The hours we truly exist in the world are the hours when we are awake.
I am the type of person who has tried time and time again to keep a routine and to follow a practical schedule. What I have come to understand through this continual trial is this: what I need most is the opposite of routine—I need stimulation. I need to be reminded that I am alive and that there is a whole world waiting to be explored. And I think this is true, to varied extents, for all of us.
There is one point I feel obliged add to this statement. While stimulation is ultimately what we need, there is always an argument for moderation. If all we do is seek out new experience after new experience, we run the risk of losing our bearings, losing our grounding. Granted, most of us exist within some sort of repetitive structure (daily routines of school and work), but is that sort of grounding most beneficial? I often feel like our modern world imposes on us too much regimentation, binding us too tightly to our daily structure.
A key component of a life of grounded stimulation lies in the power of mornings and evenings; entering and exiting our days with as much grace and intention as possible.
This is an undeniably difficult thing to do, and it can be even more difficult to sustain in a lifestyle. We stay up late working on essays, roll out of bed having slept through our alarm clocks, we zone out and fall asleep with a Netflix show still playing; the list goes on and on.
So here are some ideas of how to start and end your days with intention, in ways that can really make a difference.
In the morning (The world is your oyster, why not make a confident entrance?):
1. Rise with or before the sun.
This is obviously not for everyone. But I have done it a good handful of times, and I’ve always felt like I made really good use of the day as a result. It is the most natural way to wake up; the sun is nature’s alarm clock (wherever you don't have a rooster). But sleep is also good, especially when your body needs it. However, I would caution against sleeping in too late as waking up late can make you feel like a day is almost over.
2. Exercise! Wake your body up!
Whether this is a five mile run, an early morning Zumba class or a quick stretch session, it is super helpful to get the blood a-flowin’ and re-learn how to inhabit your body before starting your day.
3. Get clean.
Basic hygiene: teeth brushed, face washed, body clean. Make the effort to look nice also! Do it for you. The better you look, the better you feel.
4. Prepare and eat a healthy breakfast.
There is something very satisfying about eating food that you prepared yourself. And a healthy meal to start off the day gives you the energy you need be your best self.
5. Avoid screens.
Looking at a bunch of tiny pixels first thing in the morning can easily separate you from the present. Instead of picking up your phone or opening your laptop, notice something happening out your window or look at a piece of art or a photograph you really love.
6. Remind yourself why you’re alive.
This can happen in a number of ways. You could write a few things you’re grateful for, or write out a goal you have for the day. You could read a quote or poem that resonates with you or makes you happy. You could meditate for a minute (or 30 minutes—who knows!) and just try to notice what’s going on for you, both physically and emotionally.
In the evening (Another day, another reason to say: “heck yeah, I’m a lucky gal!”)
1. Again, move your body!
Some prefer to get their exercise before bed. This option is a bit more realistic for me. I sometimes have trouble getting to sleep, so I find that exercising after all my work is done provides a good transition from go time to rest time. Afterwards, I am much calmer and my body is ready for sleep.
2. Create a calm space.
Organize your space. De-cluttering a space helps to de-clutter the mind. Light some incense and/or candles, adjust your lighting if need be, and get your bed ready for a comfortable sleep. The world can be exciting and terrifying and overwhelming, so having a place of respite to come back to at the end of the day can be very helpful.
3. Again…avoid screens.
To use harsh artificial light after the sun has gone down is not so good for the old noggin. Bedtime is ideally a time to remain in the present, and screens have a way of transporting us anywhere and everywhere except for the space we inhabit in that moment.
4. Get a hug from someone you love.
Going to bed lonely is no fun, especially if you’ve had a hard day. It is so important for all of us to foster human connection and to be reminded of humanity’s capacity for love.
5. Read or write or draw.
Allow yourself to relax into a good book and your eyes will start to feel heavy soon enough. Or maybe write in a journal, reflecting on the day or planning for the next one. It is also always good to list things you are grateful for, and it is even better to specifically thank someone you appreciate, so perhaps you could write a note to that person. There is something really lovely and intimate about a single person with a single book or notebook (or sketchpad) before bed.
In conclusion, everyone is different and comes with an entirely different set of needs in terms of reaching their fullest life capacity, so try some of these out and notice what does and doesn’t work for you! Remember that nobody really has it down. I know I don’t. But the simple fact is that to make the effort with some level of intention is bound to feel good.