While a fast-paced routine and high expectations are not inherently bad, the full-throttle way of life can spiral into counterproductive patterns of worry, overcommitment, and perfectionism. If your current lifestyle depletes rather than feeds your happiness, a daily ritual might restore your sense of balance and personal power.
Each morning, I awaken myself literally and metaphorically with a ritual. Otherwise, auto-pilot thrusts me into a rush of work, errands, and agitation that I find unsatisfying. To give you a sense of what I mean by a “ritual,” here’s an example of how my morning ritual brings me to life:
The alarm clock siren startles me into consciousness. I envision leaving the haven of my warm blankets for the obligations that await me. I fight the temptation to stay in bed, and ultimately my dog licks my face and scampers across my body enough times to overrule my urge to linger. Finally, with a determined heave, I put both feet on the floor. It’s a new day, for what it’s worth.
I put on my workout clothes and wash my face so there’s no excuse not to walk out my front door, no temptation to eat breakfast or check email (there’s time for that later). As I grab my dog Luna’s leash and we head out the front door, my eyes adjust to the half-dark of dawn. The possibilities of the day take shape alongside the shadowy forms of oak trees and mailboxes that line the street.
At first, I run at a slow pace. I focus internally to remind my muscles to relax into the natural rhythm of my pace and monitor the gradual rise in my heart rate. I rotate my focus between breathing, relaxation, and posture. After a few minutes this becomes more effortless, and I transfer my attention to my surroundings. I hear the steady sounds of my footfalls on the sidewalk as I watch the clouds evolve through the color spectrum of sunrise.
As my body warms, the natural setting and rhythmic motions open up a sacred space in which I appreciate my body’s limits, capabilities, and presence in the environment. It’s a transition from rest to action that establishes my physical and spiritual aliveness. As I enjoy the changing light of dawn, I consider all the blessings in my life. I finish my run with a sense of accomplishment, gratitude, and hope, just as the sun’s full brilliance shines above the horizon.
After a cool-down and a good stretch, I savor a homemade carrot muffin with orange juice and coffee. I visualize how I will soak up every sight, sound, and texture that I can today. I might admire two cardinals as they take flight from the branches of an azalea bush or exchange a smile with a stranger. Like the nourishing flavors of my breakfast, these small pleasures are the fuel that I need to appreciate the wonders of being alive and to make the most of the day.
Whether you begin or end your day with a meaningful ritual, try not to rush the process or consider it an obligation. If you are strict or critical of yourself when you skip a day or if you imagine that you’re “not doing it right,” then you’re missing the point.
Instead, see your ritual’s potential to focus your intention on a positive feeling or attitude that you’d like to cultivate. You may choose to meditate each morning to expand your capacity for joy or gratitude, or to establish a nighttime ritual to relieve the tension that accumulates throughout the day and prepare for a restful night’s sleep.
Each day offers a smorgasbord of sensation and possibility that will never present itself in the same way again. There are lessons to learn from the people and environments that we encounter, but we must join the world in order to derive meaning from it. We are responsible for drawing or creating beauty from the raw materials of “what is” and taking action to construct the forms of our lives. Use your ritual to help you make the most of this day. Use it to soothe, replenish, and expand your consciousness.
Living well now contributes to a better tomorrow. Rushing through life worrying about the future will not. So do yourself a favor. Wake up. Eat a muffin. And get out there and live.
The ChiWalking and ChiRunning approach made it possible for me to run without knee pain. Using a combination of breathing, posture, and awareness, ChiRunning transformed my daily walk into a running ritual that relaxes and energizes me. Find it at your local library or read excerpts and buy it at Amazom.com: