Are you an early bird or a late snoozer? I am a pinch both in this season of life both writing nearly full-time and mothering little ones, for my rising early or late tends to depend on how much I slept the night before, the particular season and the sunrise, and on certain turkeys who tip-toe their way into our bed most nights. But when I choose to make a bit more of an effort to wake before or with the sun, birdsong my alarm instead of my iPhone, the thread of my day always seems to sew itself so much more smoothly, more rhythmically, had I been woken up with a toddler-sized foot in the face. There’s something about holding space for rituals in the morning, especially as an introvert mother who not only prefers a bit of down time to recharge, but who needs it to function. Because of this, my morning rituals have become a sacred part of my self-care, time just for me to be one with the morning, to to begin my day counting the gifts that surround me, one of them, the time to do so.
When I was little and woke up early, my mom would already be awake in her soft blue robe, usually sipping weak black Folgers, sometimes reading, but always up. Her being there, her presence in the mornings, became expected by my brother and I, a comfort that I more consciously understand now as a mother myself, realizing what a sacrifice she made both for her care and for ours, for which I am grateful. And her mother was the same, my grandma, always waking up earlier than everyone else, to prepare things for the day perhaps, but only after having time for herself. When I would spend the night at the farm, which in the warmer months was often, she’d greet the day in the cushiony recliner in their living room, the morning sun washing over the walls as she meditated and prayed. I’d be on an old mattress drug down from the attic, covered up with quilts, some itchier than others. Some mornings I slept through it, other times I’d wake up, watching her in sit nearby, her head would be in her hands, her Bible nearby, bits of torn out poems and articles and scripture tucked haphazardly inside. I never really knew what she was doing, and I never asked, but it felt like she was talking to God, and so I didn’t want to interrupt.
When I think of my grandma now, I often recall those specific memories of how she loved the morning and how calm it made me feel knowing this was how she chose to begin her day. Steady like anchors, the morning ways of the women who came before me has greatly impacted my life. I see them with reverence now, unlike my unruly teenage self. On some days, sure, I hog the bed. I sleep in and am the last one downstairs, but it’s more rare than it’s ever been. Because once you feel the magic of the mornings, you know it’s a poem you want to live always.
When I wake early, I begin by finding light, if it’s there. Sometimes the sun is still minutes from rising over the distant trees on the horizon, a faint pinkish orange offering warmth to the sky ahead of it. Other times, the morning is pitch black, a dark expanse and a sea of quiet that seems to go on forever, so I find my light in a candle. And then if it’s a later morning, which happens in the summer months, I find the light through the old windowpanes in our bedroom, leaving patterns on walls from the thin, ripples of glass that meet the lacy, floral curtains.
Like my mom, I love my robe and slippers, especially this time of year when the floorboards are still cold from the early spring night. I’ll head downstairs, trying really hard not to wake anyone, mostly Alfie, and begin my favorite ritual of making coffee. Gussy usually hears me coming, and heads into the kitchen, eyes half open, ready to join me on the couch. Most mornings my book follows me along, and while I wait for the water to boil I’ll read a page or two in the quiet of our kitchen, listening for the faint tremble of water in the kettle, letting me know it’s ready to pour over the crushed beans. I take in their smell and savor this familiar wake up call. There’s a deep linen chair in our living room by the window with my name on it, extra-wide and welcome for guests to join, and that’s where I sip and listen and begin. It’s not a fancy ritual, but it’s one that grounds me, a simple but meaningful ritual carried out with equal measure of devotion and care.
What is a ritual, you ask? Rituals are simple, everyday acts we do during the flow of our lives to consciously slow down and connect with the present moment using the gifts of our senses. They are ways we can mindfully center our being in the wild rush of today’s chaotic cultural current, by instead, choosing to lean into the slower and more intuitive ebb and flow of rhythm, which savors the present moment and holds space for meaningful connections to emerge, weaving us closer in relationship with ourselves, others, and the natural world. That’s my interpretation anyhow.
I also believe that ritual is a creative expression that awakens meaning and beauty, a sacred dance and holy song, and from it we can draw strength, courage, and clarity to carry us forward in the seasons of our life, both within and around us. Although the connotation of ritual can hold such acts in high regard, especially when tethered to religious ceremonies or indigenous gatherings done with reverence and tradition, rituals can also be celebrated in the mundane, taking time to elevate the ordinary arts in our day to day life with poetic meter and measure. In this way, rituals can open doors and lay a conscious foundation of living other ways of doing life simply cannot, for their true intention is to fold deliberate action and presence into each and every moment, the entire process illuminated by mindfulness, the product itself not a means to an end.
Rituals elevate the everyday by regarding all of life as sacred and worthy of our time and attention. It’s in the mindful how of doing such things, not always necessarily the what, that we can begin to see life through a more awakened lens, thereby doing work and acts of service that best aligns our passions and purpose with the evolution of our soul. In light of this, rituals can offer us a softer way of being by inviting compassion, curiosity, and contentment into simple things we do with care, adorning our precious lives with abundant gifts that enrich our lives, cultivating gratitude like a gardener would her bountiful late-summer harvest.
Below are 8 ways you can fold mindful rituals into the rhythm of your morning, specifically ones that harmonize the start of your day with the healing and restorative powers of nature. The beauty of doing such rituals in the morning is that they create positive intentions that set the stage for the rest of your day to unfold with greater awareness and presence of being. Beginning one’s day with mindfulness is bound to have a tremendously positive impact on not only the note of your morning, but also the song of your day, and with more devotion and repetition, the symphony of your week, season, and year ahead.
- Rise With the Sun | Rising with the sun is a beautiful way to honor the rhythm of the season and sync your circadian cycle to that of Mother Nature. It is how our ancestors used to rise, along with many of our grandparents who worked the fields, and it’s one way we can watch the day emerge out of darkness into hopeful light. Beyond the metaphor of a sunrise, it’s also a really beautiful thing to see, the sun fulfilling its promise and come up each new day. Thoreau once wrote, “To really to see the sun rise or go down every day, so to relate ourselves to a universal fact, would preserve us sane forever.” Try waking with the sun tomorrow morning and do nothing but soak in the light as it continues to brighten your home. Savor the light and hold onto it throughout your day, holding within you, the hope that first experience of light continues to offer.
- Listen to Birdsong | Pausing in the morning to listen to the birds is a sweet tonic for the soul. From high up in their nest or on a perch, the birds invite us outside to listen. Either crack a window, step outdoors, or sip tea on the porch. If it’s springtime, you won’t have to go far. Listen to their call, their cadence, their pitch. What are they saying to one another, to you? If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed at any point in the day, return to their song. Envision being able to fly, and let the stress of the day fall behind you as you soar.
- Write Seasonal Gratitude | Gratitude is one wonderful way we humans get to share our appreciation for God’s constant offerings and the Earth’s abundance. In your journal, create a list of 10 seasonal gratitude you are thankful for today. It might be the way the clouds create a soft ambiance in the morning, or the smell of rain, or splash of yellow from the daffodils outside your window. Whatever calls to you offering it’s gift, and in some cases, offering it’s life, take time to thank it. To tell it you appreciate it’s being, and that you’re grateful to experience it’s presence and beauty.
- Read Transcendental Literature & Poetry | There is something otherworldly about the work created during the transcendental time period, when artists and writers wrote about the natural world with such soulful language that gave every blade of grass a note, and every flower a song. The following essayists and poets are among some of my very favorite, as their words are sure to evoke serenity, intentionality, and grace for your morning. Start with their most notable works, and savor the way they connect with the natural world and invite us into a deeper way of seeing.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
- Walt Whitman
- Louisa May Alcott
- Henry David Thoreau
- Margaret Fuller
- Make Herbal Tea or Coffee | The ritual of making something to sip in the morning is a lovely one indeed. There is a reverent mediation called the Tea Ceremony rooted in Zen Buddhism, about taking time to slowly brew a cup of tea and to sip it with intention, rather than rushed and on the go. It’s this profoundly mundane act of mindfulness that invites you into the present moment to enjoy the tea, sip by sip, in the here and now. Use your senses to elevate the experience, noting how you feel when you drink it. This simple appreciation for the ordinary art of drinking your morning coffee or tea is a fruitful exercise in awareness and non-judgemental being to begin your day. Pay attention and give thanks to the plants and leaves that made your tea, for the hands that picked and dried them, for the ceramicist who made your cup, for the dear who decided to thrift it, and for the creamery and cows who made your milk. Each thread in the tapestry of this mindful ritual is quite marvelous when you take time to consider all the sources and lives involved in its making!
- Go For a Walk | If the weather is comfortable and you have more than ten minutes to spare, head outdoors to get your blood pumping and your muscles moving! If you have little ones at home, this is a wonderful ritual to do with them if they wake early too. Take notice of all you see and hear, pick up leaves and sticks, walk at a slow pace, and breathe the fresh air into your lungs. Become aware of your breath as you walk, breathing deep on each inhale and exhale. You will find that this ritual replenishes both your body and your spirit, offering you a fresh perspective from which to begin your day to the tune of the season.
- Meditate On Nature, Perhaps Outdoors | This ritual is more formal in practice, but doesn’t have to be fancy. All you need is a few moments of quiet and a focus on something from the natural world, either a flower, a cloud, a tree, or sunlight. Focus bringing your mind back to that natural object, and if the weather permits, head outside in your bare feet to do the same. Let your thoughts flow past you and recognize them as visitors. Say hello, then goodbye. Focus back on the flower, and breathe. You will feel your anxiety of the day’s to-do’s begin to diminish, your mood brightening with each breath.
- Diffuse Awakening Essential Oils | Diffusing essential oils is a beautiful sensory experience that wakes up your body and olfactory system with wonder of plant magic. Choose your oils and scents depending on the season, mirroring Mother Nature and her sacred rhythm, whether it be one of awakened energy or that of rest. Diffuse floral in the spring, citrus in the summer, spices in autumn, and woodsy oils in winter. Smell them with awareness and notice the affect this ritual has on your wellbeing. Thank the plants who created these oils for you to inhale and enjoy. Give them your blessing as they bless you in return.
What are some of your favorite morning rituals, and how do you weave mindful practices into the dawn of your day?