Waking up

‘Begin the year with a little more soulfulness at sunrise’

“Morning is wonderful. Its only drawback is that it comes at such an inconvenient time of day,” wrote the American sci-fi author Glen Cook. I couldn’t agree more.

I’ve never been a morning person. When I was in high school, my mother would holler up the stairs a dozen times to rouse me for school. I long to be one of those people who bounce out of bed at dawn and whip up a green smoothie fortified with flaxseed, bend gracefully into sun salutations, read the newspaper, answer emails, plan that night’s dinner, throw in a load of laundry and listen to the This American Life podcast while taking the dog for a walk in the woods - all before the rest of the world gets up. But I’m not. Good thing I have a job and one kid still at home to force me out from under the covers at 7:20 a.m.

Perhaps your day starts something like mine - repeatedly reaching for your cellphone to swipe the multiple alarms you set to wake yourself. Then I stick my face in Facebook for half an hour and scroll through dozens of posts until it’s time to rouse my teen daughter in time for school. Yep, all of my life’s a circle.

It’s not the most spiritual start to the day. So I’m aiming to begin the year with a little more soulfulness at sunrise. That means less scrambling and more intention because the way our mornings play out impacts the rest of our day. And our days, of course, determine our lives.

I start by changing the default alarm on my iPhone to “Uplift“  for a more soothing wakeup call. Then I muster all my willpower to resist thumbing through Facebook until later in the day. Instead, I read a couple of pages of edifying nonfiction. Right now, it’s the The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin’s year-long experiment to bring more joy into her life, and Love and Death: My Journey Through The Valley of the Shadow, which was written by New York Unitarian minister Forrest Church when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. The goal of life, Church says, “is to live in such a way that our lives will prove worth dying for.” I miss my morning Facebook fix, but I’ve got to admit that this beats having to “like” another cute cat video.

The half hour I used to devote to Facebook is now spent stretching, meditating and journalling every weekday morning. It takes me 28 minutes to be exact. First, I head downstairs and light a cedar-scented Woodwick pillar candle that crackles as it burns, emulating the sound of a fireplace. I hold off on the coffee and drink a glass of water with lemon before spending three minutes limbering up with eight simple stretches. That includes an upper back release, seated spinal twist and standing forward bend. I still reach for my iPhone, but now it’s to log into the Headspace meditation app. I’ve never had any luck meditating before - most of the time my brain is as bouncy as a ping-pong ball - but the 10-minute guided sessions, and the gently encouraging and now familiar voice of its British creator, Andy Puddicombe, stops the ball from ricocheting. After a 10-day free trial, I was a convert. I’m not the only one. Headspace is used by three million people, and Puddicombe, a former Buddhist monk with a degree in Circus Arts, “is doing for meditation what Jamie Oliver has done for food,” according to The New York Times.

For many, meditation is more powerful than prayer, which explains why it ranks among the most popular habits of the spiritual but not religious (SBNR). It’s proven to decrease anxiety, improve sleep, enhance relationships, and make you smarter and even more empathetic. It can also make you more spiritual. A study by a University of Missouri neuropsychologist found that a conscious effort to train the brain through meditation has spiritual effects, including selflessness. That’s interesting because one of the biggest criticisms about the SBNR is that they are too self absorbed. Meditation not only helps save our spiritual selves, it can also provide us with the fortitude to ensure that we work for good in the wider world.

After I meditate, I journal - something I’ve only done briefly twice before: once as an angst-ridden teen, and then in my 30s, as an anxious mother. I make a cup of coffee, set the timer on my phone for 15 minutes and write without pausing my pen. I don’t stop and think about what to write. The words aren’t well crafted. They’re just whatever’s top of mind. Yesterday, for example, I wrote about Mary Tyler Moore, whose death hit me - like so many other midlife women - with such a surprising pang. I realized that it wasn’t just Mary we were mourning - after all it’s been 40 years since she was a regular on TV - but also our own youthful dreams to be the kind of modern woman that her character, Mary Richards, was: graceful, witty and exuberant, as well as someone with a cool apartment, a stimulating career, funny friends and colleagues and her pick of men, even though she didn’t need one. I reflected that her show’s theme song, “Who Can Turn the World on With Her Smile,” stirs within me the same sort of deep ache that I feel when I hear “Amazing Grace.”

I’m not sure what the point of keeping a journal is exactly, except to stop and actually consider the life we’re living.  And that’s got to be a good thing. Christina Baldwin, author of Storycatcher: Making Sense of Our Lives through the Power and Practice of Story, describes journal writing as “a voyage to the interior.” And isn’t that where the spirit lies?

“Make each day your masterpiece,” urged the American coach John Wooden. I still don’t like getting up in the morning. But once my 28-minute routine is completed, it’s as though I’ve laid down some beautiful brush strokes on the canvas of my day. Instead of feeling frazzled, I’m refreshed. And as anxious as I may be to get to my to-do list, I know it can wait.  I’m determined to keep up with this more soulful start to the day. I’m hoping it will help me rise -  and shine.

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