The Morning Centering Practice
Recently, I’ve been thinking about why some days are focused and productive, and others are just “busy” and unsatisfying. It’s the difference between driving the cart and having the cart push you along from behind. One feels way better than the other.
In working with clients and in examining my own life, I’m gaining new clarity on the importance of a morning centering practice. When I do my morning centering practice, I’m in touch with what’s important, what I want to accomplish that day, and the frame of mind I’d like to maintain. I plan the day, allot durations to each activity, and then work from my list. When I don’t do the morning practice, I jump right into “doing” — and am thereafter shadowed by a nagging feeling of being “off,” regardless of how much I get done. On those days, I tend to work in a state of reactivity, rather than proactivity.
What does a morning centering practice involve?
Here’s what my morning centering practice looks like, in an ideal world. In total, it takes about an hour to an hour and 15 minutes.
- 5:00: out of bed
- meditate for 20 minutes
- make tea
- record last nights dream(s) in my dream journal, if I remember anything
- choose an Osho Zen Card for the day
- read the day’s entry in Mark Nepo’s The Book of Awakening
- review my list of personal goals and intentions for the year
- creative visualization (Shakti Gawain exercises)
- intention journaling
- plan the day (in planner, assigning a time and a duration for each task, or adding them to the “batch task” block)
This might seem like a cumbersome list, but it flows naturally — each step building on the last, ensuring that the things I put in the day’s to-do list (the last step) are grounded in my larger intentions and values.
To create your own morning centering practice, brainstorm the materials and resources that help restore you to who you are. Whether or not you consider yourself a Buddhist, I strongly recommend a daily meditation practice. Meditation helps you remember that all of those thoughts in your head — the thoughts that stress you out, make you feel bad, or tell you what to do — are just the monkey mind. You can let them come and go without falling for the little snares they leave in their wake. The best (and cheapest) therapy going.
Making it happen
How does a mama get an hour or more to herself in the morning? At my house, she gets up at 5:00. There’s no other way to slice it. Sometimes (usually) at least one of my younger boys is up well before 6:00. But so long as I’ve completed the meditation portion of the morning routine, I can do the other parts with company. It’s not ideal, but better to do the practice than not. Much, much better to do the practice than not.
There are two important things that fuel the morning centering practice. The first is habit. If you get up every day at the same time and do your practice, it becomes routine within weeks. It’s just what you do. The second is going to bed on time. I’m naturally an early riser, but if I go to bed at 11:00 or later, it’s painful to get up at 5:00 — and too easy turn my phone alarm off and go back to sleep. I need to be vigilant about bedtime.
When I look back on the periods in recent years when I’ve been “in the zone” — when doing what I want to do has been less of a struggle — it’s been when I’ve maintained my morning centering practice. I can feel its value, like an inner compass, throughout the day.
Springboard to creativity
Following your morning centering practice with a window of creative work is an excellent strategy. You’ll have clarity and inspiration. If you have to take a break in there to get kids ready and off to school, that’s OK. But get a block of creative work done as soon as possible. If you can get your creative work done before any “day job” tasks on your plate, so much the better. All day long, you’ll feel great about having done your creative work first thing.
How about you? Do you have a morning centering practice of one kind or another? What works best?
what a stunning image! glad i saw this on fb 😉
Thank you, Adan! The image isn’t mine (it’s stock) but it’s awfully dreamy, isn’t it?
yes very 😉 nice job picture picking then! 😉
I love this post. I am afraid having a distinct morning practice can be off putting for some people- they think “how can I add anything else to my day”. But I agree with you- when my inner well of connectedness is full, I can give, run, mediate, maintain my center through almost everything.
Here is my practice.
I too rise early, but at 6 a.m. My kids are teens and able to navigate the first hour of the day without my presence.
Before I leave my bed:
2. Do my grounding meditation ritual.
3. Connect with the Divine through an orbital breathing practice, very feminine and centering.
4. Do a short gratitude practice (list at least 12 things for which I am thankful). State my desires for the day.
5. Do a few small yoga stretches.
6. Get out of bed to pee. Greet my 14 year old in the bathroom.
7. Come back to my room and light a candle. Call in to my heart my friends, family, my desires for the day.
8. Kneel on my prayer rug and read from my ‘Daily Rumi’ book.
9. Do some yogic breathing.
10. Do a short yoga/Pilates stretching.
11. If I have time before 7 a.m., I sit and like you, capture my first thoughts and ideas in my journal.
Here is where I spend the next hour helping my kids get going, make lunches, settle plans for the day, make my green smoothie, check in with my husband, drive someone to school if needed.
Then I return and do my daily journal writing practice that I have done since I was 14. I am going to be 54 this year. I have written daily all this time. All of this practice sweeps clean my portal, my creativity flows freely when I am this centered and easy within my skin. If time permits, I write fully. Sometimes I have to be brief. On my designated art days, I go from here to my studio…maybe a stop at the washer or laundry line, the kitchen or some messy spot…but if I can, I just jump in to my work from this ready state. As a full time mom, I have to be super clear about when I am working in my studio and when I am available and engaged in my mothering tasks. Working at home makes the boundaries fungible at times.
I love your words about going to bed at a regular time. I like to be rested. I do better in all aspects of my life. I try to stay up late, but that never serves me.
The books I usually spend a bit of time with early are:
“No Ordinary Time” by Jan Phillips
“Marry Your Muse” by Jan Phillips
“Daily Rumi” complied by Coleman Barks
many of Mary Oliver’s collections
Thanks for asking about this Miranda.
Suzi, it was SO cool to read about your practice. Thank you for sharing this intimate part of your life!
I’m deeply inspired by your journaling practice. That is a LOT of journaling — just think of all of the cash you’ve saved in therapy dollars!! (By the way, do you belong to the International Association for Journal Writing?)
I love Barks’ “A Year with Rumi” — that was part of my morning practice last year. This year I’m doing the Nepo book I mention — do you know that one? I’m confident you’d love it. And I have two Mary Oliver books next to my morning spot, which I often dip into. I’m going to check out the Jan Phillips books right now.
Green smoothies are also my breakfast of choice — I think we should do a recipe-sharing post! I make mine with fresh greens, raw vegan protein powder, maca, kelp powder, plenty of spirulina, frozen peaches/mango/blueberries, hemp seeds, and chia seeds. There is no better start to the day, IMHO!
I do think I’d like to work a few sun salutations into my morning practice. That’s long been feeling like a missing piece. Thanks for the reminder.
I may have to borrow your apt description for working at home: fungible, indeed!!
i keep intending to make morning centering a part of my day, and at an early hour, like you. at this point, my morning centering is my 2 mugs of coffee while i shake my brain to functionality. i think i need to work more on getting good sleep before i put predawn yoga into practical use. but it is on the list!