Every morning I want to kneel down on the golden
cloth of the sand and say
some kind of musical thanks for
the world that is happening again
— Mary Oliver, “On Thy Wondrous Works I Will Meditate”
I recently came across an article at the Huffington Post on “7 Things Mindful People Do Before 9 a.m.” drawing from various sources, from the Dalai Lama to Oprah to a Pagan priestess. Usually, I don’t find these kinds of spiritual “listicles” helpful. But in this case, I noticed a correspondence between many of the items and practices that I have found work for me in my morning ritual.
Having a morning ritual has been very important for me. A morning ritual sets the tone for the day. And I definitely feel a difference when I skip it.
A morning ritual doesn’t have to be complicated, or even difficult. If you don’t have a morning ritual, these elements may help you construct one, or if you have one already, this may help you refine yours.
1. “Wake Up Just a Little Bit Earlier.”
This one is the hardest, but also the most essential. If you don’t give yourself the time to do a ritual, then you won’t do it. It doesn’t have to be a lot of time. Five to fifteen minutes is enough. Five to fifteen minutes of extra sleep will not have an appreciable effect on your grogginess, but a five to fifteen minute ritual can transform your day.
2. “Awaken With a Prayer on Your Lips.”
Do something immediately after you wake. You can do it while you’re still in bed or maybe after you sit up. You’ll still be groggy. That’s okay. Do it anyway. It can be something simple, like a gesture or a phrase.
In my case, I do a simple breathing exercise: I breathe in and breathe out while saying to myself, “I breathe in … I breathe out.” And then, continuing to breathe in and out, “The world breathes out [while inhaling] … the world breathes in [while exhaling].” Sometimes I substitute “Goddess” or just “you” in place of “the world.” This helps me feel connected the world around me. Sometimes I fall back asleep while doing this. That’s okay. The point is to do it, not to do it perfectly.
3. “Spend a Few Moments at Your Home Altar or Meditation Space.”
A lot of us Pagans have altars or special places in our homes where we meditate. If you don’t have one, you should create one. The morning is an ideal time to stand or kneel in front of our altars or sit in our meditation spaces and get centered. This is a good time to pray or make an offering, if you prayer or offerings are part of your spirituality. Or just light a candle.
In my case, I bring a bowl of water to my altar, which I had emptied the night before. Each morning I fill it, and each evening I empty it. In the morning, I recite a prayer based on Teilhard de Chardin’s “Hymn to the World” which uses water as a metaphor for the material world and which helps me to ground myself.
4. “Move Your Body.”
Movement is critical for ritual. The mind and the body are connected. Moving one moves the other. This can be exercise like running or stretching, or physical meditations like yoga or Tai Chi. Or it can be simple gestures with personal meaning. Try doing the Sun Salutation or just a single yoga pose. The author of the article suggests the Child’s Pose as a sign of surrender to what the day brings or the Mountain Pose to signal your readiness to take the day on. Or like me, you can just raise your arms in greeting to the morning sun. I do this while reciting a hymn to Indra from the Rig Veda. You can choose something else, like the Mary Oliver poem that introduced this article.
5. “Savor Nature.”
We Pagans know how important connecting with nature is, but we don’t always take the time to do it. Just go outside for a minute or even a few seconds in the morning. And I’m not talking about the time running between your front porch and the car door or standing on the train platform. I mean taking an extra few moments to just be outside. Even if it’s cold or raining. Bundle up or put on your rain slicker and get out there.
In my case, before heading to my car, I pause and take a few moments, squat down, and touch the earth. I push my fingers onto the dirt. Sometimes I have to push through cold snow or sodden grass. And I recite a snippet of a poem by Mary Oliver which reminds me to be present in the here and now. When I do this, my attention is drawn to the present. I hear the birds singing comes into focus and I notice the unique texture and taste of the morning air. The world comes into focus and I feel ready to live the day.
6. “Listen to Music.”
I’m personally ambivalent about this one. Music is a powerful spiritual tool, and one which I use, but infrequently. For many of us, music has become just another distraction, like the television or the Internet. If you’re going to use music as part of your ritual, I would suggest listening to something that you don’t listen to at other times, like when driving or doing homework.
7. “Tune in to the World.”
I liked this one, until I read what the author meant by it. The author of the article suggests tuning in to the news. I so listen to NPR in the morning sometimes, but I don’t consider that part of my spiritual practice. I also don’t think that “tuning in” to the radio is the same thing as “tuning in” to the world. It’s important to be connected to what is happening around the world, but we get a lot of that the rest of the day. Instead, I suggest tuning out the news and tuning in to your immediate environment. And the way to do that is with the other other elements above: going outside, moving your body, kneeling at your altar, etc.
I hoped this has helped some of you think about creating a morning ritual, if you don’t already have one, or refining it, if you do. Are there elements that you would include that aren’t listed here? Please share in the comments.
And if you’d like to read the original article, you can go here.