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?