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Posts tagged ‘centering’

The Early Morning Creative Practice: Start Your Day With What Matters Most

Back in April, I wrote about my morning centering practice. This practice has evolved in several key ways in the past six months. Now, for the first time ever, I feel that I am truly and consistently walking the talk when it comes to my personal creativity.

It’s no secret that successful people make the very most of early morning hours. Whether you have a day job, a family, and/or wear 14 other hats, the first hours of the day are often your only shot at having time to yourself without interruption and distraction. As soon as your kids are sleeping through the night, you can start leveraging this opportunity.

For me, getting up early means 4:00 am.

Of course, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Getting up early requires going to bed on time (9:00 – 9:15 pm over here). It also requires a fairly consistent schedule, as it’s difficult to get up at 4:00 on Monday morning after getting up at 7:00 on Saturday and Sunday. So I get up for writing practice at 5:00 on weekends. That means I’m not up late or out on the town on weekends. Is that a sacrifice? Maybe. But it doesn’t feel like one at the moment.

For me, getting up early is built on the foundation of exercise and eating right. I’ve been a vegetarian for many years, and as you may have read here before, I’ve long felt that wheat products are not my friend. I don’t have celiac disease, but I find that eating wheat (even whole grain) stimulates strong cravings and makes me feel hungry — and tired. (This book was quite affirming.) Today I am nearly vegan and totally wheat free. I eat a very low-carb diet and eat lightly at dinner. I don’t eat after 7:00 pm, ever. By eating lightly and going to bed a little bit hungry, I wake up full of energy and ready to launch into my writing practice. Bonus: I just took off a stubborn 10 pounds.

As you might imagine, the fact that I need to be in bed by 9:00 in order to get 7 hours of sleep has an impact on my marriage. My husband likes screen time in the evening, and I prefer to read, so this isn’t a huge issue. I try to make sure that we connect over dinner and on the weekends. Sometimes he comes to bed at the same time I do. We also share our daily morning meditation practice, which to my mind is more valuable than sitting next to each other in front of the TV half comatose for a couple of hours in the evening.

It won’t always be this way. Writing is important to me, and right now, this is what it takes to be a serious player. Play-ah! No more excuses. (As I’m sure you know, there are always 18,489 “good” excuses.)

Yeah, great, but what does that really LOOK like?

My morning practice starts at 4:00 am and ends at 8:15 am when I leave the house with my two youngest children. I started the 4:00 wake-up over the summer and have now incorporated the school routine. Here’s what my morning practice looks like, woven into the regular flow of home life:

  • 4:00: out of bed, make tea, settle into office
  • Read the day’s page in The Daily Writer
  • Writing practice: 500-word minimum (this helps me focus on output rather than falling into editing)
  • 5:20: join my husband upstairs for 20 minutes of meditation
  • Do three vinyasas (sun salutations)
  • 5:45: back in office, read the day’s entry in Mark Nepo’s Mark Nepo’s The Book of Awakening
  • Draw an Osho Zen Tarot or Faerie Tarot card
  • Record last night’s dream(s) in my dream journal, if I remember anything
  • 6:15: stop to ensure that daughter is awake, make breakfast for her, eat a few spoonfuls of peanut butter if I haven’t already, husband leaves
  • Make lunch for daughter and two younger sons (daughter catches school bus at 6:48)
  • At some point here, the two little ones wake up; feed them breakfast
  • Unload dishwasher and tidy kitchen
  • At kitchen table, finish morning pages/intention journaling if not already complete
  • Review my list of personal goals and intentions for the year
  • Plan the day (in planner, assigning a time and a duration for each task, or adding them to the “batch task” block)
  • Dress self and youngest son, brush teeth, make bed, put in a load of laundry if time, make sure we’re all ready to leave the house
  • 8:15 heard little boys out of the house for bus/school run

Note that the writing practice comes FIRST. That way, if a wee one wakes up exceptionally early, it’s still already done. If I have to scrap the centering part of my practice (mediation, journaling, etc.) then so be it. But the writing practice isn’t threatened. Usually, it all falls into place, with a little juggling between the aforementioned time slots. Everyone gets off to school and work in good stead, and the house is (gasp!) clean and tidy.

I understand that a routine like this might seem baffling — or totally unappealing. But for me, it’s a completely sustainable loop. Those four hours and fifteen minutes are routine now. It’s a routine that is grounded in my macro level intentions and priorities. I can’t overstate what it means to me to have a daily writing practice that absolutely happens every day. Seven days a week. I’m in touch with my creative work every day, all day, because it’s always fresh, always percolating. Without this morning anchor, the demands of my editorial business, my coaching practice, my studio storefront, and my family/domestic life eat up every available moment.

Interested in what an early morning creative practice could do for you? My last post on this topic included some ideas for developing your own morning centering practice. Add the creative session, mix well, and enjoy.

And hey: If you’re up at 4:00 am eastern time, know that you and I are creative buds.

What think?

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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?

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