two valuable senses.
Take time here in the quiet of your morning to feel your pet’s fur or your blanket’s softness under your fingers. Notice how the sensations in your fingertips ignite the positive endorphins, lowering your heart rate and blood pressure.
Scientists have long debated the benefits of coffee. If you are not a coffee drinker, I encourage you to do your own study on your morning beverage choice. For me, strong black coffee not only tastes bitter, sweet, and warm all at once, it also has many health benefits. Coffee can improve memory, mood, reaction times, and mental functions.
MAKE A LIST OF WHAT NEVER MAKES THE LIST:
Our “TO DO” lists are filled with things we need to accomplish, so we spend much of our time striving and efforting. Make a list of things that are not on the “TO DO” list, so you can reflect on the deep insights of your soul.
This practice encourages us to look beyond the bullet points of our everyday existence. For example, you may want to consciously make a list of how you can show up as a parent, partner, or friend. Maybe your list is about letting go or thinking positively about a relative. Perhaps, it is about forgiving a friend or yourself.
Then, depending on you and your situation, you can collect these in a sealed jar, ritualistically burn them, or as my child does, fold them into origami hearts. It’s up to you to decide what to do with this very important list of your soul’s musings.
These practices can be done in dimly-lit silence before you reach for your phone to check your Instagram or CNN. Try one or two. See what happens. Perhaps, you’ll discover how these practices invite you to feel freer, more expansive, and calmer. Perhaps, these practices will invite you to greet each day’s challenges with compassion and grace.