I recently asked a friend, via e-mail, what her daily routine was like. It was delightful to get a sense of her day in an hour-by-hour play-by-play sort of way. I could tell from her rough daily itinerary where she lived (and that she and her family are enjoying the warm southern-California winter weather) and what her priorities are (her children, family, spiritual practice, personal health). I loved learning about how she wove into her family’s life some semblance of structure combined with the breathing room that allows for playfulness and ease.
I found it inspiring to read about her day-to-day, and it made me want all of us to share, post, and exchange our daily routines. It also made me want to ponder my own more intentionally. As parents of a toddler, much of my and my partner’s lives right now are focused on curating routine. So many of the parenting gurus say: routine, routine, routine — that’s what cultivates a feeling of calm and confidence, of the kid being able to anticipate what’s coming next and start to get herself prepared for getting out the door, back into the stroller or carseat, ready for dinner or bedtime. So lately I’ve had this primarily logistical, linear appreciation of routine — a leads to b, b leads to c, and so on, until the day is done and we collapse into sleep.
Through my friend’s-and-my simple e-mail exchange I realized (again) how significant our daily routines also are in terms of our spiritual health. In this new year one of my personal goals has been just to get to bed before midnight. Perhaps that doesn’t sound that ambitious, but after our kid’s bedtime is the time when we have to do the dishes and the laundry, pay bills, catch up on whatever online, get some work done, clean up, plan for the next day, relax a little bit, and, oh yeah, talk to each other. It’s easy for me to end up staying up later and later if I don’t set an intention. And that is how I aim to think of these routines — as intentions, efforts to bring some semblance of structure, of a container that can hold the over-fullness of our lives.
The routine of our day is also, I re-realize now, like a recipe. I love cooking, love following the clear outline of a recipe. Too often the to-do list that starts churning in my brain as soon as I’m blearily waking up is an unachievable, endless and random list of tasks. The beauty of intentionally outlining a daily routine is that it also lifts up the importance of things that wouldn’t make that to-do list, but are actually the most essential elements of the recipe: get up. Wake up the home (open the shades & curtains, turn on lights, bring in the newspaper). Wake up the body (bathe, shower, get dressed, have breakfast). And so on.
Many teachings emphasize beginning any spiritual practice by training our hearts and minds. Some days the simplest practice for me is to chop vegetables, clean up — my own take on the oldest teachings of “chop wood, carry water.” I end the day turning off all the lamps, the computer, the wireless, silently saying goodnight to the home. This is the end of what this day held. There is a peaceful closure to this one-minute act — it is the garnish on the day that was.
Separate from all the tasks of our lives, our days hold rituals, routines, and structure to them. Articulated, these routines have a kind of beauty, the simple clarity of a recipe. I write our family’s daily routine up and post it on the fridge. Wake up the home. Begin the day… And right there, when I read those first words, I feel a greater sense of possibility and spaciousness. Life is not an endless series of tasks unless we let it be only that.
And you? How is it with your day?